Wednesday, March 28, 2018

End of March Hodgepodge

Yes, only dreaming of it.  My reality right now is snow and mud.
 Wednesday again -- so it's time for the Hodgepodge with Joyce and friends at From This Side of the Pond.  Head on over, get the questions, and then answer them on your own blog (or in the comments if you don't have a blog).  Then go back over to Joyce's to link up!   Here are this week's questions:

1. What's a word that describes your life? A word you wish described your life?

A word that describes my life:  I'm trying to think of a truly descriptive word and not succeeding.  Scattered, maybe.  Disorganized?  I just have too much to do on a number of different fronts.  And, right now, my physical strength and energy are limited.

A word I wish described my life: effective.

2. Back in my day we ...

... didn't have computers, cell phones, email, the internet, or microwaves.  (And as much as I use, appreciate, and enjoy these conveniences, I think in many ways life was simpler without them.)

3. When it comes to takeout are you more likely to opt for Italian, Mexican, or Chinese food? Does a typical week at your house include takeout?

We haven't ordered takeout in a long time.  If we do, it is likely to be fish and chips from our favorite local seafood place.  We used to get Chinese takeout occasionally, but it's been years.
Image from Photos Public Domain
4. Think about the people you most respect. What is it about them that earned your respect?

They are people whose walk lines up with their talk.  They are actually living out their faith and walking in obedience to God's Word.
Graphic from Baptist Bible Hour
5. What's something your friends might see and say is 'so you'?

It would probably be an item decorated with strawberries in some way.  I have quite a collection of strawberry themed items by now, with pretty much no two alike.  I have bought very few of them for myself.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

If you haven't already seen my post on maple sugaring memories (it's the post just below this one), you might enjoy taking a few minutes to read it.  It's one I've been wanting to write for years!

Detail from a maple syrup tin
And so ends another Hodgepodge.  Happy Wednesday to all!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Maple memories

I’ve been wanting for years to write a post about my memories of maple sugaring, but just hadn’t found the time.  I finally accomplished this in 2018, but I have added in a few more recent photos now, in 2022. I want this to serve the dual purpose of recording memories for my grandkids as well as making an interesting early-spring blog post.

That picture at the top is a scan of a greeting card.  It looks, really, amazingly like my grandfather's sugarhouse and sugar orchard.   There was the same woods road bordered by old stone walls and mounds of rocks, the same hillside sloping up behind in one area, the same maples lining the road, and even the same mountain in the distance!  I have to wonder, I really do, if the artist had visited my grandparents' sugar orchard.  Or maybe, probably, many New England sugar orchards looked a lot alike.
A vintage sugaring postcard that I recently found
I guess I’ll start with the earliest  memories.  I literally grew up with sugaring, so that as a child there was never a time it wasn’t part of my life.  As mentioned above, my grandfather had a good-sized sugar orchard and maple syrup operation.   He had a sugarhouse way up in the sugar orchard, and how I wish I knew more about it.  Was the sugarhouse already there when he bought the land?  I’m guessing maybe it was, for it was weathered and dilapidated even in my childhood.

The picture below with horses is one that I recently found.  I think that my grandfather is the man standing in the center of the photo behind the gathering tank.  I believe that the middle child sitting to his right, the smiling little girl, is my mother.  To the far left, the oldest sister looks exceedingly proud to be holding the reins.  It seems to me that this is probably a posed picture, most likely taken at the end of the sugaring season, since there is no snow.

🍁   🍁   🍁   🍁   🍁    🍁   🍁   🍁   🍁

My grandparents sold maple syrup as well as what we simply called “sugar cakes” — which is what you get when you boil maple syrup beyond the syrup stage until it crystallizes.    My grandmother made these, not in the sugarhouse, but in the farmhouse, and she poured the maple sugar into beautiful tin molds shaped like stars.

Nowadays if you visit gift shops in New England, you'll often see maple candies in the form of maple leaves and other shapes.  It's basically the same thing, but the sugar cakes were larger. This maple candy is very sweet and also very delicious.  My daughter made some maple candy this year, and below you see two grandchildren about to partake!

The photo below is one of several I have that was taken in my grandparents' sugar orchard.  I'm sorry to say that I don't know who the boy with the oxen is, and I don't recognize the dog in front of him.  The other dog, over at the far left, looks like my grandparent's farm dog Tippy.  She was famous for being able to open latched doors (the type where one just lifts the latch) with her nose.
Sugaring with oxen in my grandparents' sugar orchard

  Probably my own earliest memories of this sugarhouse start when I was in first grade.  You can just see the corner of the sugarhouse at the far left in the photo which includes the oxen.  Below, you can see part of the outside of the sugarhouse behind these children -- I'm on the right, with my cousin at left and my brother in the middle.  You'll note (from both the illustration at top, and the photographs) that sugarhouses were often not constructed very tightly or out of top-grade materials.

The local schools used to bring kids there on field trips during sugaring time.  I think about this now and am amazed.  Taking a school bus full of kids onto a dirt road in sugaring time, then letting said children loose to swarm up a muddy hillside amid soft, wet snowbanks -- I'm quite sure that just wouldn't be the thing today.  But I'm glad it was okay back then, for I have memories of myself sitting in the back room of the sugarhouse on an unstable old wooden bench with a bunch of my classmates, sipping warm, freshly made maple syrup from a Dixie cup and dipping a plain raised doughnut into the syrup from time to time.  I didn't enjoy school.  It was terrifying for me.  But here, I belonged.  I had sat on this bench dozens of times eating syrup with doughnuts fried by my grandmother.  These other kids didn't belong here; they were out of their element.  But I think the sugarhouse field trips were a favorite of all the kids who were able to go on them.
From our daily newspaper, some years ago
My memories of sugaring are also interwoven with my memories of my Aunt Joanne, my mother's youngest sister.  (In the very old photo above, the one with the horses hitched to the sled, Joanne would be the little girl at the far right.)  In my growing up years, Joanne was married and raising a family of her own.  They lived quite a distance away, especially back then when there were no interstate highways and the speed limit was 50 mph at best.  Travel could be iffy during sugaring season, with snowstorms or freezing rain a possibility at any time.  Yet every year during this special season that she loved so much, my Aunt Joanne made the effort to bring her kids up here for sugaring.  In the photo below, her two oldest daughters are the girls at the left.  We loved it when they visited and could hike up with us to the sugarhouse in the woods.

Nearly every day after school in sugaring season, my brother and I would put on our wool snow pants and our jackets and head for the sugarhouse.  Can you imagine our mother let us do this?  It involved walking up a dirt road and then scrambling up the aforementioned snowy/muddy hillside until we disappeared from view among the trees.   The tree above, where we might stop to rest, would have been still in sight if my mother looked out the back door.  But the sugarhouse was much deeper into the woods than this, past a long stone wall and down a lane.  Below you can see the sugarhouse with steam pouring out.  Maple-scented steam is simply amazing!

Of course we would stay up there as late as we dared.  Oftentimes it would be nearly dark by the time we made it back down the hill and trudged up the road to our home.  I had heard many stories of bobcats in those woods, so often we ran down the hill rather than trudged!

It was so good to see lights shining from the windows of our house, and to come in and smell a delicious supper all ready for us.  Often on winter nights my mother would make something like baked potatoes with creamed chipped beef.  Oh, so good!  When we had baked potatoes, we would cut them in half, then scoop out the innards onto our plate ready to add butter, salt and pepper.  But we would drop a pat of butter into each potato skin and wait for it to melt before eating it, holding it sort of folded so the butter wouldn't drip out.  Simply delicious.
A vintage syrup ad that I love!
As time went on, this large sugaring operation was discontinued.  A neighbor had built a little backyard sugarhouse, and he was allowed to tap the roadside trees in the family sugar orchard.  It was probably around this time that my parents decided to try a little bit of backyard maple sugaring, boiling down the sap on their outdoor stone fireplace (previously used for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows, and the occasional hamburger).

I don't have photos of this endeavor.  However, I do have one photo that I found of the fireplace in earlier years.  My brother and I are playing near it.  I may have been pretending it was the fireplace in a cabin ... who knows?  It looks as if I may be trying to sweep the "floor".  What I can say for sure is that boiling sap on this outdoor fireplace was asking quite a bit of it, and it fell into disrepair soon after that experiment.

Our neighbor eventually gave all of his small-scale sugaring equipment to my brother, and my dad built a nice little sugarhouse next to the garage.  The evaporator, of course, was inside, and a little woodshed on the back contained the wood needed to keep a good fire going under the evaporator.

Our method of collecting sap at that time was to load up the back of the family Jeep with a metal gathering tank, a stack of gathering buckets, and kids -- siblings, cousins, neighbors, friends.  We would park the Jeep in a central location and then we kids would scatter, gathering buckets in hand, to the various maples -- some along the roadside and some up in the woods -- that my dad had previously helped us to tap.  We went from tree to tree, emptying the sap buckets into our gathering buckets.

 (The photos below are of my grandchildren in 2018 and 2022-- but they depict the process well.)


Most of the trees had several taps, and some had as many as five.  The photo below is timeless; it could be from any decade since the advent of color film.   But it was from 2018, taken by my daughter.


Josiah is giving his mom and her phone quite the look!  But I wanted to include this photo because the gathering bucket he's carrying is very similar to the ones we used as teens in the 1960s.  And of course, they were old even then.

It wasn't long before our gathering buckets were as full as we dared carry.  If they were too full, cold wet sap would invariably slosh out and onto our pant legs.  As you view Josiah above, you can easily see see the potential for sloshing sap! 

The illustration below is by local artist Cheryl Johnson and graced the front of a brochure some years ago.  I've always liked this since it looks a lot like my own two girls working together to carry a heavy gathering bucket back in the day. 

Arriving back at the Jeep, we would either clamber up and carefully pour our buckets of sap into the large gathering tank, or -- if we were fortunate enough to have plenty of helpers, one person would remain stationed in the back of the Jeep and do all the pouring, as Julia is doing in Sam's truck in the photo below. Even though I retouched the photo to take out the Instagram arrows, it will not show here in its unblemished state.  But you get the idea!

In that case, we simply handed our full buckets up to that person, which sounds simple enough, but involved taking great care not to spill the sap.  Then we would take our now-empty gathering buckets, move on to other trees, and repeat the process.

When all of the sap had been gathered for that day, back we would go to the sugarhouse and begin the process of boiling it down.  This often took us until well into the evening.  We would bring the syrup to a specific temperature and then drain it off into a large kettle.  My mom finished it off on the kitchen stove and bottled it.

Then on the next day there was a good run of sap, we would do this all over again, and continue to do so until the buds came out on the maples and sugaring season ended.  It was hard work, but a great project to be involved with.

We continued this backyard sugaring operation until long after my brother and I were married, with families of our own. Often my brother would do the boiling; sometimes my husband (who had also grown up with sugaring) did.  We also had an elderly neighbor who was experienced at sugar making and often helped us out.  I think our kids were in high school when we finally gave it up.

So it was absolutely wonderful that our own kids could get to take part in this fabulous experience and piece of our family history.  These days, I'm thrilled to report that my daughter and her family have a little syrup making operation in their own back yard!  The photos below were taken when they tapped their trees.  Ari is holding sap spiles that fit into the holes drilled in the tree.  Then the sap buckets will hang from the hooks below the spiles. 

 Josiah is placing covers on the buckets.  You can see how my son-in-law marked the tapped trees with caution tape so they will be easily spotted.  Below, sap begins to drip into a bucket.
The tradition goes on!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Springing into the Hodgepodge

Wednesday means it's time for the Hodgepodge with Joyce and friends at From This Side of the Pond.  Head on over, get the questions, and then answer them on your own blog (or in the comments if you don't have a blog).  Then go over to Joyce's to link up!   Here are this week's questions:

1. On this first official day of spring tell us something (besides the weather) you're looking forward to in this season of the year.

I'm looking forward to feeling better.  Healing every day from that crazy fall I took on the ice, but a ways to go yet.  The hot pack, cold compress, and OTC pain meds are still pretty close friends of mine.

2. When it comes to spring cleaning would you rather wash windows or wash baseboards? Clean out closets or clean out the garage? Dust ceiling fans or dust bookcases? Wipe down the patio furniture outside or wipe down the light fixtures inside? Any of these tasks recently completed?

Let's make it simple.
• A toss-up.  I dislike both equally.
• Closets.
• Bookcases.
• Light fixtures.
• No.
(No bending or stretching is going on here right now -- although I did just wipe down the sconces in the bathroom and wash the light globes, so I guess I can't truthfully say I've done none of the above.)
3. Your favorite thing to make/eat that calls for cream cheese? Sour cream? Whipped cream?

Cheesecake is probably my favorite food made with cream cheese.  Although -- as a young girl, I remember having potato chip and cream cheese sandwiches at my cousin's house.  Delicious!  Interestingly, my cousin has no memory of these delights.

Sour cream -- hmmm.  Probably, lately, a squash soup that calls for this ingredient.  If you missed it, find the story here: Best Squash Soup.  Photo is from the Cabot cheese site.  Recipe's from there, too.

Whipped cream -- I love real whipped cream!  One of my favorite uses for it is in what our family calls Reese’s Pie -- chocolate and peanut butter to the max.  The photo below, from Taste of Home, shows the vanilla version of this pie -- but chocolate is the way to go!

4. I read here a list of commonly mispronounced words. What is a word that gives you trouble when it comes to pronunciation?

Of that list, I didn't know how acai was pronounced.  As a child, though, I taught myself to read by way of newspaper comic strips and so I read a lot of words wrong.  For example, I thought of the word "bedraggled" as "bed-raggled."  You know, all raggled and rumpled from being in bed.  (I've since learned that at least a couple of my friends read this word the same way.)

5. What's a song you love with the word 'rain' in the title or lyrics?  

The first one that came to mind was "September in the Rain" -- the Chad & Jeremy version from the 1960s.

6.  Insert your own random thought here. 

This does not look like the first day of spring.  As I write this, on Tuesday afternoon, there is still a ton of snow out there.  The temperature is around 40ΒΊ and the sky is brilliantly blue.   I guess you could say the sky looks like spring, but nothing else does -- and it certainly doesn't feel that way!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Report from the sidelines

Recently I had a phone call from a real-life friend who now lives in another state and enjoys reading my blog.  She was concerned because I hadn't posted in over a week.  Basically, the reason is I just can't sit at the computer desk for longer than a few minutes at a time.  So, in case you've been wondering too, here is a brief report from the sidelines.

 A week ago Sunday as I was preparing to get in our van to leave for church, I stepped on a sloped patch of ice and my feet slid completely out from under me.  It was obvious after a few minutes that I wouldn't be going to church.

I'm okay -- no broken bones -- but I'm being reminded every day that I'm not as young as I used to be, and that a fall in one's sixties is far more of a big deal than a fall in one's forties.  I've fallen on ice in a similar way before -- twice, to be exact -- but it was 20 to 25 years ago.  I remember hitting my head so hard I saw stars, the one time.  But still, a short-lived headache, some temporary aches -- that was it.  This is taking a lot longer to recover from, though I am making good progress and can do more every day than the day before.

Above you see some of my best friends at the moment.  Below is another.  It's my barley hot pack.
If you'd like to try making one, scroll all the way down to "Popular Posts" and there you will see a link for how to make a barley hot pack.  When the pain subsides and I can sit in the proper chair again, I am going to make another, and also replace the barley in this one and wash the cover.  It's had more than its share of use here recently.

I didn't get a picture of this, but arnica massage oil, introduced to me by my daughter, has also become a new friend of mine.

So I can't blog and I can't sew or stock my Etsy shop.  I can barely even eat, as the kitchen table chairs aren't comfy either and I refuse to eat in the recliner, my most comfortable place.  (But no worries -- I'm managing.)  I've also been able to keep up fairly well with laundry, preparing meals, and so on.  Here's some more of what I have been doing to redeem this unexpected time:
I was drawn to this simple study for my morning quiet time for March.  Little did I know it would be exactly what I needed!

Praying, of course

Working on a crocheted hot mat -- love the cheerful colors
Working on this cross stitch UFO -- and I have made a plan for completing it.  My friend Arlene says the stitcher gets to decide when a piece is completed.

Making a grocery list and planning menus for the week
Reading through this for the umpteenth time ... I need it right now

Working on my Sunday School lesson
And even doing a little light reading.
And that's the report from the sidelines (in a snowstorm!).

Thursday, March 01, 2018

March goals

 All of a sudden, it's March!  I don't mind that February is a short month, but I wasn't quite ready for it to be over.  The weather has been surprisingly beautiful this week: lots of sun and warm temps. Today is lovely too, but they say a nor'easter is headed in tomorrow.  Sounds like March 2 is coming in like a lion, with lots of wind and rain.  

Whatever the weather, it's time to set some goals for the month:
* Work on the Rachel Wojo study Everything Beautiful for my quiet time
* Memorize at least 4 Bible verses and review some older ones.
* Add 4 to 8 pages to my "What Do I Know About My God?" Scripture notebook
* Continue study for Sunday School -- A Woman Who Reflects the Heart of Jesus
* Get to bed by 9 pm each night  
* Limit sugar and red meat.
* Drink enough water each day.
* Walk and/or exercise each day.
* Keep up with Flylady's homemaking zones of the week.
* Do something creative each day
* Post in my Christmas blog at least once or twice weekly
* Post in this blog most weekdays if possible
* Continue working on several UFO craft projects
* Continue planning for family birthday gifts and crafting any handmade ones
* Continue stocking my Etsy shop and continue selling vintage items
* Write at least 4 encouraging notes to friends and family
* Send lengthy email to a friend
* Call faraway friends to chat
* Learn more about cultured foods and begin making more of them
* Declutter and reorganize my closet
* Declutter and revamp computer room
* Help and encourage my local daughter as I'm able
* Clean church and set up for potluck meal
* Sort out and declutter my dad's house; work on estate
* Possibly plan a getaway with my hubby
* Plan meals with a greater emphasis on healthy eating

MARCH'S HEALTHY HABITS:  Drink enough water/exercise/eat healthfully
WORD FOR 2018: Settled

And here is how February went:
* Continue my informal study of Come Before Winter, by Charles Swindoll, for my quiet time --done!  (That is, the study is not done, but I worked at it every weekday.  I have about a month to go in it, I think, but this Rachel Wojo study for March is one I really feel drawn to, so...)
* Memorize at least 4 Bible verses and review some older ones--done!
* Add 4 to 8 pages to my "What Do I Know About My God?" Scripture notebook --done!
* Continue study for Sunday School -- A Woman Who Reflects the Heart of Jesus --done!
* Get to bed by 9 pm each night -- not done every night, but we have managed it a half dozen times.
* Limit sugar and red meat -- did well with red meat (although we did each have a cheeseburger one time!) and better with sugar, but we still need to work on it.
* Drink enough water each day -- still working on that, but doing better.
* Keep up with Flylady's homemaking zones of the week -- not done consistently
* Do something creative each day --done!
* Post in my Christmas blog at least once or twice weekly -- not done; think I managed to post once.
* Post in this blog most weekdays if possible -- only managed once or twice a week
* Continue working on several UFO craft projects --done!
* Plan for family birthday gifts and begin crafting any handmade ones --done!  but still have more planning to do
* Set up an Etsy shop and begin selling vintage items --done!
* Write at least 4 encouraging notes to friends and family --done!
* Send lengthy emails to several friends -- one to go!
* Call faraway friends to chat -- not done
* Learn more about cultured foods and begin making more of them -- not done
* Declutter and reorganize my closet -- began the process; took a large bag of clothing to the thrift store
* Declutter and revamp computer room -- not done
* Help and encourage my local daughter as I'm able -- had the kids over one time while she and her hubby had a date night.
* Clean church and set up for potluck meal --done!
* Sort out and declutter my dad's house; work on estate -- still steadily working at this
* Possibly plan a getaway with my hubby -- not done
* Plan meals with a greater emphasis on healthy eating --done!

FEBRUARY'S HEALTHY HABITS:  Drink enough water/exercise/eat healthfully
WORD FOR 2018: Settled