Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chris Padgett is Coming!

Lent really shouldn't be this much fun!

St. George is fortunate that Youth Minister, singer, song writer Chris Padgett is back, by popular demand. He is coming by Friday, April 1 at 7 PM. to speak on: Mary, the ultimate role model for us all.

Come on down to St. George Parish, 74 School St., Framingham, MA April 1, 2011 -- 7 PM
The Cost: Free
The Reward: Priceless

Diminishing Returns

Once again, a lesson from the backyard maple sugarmaking operation. This time it's economics.

Some trees have completely stopped (the sap). In other trees, one tap has stopped, while another keeps dripping away. And in still other trees, the taps are all running as if spring will never come.

The weather is warm. The sap will spoil if it's not processed the day it is collected. So the maple sugarmaking end game is short boils, each night. Two nights ago I collected just about 14 gallons of sap. The short quart of syrup on the left is from that boil. Last night I collected probably eight to nine gallons. The syrup on the right is from that boil.

Last night's production was barely enough to test in the hydrometer. It's time to stop. The investment of time and fuel does not match up to the end product: diminishing returns. Determining when to say when is tough.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Party Is Over...

Checking the long range forecast, night time temperatures are predicted to be above freezing after last night. It has been a very doable season. With the sap runs well spaced -- into 5 boils. And the resulting syrup -- a bountiful seasonal total of 4 gallons. The first two shipments will be in the mail today.

And what of life after maple sugarmaking? What does a maple sugarmaker do when there isn't a pan to be tended? Plenty and tons; starting with training for the Boston Brain Tumor Ride. Last training ride: 14 miles.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ummmm.... Mom what's for breakfast?

half syrup? ... Maple syrup before it's finished.


Signs of a busy night: Two sap buckets and an almost empty pot of coffee

Merriam and Webster say: seemingly incapable of tiring : indefatigable :a tireless worker

Not true
The tireless do tire.
If only it weren't true.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Running Shoes

My daughter's graduation present to be in glass.
Wonder if I'll finish it by June 4th...
Wonder if she would grant me an extension.

Other Backyard Maple Sugarmakers

Somehow through this world wide web, we have found each other's sites and follow each other's seasons year after year. Check out the great seasons being had by other backyard maple sugarmakers.
I love this season.

Despite below freezing temperatures, yesterday's Boston Brain Tumor Ride training ride: 12.6 miles.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Experiment

Yesterday's post on the color and flavor of maple syrup got me thinking and wondering. Is it really the sap or it's storage that effects the color? Of course I had my hypothesis, and the information sited by Cornell and UVM, but could we somehow experiment to see it for ourselves?

So we collected the sap, keeping it icy cold, and boiled it within 8 hours. Only 15 gallons; so there was very little yield. The results were the amber "short" quart on the left. On the right is the darker more robust syrup from Thursday's boil. Both batches of syrup were in the pan for 6 hours. Neither batch burned. The main difference was we collected the sap over 4 days for the batch on the right, and on the left -- 8 hours. Of course, it is not wise to draw a conclusion from one run.

Check out the maple salts that have precipitated in each jar. Amazing.

Seasonal yield: 3.25 gallons
Where are the pancakes?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boston Brain Tumor Ride

Had a wonderful 11.2 mile ride today with my biking partner. We set the goal of six times around a local park. Pushed ourselves to do a bit more; ended up completing eight loops.

What's becoming sadly apparent is brain cancer has touched the lives of many of the people in our circle of friends. We will be riding for all of them.

Color and Flavor

A dear friend asked what does the color of maple syrup have to do with the flavor?

The answer: Everything.

Starting at the beginning, it is a badge among backyard maple sugarmakers to acquire light straw in color, ie fancy, maple syrup. It means the sugarmaker collected first run sap. That the weather conditions during the collection time were pretty near perfect. Light is color. Crystal clear with just a hint of maple flavoring: a maple grail.

As the night time temperatures warm, along with the daytime temps, the resulting maple syrup turns amber and the maple flavor is enhanced. This is the typical syrup loved on pancakes.

And last, and the best is the dark maple syrup. Rich in complex flavors; this syrup is the product of sap collected towards the end of the season under warming conditions.

Also effecting the flavor is the soil in which the trees are planted. Usually, for whatever reason, our maple syrup has an almost buttery flavor when compared to other syrups.

Why the change in color and enhancement of maple flavor? The Extension Service at Cornell says the browning is due to burning or browning the syrup in the evaporation process. My home data don't support that. As some of my darkest syrups have been in the pan the shortest period of time. I had long suspected the darkening and enhanced maple flavor is due to the microorganisms that grow in the collected sap, and last year I read that this is true, along with a bunch of other very interesting facts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shades of Spring

Maple Syrup Trifecta
Light - Amber - Dark

Last night's boil: half gallon of the deepest, richest dark
Seasonal yield to date: 3 gallons

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And the sugaring season???

Temperatures turned cold. The sap buckets have hung dry on the tree for two days now. No worries, after this morning's light snow, spring time temperatures will return and plumes of maple steam will rise again. I smell warmth in the air. I'm thinking a Friday night boil...

postscript: Was thinking Friday night, but the buckets were all full when we walked line after school. So it'll be a hot time in the sugar shack tonight, boil, boil, boil...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do Not Disturb

The other night the phone rang. It wasn't oh my god someone has died late. It was probably only 8:30... even so I was in bed. My eyes opened to my husband looking at the caller ID, announcing the name and handing me the receiver.


"Were you asleep?"

"Yes, but no worries. After this past weekend, I need to catch up."

The call went on to hit the highlights of the last few days (as the caller and I were together for much of it) and then we talked about future events and the planning thereof. For it takes a village to plan parish events.

But it also takes some down time.

Someone else made the comment, "I don't know how you keep everything straight in your head." The truth be told -- me neither. And sometimes I don't. A clear sign the plate is too full and my meatball has rolled off of the table, and on to the floor. And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door. (Now that song synapse hasn't fired for a long time.)

Delegation: the act of keeping all your meatballs in a row.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finished: Done: Kaput

Reaching for, and obtaining goals are great. But earlier today, as I was finishing this piece, I couldn't get my head around what I am going to do next. That vision hasn't come to me... yet...

Maybe a stack of old running shoes... something will click...


If you say Foreigner to me, I think of an 80s band. And in searching for a link to add to this blog, I realize that they are hot yet again. As I recognize some of the song titles that play on my daughters' ipods.

But that isn't the foreigner I thinking about. The elephant in the room that has my attention is silence. Teaching last night and I asked the youth to just sit and listen. To be in silence. To let their minds slow down and their thoughts stop reeling. We were talking about prayer. My point being prayer is a conversation -- a two way street. And sometimes you have to stop and listen.

Thirty seconds went by before the giggling commenced. I knew in my heart of hearts, that their world was so full of sensory overload that this evening, a moment of silence was an impossibility. And I wasn't surprised.

I went to Adoration last month and during the entire evening, there was not one moment of silence. Even while the speaker spoke, there was music playing in the background. It was suppose to be "fluff out" her subject. But instead, the music on, the speaker not miked -- her words were lost to the strains.

And during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a locally famous Catholic rock band played and sang. It's not your grandmother's Adoration. So maybe it's for those who need to be surrounded by sound. And it's not that I don't like music, (Lord knows I can rock out with the best of them.), but sometimes silence makes a better point. I suspect, like all of life, there is a balance to be struck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm Amazed

I'm amazed by our neighborhood turkeys. They wander from yard to yard. Never in a rush. Nibbling at the side of the road. Stopping traffic. No fear. Such self importance.

Know your worth.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Parish Breakfast postscript

A 4:30 double alarm wake up call this morning. At the parish hall at 5; coffee on by 5:15. Then the ball truly starts to roll, pancakes, french toast, hash browns, eggs, bacon, sausage, blueberry crumb cake, juice, milk and coffee.

The team assembled. I stand back and watch as the morning goes like clockwork from set up to clean up.

Why do we do this? Why has breakfast been served for over 24 years? Because it is our mission to serve, and at times -- to cook and clean up, as well.

Parish breakfast this morning....

come on down. The coffee's fine.

It is so good to back among parish friends and family. Serving up the breakfast that has put our parish on the map for over 24 years.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Boil of a Different Color

It amazes me how schedules and timings nestle one to another. I have one pan that is large enough for a St. Patrick's Day boiled dinner. It is the same pan that I use to finish the maple syrup.

Due to work and family schedule there wasn't any time to enjoy the simple St. Patty's meal during the week. So today, our homemade salted beef and veggies ventured into the pan. And today, there was no sap due to the warming trend.

Tomorrow the temperatures will return to the sugaring norm of 40s in the day, 20s at night. And tomorrow the pan will return to it's usual spring time duty.

Now that's a beautiful boil!

Now that's a beautiful boil, is probably not something you want to hear; especially from your doctor. Close your eyes. Just for a moment. Can you see that oozing pustule? yuck... but I digress...

A raging bubbling spitfire boil to a maple sugarmaker is one of the finest sights to behold. The season marches on...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Luke join me on the Dark Side....

Are you breathing funny? Do you hear a bit of Lord Vader in the background?

Yesterday's temperatures soared. It was a beautiful day to be out. Not such a great day for sunny sap production. Remember the post: The Dark Side of the Moon? I linked it in as a refresher.

Anyway, back at the beginning of the season one might ask, Why tap on the dark side of the tree? You don't get great sap production from the dark side.

True, given the best of temperatures the sap flow on the dark side is usually less. But when the temperatures are too warm -- guess where the greater sap flow is?

Correct -- on the darker and cooler side of the tree.

Maple sugarmaking, like all of life, it's a balance.

Sugarmakers note: Third boil was yesterday. Somewhere is the vicinity of 24 gallons of sap... resulting in a heavy half gallon of syrup. Think of boiling a laundry hampers worth of sap and walking away with 2 quarts of maple syrup. What can I say: It's in my blood. I'm blessed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How do you spell S-U-P-P-O-R-T?

Yesterday's post got me thinking. Who makes up your support network? Your elite group of individuals that see you through the thick and thin. People who care for you so much, they are painfully honest and hopefully supportive. Can you count them on one hand? Or two? Three... lucky you!

And on the other hand, where are you present and counted upon?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Does your support network include a mechanic?

If you had asked me that question last week, I would have probably looked at you a bit sideways. But not after yesterday. For yesterday morning, when posed as a mild mannered carpool mom, I noticed that the driver's windshield wiper was not moving. (Not difficult to miss actually.) Oh it wanted to move. Its little joints flexing in time with its sister, who graciously wiped the passengers side.

Thankfully, it was not raining -- and I was employing the wipers to clear a bit of overnight frost. But there is a lot of rain in today's forecast. Clearing the calendar -- the wiper needed to be addressed.

One call to Dimidis and Sons: 508-788-1011. Despite being swamped, Craig, the owner said, Bring it down, leave it, and we will get to it, today.

"And by the way -- Craig, can you replace the bulb in the burned out headlight too?" Sure.

The garage was wall to wall cars -- which delights me for our mechanic. A busy mechanic is a happy mechanic. He stopped what he was doing to assess the situation and realizing it was just a lose bolt or nut, or some sort of connector, got the air wrench and tightened it up. He then replaced the bulb and checked the oil. Knowing that we recently returned from a long roadtrip and that our Big Rig tends to burn a quart here and there. She was down; he added a quart.

Craig's consistent prompt excellent service is why we go there, and why we recommend Dimidis and Sons time and time again. As a matter of fact when we replaced our old Toyota truck, we only considered makes of cars serviced at Dimidis and Sons.

We've never been disappointed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


You can't be single-minded, not seeing the bigger picture, or have, what could be coined, tunnel vision...

There seems to be an underlying layer of complacency. It didn't happen in my backyard, so... move on with the same old, same old.

Tunnel vision... when the walls fall, it will become crystal clear that we live in a one pie world. And in this one pie, Japan influences many of the pieces.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Food shopping yesterday, after church, religious ed., a youth ministry meeting, training for the Boston Brain Tumor Ride, and a doll run with the girls, I was feeling a bit faint. Groceries in the car, I grabbed a banana off the bunch to eat on the drive home.

And as I ate it, I thought of the Japanese people who feeling faint, wouldn't be so lucky to have a bunch of bananas close at hand.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Maple Sugarmaking - Round 2

We had a second boil yesterday. Resulting in what I'd call a short gallon. Four quarts -- but the fourth is missing a half a cup or so.

Early Maple steam
Drapes the silent sugarbush
Spring is in the air

It was more than an all day affair, as I started the process Friday night; just to get a jump on the 46 gallons of sap. And as I was adding the last gallon of sap to the pan, Saturday around 2 PM, I wondered, just what kind of person spends a day, more, making maple syrup?

Who watches the pan?
Dusk to dawn, boiling the sap
Maple magician

The quart on the right is from the first boil. The one of the left; freshly finished second round. The precipitate not settled, it's tough to tell the grade.

Sap total for Saturday: less than 2 gallons... The temperature did not go below freezing Friday night.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Lion and the Keeper

One day the lion keeper noticed the lion was not his regal self. For instead of sitting up on his favorite sunny rock, mane puffed for maximum effect, his lordship was face down in the mud, tucked under the low lying branches of a particularly thorny bush.

"Strange," thought the keeper, "that's not like his lordship." Filled with concern the keeper entered the lion's den. And as he approached his dear charge the keeper spoke in soft tones. "Your lordship, what could be your problem. Your lordship, no worries, I'll fix everything for you. My whole life, is defined by my job, and my job is to care for you, your lordship."

Despite the soft words, the lion, not understanding the spoken word, grew fearful. The keeper was a gentle but looming man, and he was not a lion. And lions only trusted other lions. His lordship let out a low warning growl.

The keeper, hairs raised up along his neck, stopped dead in his tracks. Breath caught in his throat, he knew he was being invited to leave. But his most important charge was most obviously suffering, and in his heart of hearts, he knew he must help him.

So the lion keeper took what might be his last deep breath, closed his eyes, and crumpling to the ground; becoming a ball much smaller than the lion. Nose to the ground, legs tucked under his chest, arms bent up along his shins, the keeper emitted soft drawn out humming noises with each of his long, and maybe last exhalations. And each time he breathed in to replenish his air, he inched closer to the lion.

At first the lion was irritated. The man was still there; still annoying him. But he was smaller now and not so much of the threat, so the lion let out another warning growl, but not as fierce as the first, before lashing out with a swat at the keeper.

Eyes closed the keeper didn't see the large paw with its extended claws thrust out in his direction. Eyes closed he felt a gentle breeze that dried the nervous sweat erupting on his head and neck; and he stopped humming as he breathed a sigh of relief.

His lordship hearing the sigh assumed the little ball of flesh, having lost all its air, was of even lesser consequence, cupped his aching jaw within his huge killer paws, tucking in further into the cooling mud. Oh to be rid of this pain.

The silent keeper, realizing in his smallness and silence, the lion no longer viewed him as a threat, slowly, rubbing his shins, elbows, and nose on the ground, continued to inch forward. For he must make all things good again for the one he cared for so deeply.

From the cool repose of the mud, his lordship sensed the warmth of the approaching lump, but he also smelled the foul stench of man. Disgusted, he rolled over onto his side and with his back feet, so as to not release the gentle cupping on his jaw, kicked the smelly lump away. His senses relieved the lion rolled over to nap away his pain.

Scratched but not eaten, the keeper once again found himself holding his breath; for two reasons. One: relieved he was still alive. Two: the smell of a nearby pile of lion dung awashed in urine was so pungent his eyes and nose were watering. His thoughts were of death, for there was not a stench fouler and more vomitose.

The lion slept for the lump no longer impacted his senses. While the keeper, realizing his opportunity covered himself with the urine soaked dung before resuming his slow and steady trek towards his napping charge. His lordship's jaw still cupped between his deadly front paws.

Inches away from the lion, the silent, dung covered, keeper saw the swelling that was bulging out from his mouth. He also saw that the pained lion didn't pay attention to the mice and voles that seemed to infest his den. Some even brazenly scurried over the lion's mighty body. Running through his mane as if it were their private grassland savanna. The keeper, unfolded one arm, and with two fingers probed under the lion's fattened lip.

Still sleepy, the lion flinched, as the pain in his mouth seared. Without smelling any new intruders, and without opening his eyes, he assumed one of the crazy little animals, who make a tasty afternoon snack, had foolishly ventured too close to his lip. Thinking it would be nice to have a sleepy little bite to eat, he whipped his head sideways, while chomping down, hoping to catch the tasty treat. Only to catch nothing; next time thought the lion, as he drifted back to sleep.

Giving the lion time to dream, and his own heart time to reenter his chest, the keeper new this would be the one and only time he would be able to find out what was distressing his lordship. Taking in a low long deep breath, he slowly fingered his way past the bulbous lip, to find a sharp bone shard wedged between his beloved charge's back teeth. Joy filled his heart, as he knew it would all be better in a matter of seconds, and with one quick motion he grasped the shard and yanked it out; startling his lordship awake.

Shaken, for being so violently stirred awake by a pile of his own dung and urine, the lion grabbed the pile in his massive front paws and as he drew the annoyance close to his mouth, so he could chew it up and spit it out, he saw the bone shard tightly gripped in the keeper's hand. Unfolding, his camouflage cracked; the keeper looked into the lion's eyes, seeking forgiveness for his deception.

His lordship, shocked, and pain-free for the first time in all his memory, dropped the keeper, and without a growl, turned and padded out onto his rock in the sun. Mane puffed for maximum effect.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Never underestimate the power of holding hands. I still reach out for my 4th grader each day we walk to school. And gladly she obliges me. But truly, does she need me to hold her hand?

What if I told you, it was me, who needs to hold her hand. To hold on to her. To physically be connected; my little one is growing up so fast.

This week my high school senior received her 8th Varsity letter at the winter Varsity letter awards ceremony. In the auditorium, seeing her among her teammates, I waved. Graciously she walked over. And as she drew near I reached out to her, and held her hands as we talked about her day at school. Soon enough she will be in college. She's ready to let go... the jury is still out on me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Mine, Mine, Mine

I am so proud of my students.


Is a journey. A time for giving. A time to reflect and to change, if need be. Forty days of quiet contemplation among the noise of everyday life. How lucky we are to set aside this time each year. With the hope of Easter so close at hand.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tired Teddy

Tired Teddy is my personal code for needing a break. "I'm a tired teddy bear." Life's schedule goes along swimmingly until that one more meeting, or event, or appointment, or whatever gets stacked on top of everything else and the loft goes out of my sails.

No sap yesterday. Sunday night into Monday morning, it was too warm. Then by one in the afternoon, everything froze solid. Maple sugarmaking, like life, requires balance. Warm days balanced by cold nights. Any other temperature mix and the sap remains in the tree. Warm days and warm nights results in not a drop. Though, cold days and cold nights spark hope for a warming trend.

The season is young. I have hope.

Monday, March 07, 2011

More Science

Note the stuff at the bottom of the jar. It's maple salts.

I guess you can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can't take the scientist out of the person. As in the movie Sixth Sense where the little boy confesses, "I see dead people," (and btw, so do I -- but that is another post), I see science, especially when we are sugaring. Today, it's the effect temperature has on solubility. When I put the finished syrup (temperature 221 degrees for our location) into the canning jars it is bell ringing clear, but as the syrup cools, it gets cloudy. This stuff miraculously appears in the jar.

No miracle really, for as the syrup is cooling, what is appearing is maple salts. Maple sap is more than just sugar, water and nature's own maple flavoring. It contains all the nutrients the tree needs to grow, flower, and develop leaves. These nutrients are lumped together into one category, as far as the sugarmaker is concerned -- maple salts.

Hot syrup, most hot liquids for that matter, have a higher capacity to solubilize salts than there cooler counterparts. This is what we see every spring.

The larger sugarshacks filter their maple syrup after finishing. Our yields are so small, (sometimes only a quart after a boil) in comparison that we would lose a lot of our product (maple syrup) to the filter. So we let nature and time do the separation process.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

First Boil

Start Time: 9:30 AM

Thirty-six gallons plus the day's production into the pan over nine hours.
Cook with continuous stirring, for one more hour, filter,
then finish for another hour or so.

End: Over a gallon of Framingham's finest Grade A light.
This is the first time we've made over a gallon of syrup from a boil.
Time: 8:15 PM


I was lucky to attend a Haiku workshop with Ray Salemi, author of ROBOT Haiku.

Still winter morning
Crunching snow beneath my feet
Maple sugaring time

Today, is the first boil of the maple sugarmaking season; always a joyous day.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Quote

"One good thing about maple sugar season is that it's so short we never stand the chance of getting sick of it."
- Burr Morse, seventh-generation maple sugar maker from East Montpelier.

I had the pleasure of meeting Burr four years ago. We were up in God's country for a family gathering and his Maple Heaven was not too far from our route. My being new to the art, we spoke of all things maple. And as our conversation ended Burr extended an invitation to come up when their evaporator is running full swing.

My reply,"I can't. For I will have a pan of my own to watch and tend." It's true. Once the taps are in, sugarmakers don't venture too far from their pan.

Since that first meeting we have chatted via email, are friends on facebook, and I did get back for another visit this past summer. We swung in again off the path to another family gathering, just so I could see the Morse Farm new evaporator. It's a beauty; as big as my entire sugar shack and shiny, shiny silver. I know it will produce Vermont's finest.
Feel free to stop by and take the tour.

Tell them Patty sent you.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Just how much snow is there?

Walking the line, as we call it, when we walk from tree to tree collecting the sap, I am amazed at the amount of snow. The above picture shows that I am over eye level with our six foot fence. The number one sap collector could easily step up onto our pop up camper... Our buckets are hung on the trees a foot higher that usual, due to the snow. In the picture below -- look for last year's tap hole under the bucket. (Ignore the sap leaking down the bark. ;-( ) And we generally tap waist high.

So when the snow melts, will we need a ladder to check the buckets? Good question...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Maple Sap Science

Here are two images from yesterday when the temperatures kissed up against 40. The sap in bucket left (1) is from the shaded side of a tree, and the sap in bucket right (2) is from the full sun side. Note the differences in volume. Pretty exciting science right in our own back 0.58 acre.

Most people are surprised by the crystal clear water consistency of the maple sap. Some have even thought the sap would be more syrupy -- more like maple syrup. My bucket emptier, number one sap taste tester has reported the sap is sweet right from the tree. Still, I am sure we will be boiling down close to 50 gallons of sap to acquire one gallon of syrup.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Dark Side of the Moon

Either through NASA or Pink Floyd, we've all heard of the darkside of the moon. Today, while collecting the maple sap (close to 18 gallons from 13 taps, thank you) short neural bursts of those words with an under score of Pink Floyd synapsed through my brain. For I was seeing some real flow effects on the dark side of the trees.

Buckets hung in full sun were close to full. Whereas buckets hung (think Darth Vader) on the dark side; well their taps were still frozen or at least iced over.

I love sugaring. Besides the obvious sweet rewards, every year there is science in my backyard in the form of freezing point depression, flash crystallization, and now the effects of shade on sap flow.

Recently someone asked me, "Are your taps in?"
My reply, "Yes, and today the sap will run."
Their face all scrunched up, they asked, "How do you know?"
And my reply, "I just do."

There is something truly innate about sugaring.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Mark Nizer

While on the Dream we had the opportunity to watch physical comedian Mark Nizer. His show was outstandingly humorous, and personal. There was a sign language interpreter down front and his impromptu exchange with this individual had the whole theater in stitches.

But the one part of his act that caught my eye and camera was when he was spinning out a Diablo Chinese yoyo. Do you agree?