Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Morning Walk

What are little boys made of? Today they are made of pond water and muck,

Squirmy tadpoles....
Slippery newts and
Frog eggs!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Our Morning Walk
The mystery daffodil patch. Our walk was cut a little short today due to bugs! Everything is waking up and we were swarmed! Time to stock up on our natural bug repellents.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Our Morning Walk
This flower is a bit of a mystery - Hannah found a whole a patch of daffodils and jonquils off in the woods near another section of stream. They are not anywhere near a house - how did they get there?

The weather has warmed up quite a bit this week - buds and greenery are peeking through all over - finally! We made our way to The Court again for a couple of rounds of "Mother may I" - Hannah opted to continue adding some plants to her flower press for an ongoing Botany project.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Maple Sugaring - Evaporating

If you remember those old Dunkin' Donuts commercials where the very tired donut maker wearily keeps repeating to himself...."Gotta make the donuts" then you have a bit of an idea what this phase of maple sugaring is all about - except the ongoing phrase in your head is more like "Gotta feed the fire".

Once you have your sap then you've got to bring it to a boil..and then you let boil..and boil...and boil some more. You have to keep the fire going hot if you want to make progress and when you still have 50 gallons of sap waiting plus another gather looming in the afternoon - you want to make progress.

We started with large pots last year but we knew we were going to have improve on that for this year. At the beginning of the season we started with two stainless steel steam tables - like the ones you might see at a hot buffet.
This worked so much better than the pots...but we could do better. Ed was able to find a piece of stainless steel metal and a coworker was able to fashion a larger pan for us - he will be getting free syrup and other maple goodies for life! The best part about having a custom made pan is that we know it is absolutly lead free. Isn't it beautiful?

But believe me - this same pan looks a little different now at the end of the season. The larger shallower pan means more sap fits in the pan and more of pan being in contact with the flames makes for a more efficient boil. The picture below shows one of the smaller pans now acting as a warmer for the sap.

The basic routine Hannah followed was to strain the sap through cheesecloth and add that to the warming pan on top. Whenever the big pan started getting low - the sap from the warming pan was added to the large pan. We kept the large pan going until it was getting close to syrup - the sap obviously starts to slightly thicken and gets a more golden color, oh...and it smells wonderful! Once the syrup was getting close to finish, that is, when the temperature got to about 216 F degrees,the syrup would be moved to a large pot to finish inside on the stove.

Inside the syrup was finished at 219 degrees F. Once we had syrup we would let the "sugar sand" settle - next step - bottling!
An Unexpected Guest

I was in the kitchen when I heard something knock over our recycling can. We had a visitor alright - this must be a cub from last year. I looked over into the woods behind our neighbors house and saw 0ne...two...three...wait a minute...yes...four more young bears following one behind the other up through the woods. Five bears in a single sighting that is a record for us! This one just sort of sat there looking at us as we scrambled to get the camera and our bear measures ready - whistles and an assortment of pots and pans.
I took another pic and then we started our banging, our whooping, and our hollering...uh oh...no don't go up that tree just go join your brothers and sisters! He scrambled about 4ft up and then came back down and ran off up the hill.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Our Morning Walk

If nothing else - this little project with the goal of posting a picture a day has shown me how busy and blessed our life is on a daily basis.

This past Thursday our morning walk was to the car to go see the Golden Dragon Acrobats- what an amazing show.

Friday our walk didn't happen - we were catching up from being out Thursday - besides the camera was already packed away in Papa's car ready for his trip to Raritan Bay where it was busy taking pictures like this one below on Saturday. He enjoyed his first Nantucket Sleigh Ride! What! You don't know what a Nantucket Sleigh Ride is? Well neither did I until my husband took up fishing. Just picture a kayak (small craft, no anchor), a very large fish, a fishing pole, and a grown man grinning from ear to ear.
Papa was back Saturday night and up on Sunday to get ready for the Senior Citizens' Prom that one of his student groups at the high school where he works puts together each year. The girls went to help out dressed in their Easter best and afterward I joined them to see the high school's production of Damn Yankees - they did a great job!

Which brings us to Monday - whew!
Sketch books in hand, the girls and I checked on the plants we have chosen to sketch through Spring. The day was beautiful - so our walk ended at "The Court" - it's an old cement basketball court where we jump rope, play hopscotch, sing, play recorders...you get the idea. Aidan, above, is playing a favorite variation of jump rope where you try to hop over the slithering snake and not get bit!

And here it is Tuesday - violin lesson day - in my vision of a perfect Tuesday morning we are all up and out to take our morning walk - the boys stay presentable and do not get covered in mud - and we all calmly and happily get in the car and on our way! Hmm...we'll just call it a work in progress and leave it at that.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our Morning Walk

Today we took turn down towards the stream. We crossed the area that the children have named "The Treacherous Bog". I thought the name just a bit dramatic...until I missed a bog and came away with a boot covered in muck. We crossed the stream and walked along the other side. I can't say I have ever seen a fairy but if I ever do, surely it will be somewhere along this stream. Doesn't the above look like prime fairy territory to you?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Our Morning Walk

Another picture from yesterday - this morning it was enough to get to violin lesson on time. I love all those little birches that are surrounding Katie - they hold their old leaves until the new ones come out. This year I am watching to see just when those old leaves fall off.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Maple Sugaring - The Gathering

The most strenuous part of Maple Sugaring is gathering the sap. A nearly full 5 gallon bucket weighs about 40 pounds. There were days when many of the buckets were nearly full. In fact, some trees, which we called our "Gold Star Trees" would be full to overflowing within a twenty four hour period. It is truly an amazing sight. We gathered, with a few exceptions, everyday.

Katie who tried her best to keep a log of incoming sap, reports at least 5 days where we brought home around 100 gallons of sap. Any sap that could not be boiled off in day was collected in 55 gallon food grade barrels and kept very cold with sapsicles. It is mind boggling to think of bigger producers who collect thousands of gallons of sap!

I'd like to say that we always had smiling faces while we joyfully toted and poured buckets but there are times when it just wasn't fun - like in the pouring rain. I think some lessons in perseverance were learned through all this as well as many others. I don't think a day went by where we didn't ask God to bless those who do this kind of work to sustain their family!
Our Morning Walk

Mondays...ahhh....Mondays. There always seems to be a bit of an adjustment after the weekend. We did not manage to get out the door until 10:00am! But on our walk we did find some new discoveries for our Botany study and the girls and I each "adopted" a branch to sketch through spring. I also started Christian's Mass Book for his First Holy Communion this morning and read a couple of chapters from our current read aloud before we left the house - so we've accomplished quite a bit already!

We had started down our usual route along the dam of our small neighborhood lake when Katie said to me "Oh Mama - look you can see our Fort". Wow - this is just one of many "forts" that have been built over the years. This one, it turns out, has been an on again off again joint project with some friends since January! I had no idea. I know of other "forts" but this one took me by surprise!

I can only laugh now at how I used to longingly gaze at catalogs that included everything from petite playhouses to large cedar swing sets. But over the years I have come to see the hidden blessings in not having too many outdoor play structures..especially in an area such as ours where there are so many opportunities for the children to find or build their own "houses". Excuse me - forts - there is a big difference you know!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Maple Sugaring - The Beginning

It all began on Sunday February 3 - I remember because it was Superbowl Sunday. While many were enjoying the game, we were out enjoying Super Sap Sunday! After a trial run last year we decided that Maple Sugaring would be Hannah's (13) big project this year.
All those buckets were washed and the tubing was cut into sections. The only other equipment needed were the taps, Dad's electric drill, and a mallet.

It is a thrill to see that first trickle come out of the tree!

The tap is inserted into the hole and we wait for...The first drip! Now keep in mind that it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup - that's a lot of drips!
Our Sunday Walk
Well...it was sort of a walk. We pulled all our taps today from Maple Sugaring. It was a happy time - collecting all the buckets and the last bit of sap for the season. I think we have all had our fill of hauling buckets of sap, firewood, and smelling like a wood fire everyday! We had a great season. There's still a bit of boiling to be done and tomorrow we will be washing a lot of buckets.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mama's Morning Walk

It was one of those mornings...one of those mornings where it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong does - from missing jackets...scrambling for socks... to the car needing to be jump started! After a hectic time helping Ed get all four children out of the house in time for orchestra rehearsal this morning, Mama took her own little walk.

The picture shows what is known in our family as the "Pump House". In recent years it has been locked, but inside there is an old water pump that used to provide water to the neighborhood homes years and years ago when this was a little community of summer vacation homes in the 50's. No one had indoor plumbing in their little summer cottages, in fact, when we first moved into our house (which did have indoor plumbing at the time) an outhouse still stood on the hill in our backyard.

The Pump House was the destination for walks when all the children were under age 7. We would all toddle down to the little house and pump the handle until the water came gushing out. Then it was time to return home. Everyone took a turn with the handle and it never ceased to delight my small children. We never visited much during the winter. One spring, on our first visit after the winter, we pumped and pumped and pumped and finally a mouse in a jumble of leaves tumbled out!

Now that I am thinking about it, Aidan, age 5, may have never heard that particular story - I'll have to share it on our next walk down that direction. Off to enjoy a glorious morning of uninterrupted Spring cleaning!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Our Morning Walk

My husband was about to leave the house this morning when I notice the camera around his neck.
"Are you taking the camera?" I asked.
Yes - he needed the camera to send some pictures to folks over at Trout in the Classroom. While we were on our walk this morning - a rainy morning but refreshing and very peaceful - the camera was actually taking pictures such as this one...
But when hubby got home, I did run over and snap a picture of the birch that caught my eye this morning. I tend to want to curl up on cool wet rainy mornings and we were moving a bit more slowly this morning but we did it - into rain boots and out of the house by 8:30am!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Our Morning Walk

We'll join Jennifer in an attempt to post a picture a day for the month of April! Our theme will be "Our Morning Walk". Our homeschool days always seem to go better if we begin the day with a short walk. Getting everyone out of house seems to help our day actually begin in a more timely fashion. My hope is to get everyone out of the house by 8:00 or 8:30 am and be back by 9:00am. We'll snap a picture along the way each day!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The day was cloudy, rainy, and wet but also very warm....throughout the day we wondered... could it be? Will it be tonight? Yes! Time for the spring peepers! For us these are the little heralds that sing in Spring! My oldest daughter would really like to participate in an Amphibian Crossing program but this year we settled for our own frog hunt and watch last night when we heard their calls. We slowly drove down our dirt road and when we spotted anything hopping we stopped and made sure they got across road safely. Here's a sampling of the critters we saw...

This fellow was the largest and we think must be a toad.

This one was a little smaller.....

And this one smaller still....

We ended by taking a walk around our local lake where we found two more species...
And finally, our favorite...so small!
We are hoping to do it again and bring Daddy along (he missed this one because he was still at work). We'll let you know if we spot anyone new! I did try to look them up but I'm pretty baffled...the most obvious one is a leopard frog but we're not sure about the others. We do know it is the last littlest guy that makes the loudest peep.