Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ready For Some Pancakes

That's what Toad says.  I took that sap from those maple trees out in the woods, and I cooked it and cooked it and cooked it until it turned into syrup.  He tasted it in several stages along the way: straight from the tree--like cold cold water with a hint of sugar, boiled about halfway--just turning slightly golden with a hint of maple flavor, and finished syrup licked off the spoon when I was done putting the syrup into canning jars.

No longer sweetened water, no longer a pale amber with the most subtle of syrup flavor, now a robust flavored and thick deep amber colored syrup.  Ready for some pancakes.

collecting sap in buckets

full buckets waiting to be boiled

our rudimentary boiling set up

starting to turn color

nearly done;
moved to final boil pot on kitchen stove

ready for some pancakes!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Chainsaws and Sap-cicles

What guys do while their females are at a "Girl Party" aka bridal shower?

DH, DS1, DS2 and Toad hung out here during DD1's bridal shower on Sunday, although they (mostly) stayed outdoors.  None of them, except Toad, wanted to be in the house while it was full of women, and thankfully the weather cooperated enough that they could comfortably spend several hours outside.

Toad only wanted to be in the house because his sister was at the Girl Party, as K3 called it, where there would be games and snacks. To a 3 year old, games meant Old Maid, Hi-Ho Cherry-O, and Go Fish, which we definitely weren't playing at the shower.  But still, it took a little convincing to get him out of the house.

As soon as his Papa, aka DH, started up the four-wheeler, Toad was convinced that outside was better than inside.  He loves the four-wheeler.  He also loves the woods, which is where all the guys were headed.  Taking the wood hauler trailer, and the chainsaws, they were ready to be gone for hours.

Turned out that Toad much more enjoyed the woods.  He helped to stack wood (the smallest diameter pieces) as well as had fun throwing sticks out of the way.  And of course, with sap sort of running--Sunday was sunny but only in the 30's--DH took him to our little sugar bush area to see where Grandma is collecting sap.  Since it was so cold, and I hadn't had time to get out and empty sap jugs on Saturday or earlier in the day Sunday , there were more than a few icicles hanging from jugs that had overflowed.  DS2 broke some off, and introduced Toad to the joy of sucking on a sap-cicle.  Cold and just slightly sweet from the maple sap.

After returning from the woods, DH brought Toad into the house to use the bathroom, but didn't want him to try to join the Girl Party.  So he told Toad that they were going to sneak in, use the bathroom, and pilfer some of our snacks.  They were so stealthy that I didn't even know they'd been in the house until much later, after the shower was over and the guests went home.

While the shower was wrapping up, DH brought out of the garage a very small (young child sized) four-wheeler we'd been given last fall.  It was in need of minor repairs when it had come into our possession, and DH hadn't had much time to tinker with it.  DS1 and DS2 were more than happy to mess with it that afternoon, cleaning out the carb and checking connections everywhere.  They also drained out the old stale fuel, and put in fresh gas.  By the time the last guests left the shower, that little four-wheeler was running nicely.  Toad and K3 both had a chance to drive it slowly and carefully around the backyard a few times. 

After which Toad asked me if I'd seen him driving it, and then asked me if he could "eat another one of those square things".  Square things meaning the mint squares I'd made for the shower.  And that's how I found out he'd snuck into the Girl Party. :0)

Mint Squares
First Layer, mix together:
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups chocolate syrup (recipe here, or use Hershey's syrup)
2 cup flour
4 eggs

Bake in lightlygreased jelly roll pan (10"x15") or large cookie sheet with 1" lip for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Refrigerate until cool.

Second Layer, beat together:
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract
4 drops green food coloring (or as many drops as needed to get a nice shade of green)
4 Tablespoons milk
1 stick butter, softened

Spread onto first layer.  Refrigerate until set.

Third Layer, melt together:
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) chocolate chips
1 stick butter

Stir until smooth and well combined, then spread on top of mint layer.  Refrigerate until cool.

Cut into 1.5-2" squares and put in air tight container. Store in fridge until serving time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Shower Her With Love

Sunday was the little Big Day.  As in, not THE Big Day, Wedding Day, but the smaller Big Day, Bridal Shower Day, for DD1.

The turnout was much larger than expected.  Apparently either DD1 is so special she defies the rule of 1/3 (1/3 of your invited guests won't come), or many of her friends and relatives had nothing more interesting on their calendars for March 11th!  Because we were stuffed to the gills with guests.  Had we known such a high percentage (at least 80%) of invitees would actually attend, we would have looked into having the shower at a hall or other venue.  Having had 20 people for family holidays, we figured 12-15 guests at our house would be no big deal.  Imagine putting 21 people in your living room!

It was loud, it was sometimes crazy, but it was FUN! Despite an unexpected guest (I will never know why??? my eldest sister-in-law thinks its okay to bring uninvited people to family events without first asking if that's okay. . .) there were enough chairs, food, and favors for everyone.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, and many people asked where we had found the ideas for the games that were played.

Honestly, this was just a mish-mash of old traditional shower games, and newer ones, with a few school-style things (like calling on DD1 to use her "teacher voice" and do the attention getting hand-clap when the crowd got a little rowdy) thrown in.

We had prepped everything except for the punch the day before (punch was made about 1/2 hour before the shower so it would still be kind of fizzy at serving time 2/3 of the way through the shower).   As guests arrived, we directed them to the dining room table, which we had set up for cards and gifts, as well as the first 'game':  How Many Kisses for the Mrs? where they wrote down a guess for how many Hershey's kisses were in a quart sized canning jar. The guest who guessed closest without going over the amount actually in the jar received the jar of kisses as their prize. (In case you are wondering, I crammed 129 Hershey's kisses into that jar.) 

Also at this station were envelopes for thank you cards, which we asked each guest to address, as well as slips of paper to write "Advice and Well Wishes For The Soon-To-Be Mrs". and a basket to put those papers in.

start here

Once everyone had arrived and had completed their tasks at the table, the fun began in the living room.  Each guest was given a clip board (rounded up from several sources so we had enough for everyone), an ink pen, and a sheet of paper entitled Find The Guest Who. . . that had a grid of squares with different items.  That was our icebreaker game, and guests mingled getting to know each other for about 15 minutes while they tried to find another guest who

  • has the same first name as you or your mother
  • drives the same color car as you
  • has been on a vacation in the last three months
  • speaks a foreign language
  • traveled over 50 miles to attend this shower
  • is afraid of heights
  • doesn't like coffee
  • has the same favorite color as you
  • can play a musical instrument
. . . among many other things. There were 20 items in all to acquire someone else's name for.  That seemed to loosen up the crowd--ranging in ages from 5 (the flower girl) to 75.

The next game was Jeopardy.  DD2 had come up with six categories, and questions and answers to go with them.  Each category had 5 questions ranging in point value from 200 to 1000, plus one Double Jeopardy question worth 2000.  And once all those had been chosen and answered, there was a Final Jeopardy question to wager on.  

We told the guests to form teams of 3-4 people each, and commenced playing.  This game took about 45 minutes to get through, but it kept rolling with lots of laughter and some surprising competitiveness between teams.  

Our categories were Wedding Traditions, Special Dates, Where are They?/What are They Doing?, Bride or Groom?, Love Songs, and Famous Couples. Wedding Traditions was just that; questions about different wedding traditions. Special Dates was things like the bride's birth date, the date of their first date, their wedding date, date they graduated from high school, etc. Where are They?/What are They Doing?  featured printed photos of DD1 and Honorary Son at different places or events throughout their years of dating, and the guests had to either name the place or the event.  Bride or Groom? was questions like "Who showers more" and "Who is the bigger sports fan" and "Whose brother hit them in the head with a baseball bat when they were five years old" and the guests had to decide if the correct answer was DD1 or Honorary Son.  The Love Songs category was audio, with either DD1 or I singing selected verses of a love song, and the teams had to come up with the title of the song.  Famous Couples had questions whose answers were things like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Bonnie and Clyde, Tarzan and Jane.


For Final Jeopardy, the category of Firsts was announced, and then each team got to write down what amount of their points they wanted to wager.  After that, the question "Where did DD1 and Honorary Son go for their first date?" was read, and the teams had one minute to consult and then write down an answer.  To everyone's surprise, the team that had gone into Final Jeopardy with the least points ended up being the only team to correctly answer the question.  The members of the winning team got to each pick a prize from our prize table.


The next game was a kitchen themed memory game.  I had sewn a new apron for this, and DD1 put it on in another room, where I put things in her hands, or clipped them to the apron or put them into the apron pockets with enough identifiable parts sticking out.  Then she paraded through the living room for about 90 seconds before leaving the room again, after which the guests had three minutes to write down as many items as they could remember.  When the time was up, we had her return to the living room, where one by one the items--including the apron--were named and removed.  There was a tie for who had remembered the most items correctly, and it was broken by correctly stating how many clips had been on the apron (five).  The winner then was given the choice of keeping the apron or choosing something from the prize table (she elected to take a mug from the prize table, much to the delight of Surprise, who later ended up taking the apron home).

How many kitchen items can you spot?

That was followed by two wedding themed Mad-Libs that we had found on the Internet.  To our amazement, the Mad-Libs were kind of a bust.  My family absolutely loves Mad-Libs, we used to do them on road trips to break up the monotony of hours in the car and my kids could tell you what an adverb was compared to an adjective long before they could even read or write the words themselves.  So we never dreamed that other people would have so much trouble coming up with nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, numbers, liquids, etc.

After the Mad-Libs (which honestly we cut short, having originally intended to do three, one about How They Met, one about The Proposal, and one about The Wedding), each guest was given a wedding themed word search to do while DD2 and I set out refreshments and DD1 quickly ate a plate of refreshments in the kitchen.  The first three people done with their word searches earned a trip to the prize table.

Then it was time for everyone to get something to eat and to drink, and DD1 sat in the chair of honor.  She opened the cards and gifts while guests imbibed on snacks, punch and lemonade, looking on.

the noshes

the overflowing gift table

When the shower ended (we had scheduled it from 1-4, the clock read 3:53 as DD1 unwrapped the last gift--and DD2 & I stepped into the kitchen where we shared an elated fist bump at our impeccable timing) the guests were instructed to please take home a candle (which I had made last week in 4 ounce mason jars) in either the scent of vanilla, maple, or lilac.  

Friday, March 9, 2018

Overworked Husband

When your husband is being eaten by his job. . .  It begins slowly, usually so vaguely that you can't tell the symptoms for what they are.

He's forgetful, and you wonder if perhaps he has early onset Alzheimers.  He forgets that you told him the brakes are squeaking on your vehicle (because brakes are so easy they are not something we pay someone else to fix) and when you finally say "The brakes started grinding today, can you please look at them?" he admonishes you for 'not telling him sooner'.  He forgets that he was going to look at the door that won't stay latched and gets irritated when it becomes impossible to even wiggle/lift/shove into a closed state.  He forgets you both had agreed to put this or that outing or event on the calendar as something fun you were going to do together and doesn't understand why you are so upset about something that he swears he never even discussed didn't come to pass.  He forgets that he said this winter, or this spring, or this summer, was finally the time you were going to purchase this thing, or do that home improvement project and tells you that it hasn't actually been two/three/six years since that thing/project was scheduled to be achieved when you bring up the subject.

He's short tempered, even after he's had his morning coffee.  He's grouchy in the morning, touchy after work, and doesn't even become fully human on the weekends any more.

He's hard to wake up in the mornings.  His alarm clock, sitting a foot from his ear, wakes up everyone in the house before he actually hears it enough to wake up rather than slam his hand down on the snooze button and continue sleeping.  When you try to wake him up, he mumbles work related questions at you. You can carry on an entire conversation with him if you can come up with enough technical work terms and he's still asleep during all this. And when he finally does wake up, he demands to know WHY??? his alarm clock didn't go off, or WHY??? you didn't wake him up sooner, and now he's late.

Nothing can please him.  Any attempt at cooking his favorite meal, or doing a spectacular cleaning job on the house goes unnoticed.  Instead of seeing the extra effort to cheer him up when he's down (and being cheered up in the slightest), he finds the next negative thing in sight to complain about.  It's classic come home from work to yell at the wife and kick the dog. Except the longer it goes on, and the fact that you don't have a dog makes it feel more like yell at the wife then kick the wife, and soon you are struggling with your own overwhelm and insecurities.

Eventually, you see the pattern, remember the symptoms from the last time his job became more than one man should have to handle on an ongoing basis.  And you begin to understand it's not you that he's unhappy with, it's his job.  Nevertheless, it still feels like its you who isn't making the grade.  A grumpy and overwhelmed man who doesn't recognize that he's overwhelmed and therefore grumpy is a very difficult person to live with.  To want to live with.

You love him so much, yet at times like this you just want him to go away because he's stressing you out with his stress (the stress he denies he is having), and you need a break more than you need his help or companionship.  Not that he's around enough physically, and certainly not mentally, to help much and he's not in a companionable mood more often than not.  Time spent talking with him should not feel like you are at some business meeting checking action items off of an agenda and making lists of what the next steps are.  Especially when he's in manager/boss mode and it feels like he's giving you an armload of work to accomplish and report back to him on.

What do you do?  Well, you hang in there, knowing this too shall pass.  Hoping that it shall pass SOON, and remembering that you really do love this man, that he really is a good person, and once the job stress subsides, you will have your companion back.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Yarn Along, March

I am once again joining Ginny for her monthly Yarn Along.

Books I've read since February's Yarn Along:

When The Bishop Needs an Alibi.  Very good mystery, kept me guessing right to the very end.

To Be Where You Are.  Excellent.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy visiting the residents of Mitford. It's been several years since I read a Jan Karon book, and I think I missed a couple.  I will have to hunt them down at the library and get caught up.

I am currently reading Hillbilly Elegy.  It was recommended by a millennial friend whom I've known since she was barely in elementary school. Being that I have both Appalachian roots (my paternal grandparents) and have been--like my young friend--living in a (relatively poor) semi-rural area for quite some time, I can't wait to read further in this book.  I've only just started it on Monday, but it is so completely relatable to me. My extended family, even DH's extended family (although none of them are Southern), even most of the population of our little village and surrounding area. . . they are all represented in this book.

Knitting has slowed down, a little.  I've been doing more decluttering & rearranging/reorganizing.  There is a bridal shower afoot, coming soon to my home, and therefore long put off household stuff is being addressed. Mid to late February was also the time to get seeds started for the garden--tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage and the like.  Add to that the beginning of maple syrup season; knitting time is definitely decreasing.

I did manage to finish my Classy Slip-up socks. I really like how they came out. They are super comfy in a not-too-stretchy but not-too-tight way.  I will probably knit this pattern again in the future.

With those finished a few days before the end of February, I decided to grab a skein of fingering yarn that's been in my stash for several years--four, I think (I've only been knitting for five!)--grabbed a pattern I'd printed out about two years ago and never matched with a yarn, and immediately cast on for another pair of socks.  The yarn I'm using is Cascade Hand Paints, in a beautiful blues and green colorway--9809--and the pattern is Deflect.  With its cables, it's not quite mindless knitting, but I am having fun with it.  It's been a while since I knit cabled socks. Two years, apparently, as looking back through my blog posts, I found these.

Ironically, that was the pattern I thought of when I decided to cast on another pair of socks right away. But then I decided that the yarn I want to use right now would be too busy to do another pair of Cadence socks.  But that's okay, because I am enjoying making the Deflect socks just as much as I did the Cadence ones.  I think I just like making cables.  And I know I like making socks.  So, cabled socks, how could I go wrong?

Taking pictures of them, however, is proving difficult.  I can either get true colors, like the first photo in this post, or I can get a very dark photo in which you can actually see the cabling.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Tapping Time

It has been another funny winter, weather-wise.  Some really warm spells, some really cold spells, some heavy snows, some heavy rains.  Sometimes all within a two week time period.  I noticed the weight limit signs go up on the rural roads--indicating the frost laws are in effect--about the second weekend of February, which is a good two weeks earlier than normal.  Given that, which is kind of like saying "Yeah, we're pretty much done with winter and the ground's not going to be frozen from here on out", I probably could have tapped trees a week or maybe even two weeks ago.

But I didn't.  I waited until yesterday to set my taps.  Partly because there have been so many other things going on.  Partly because I am just not mentally ready to commit to scheduling in twice daily trips to the woods to check my taps and collect sap, not to mention at least one very long day a week to boil that sap down into syrup.  Maybe I kind of wanted to wait until after DD1's bridal shower this coming weekend. 

However, all indicators--the size of the maple buds all ready!, the numerous species of migratory birds suddenly here, the long range weather forecast--are telling me that the sap run might not last into April this year, so I better get those taps set and get the syrup harvest going.  Not to mention the fact that I have exactly ONE pint of syrup left from previous years of syrup making. There's no time to waste!  Taps must be set! We cannot miss out on syrup season this year or we'll have to buy syrup--which is not cheap--or go back to using that fake syrup yuck from the grocery store (uh, no. Not doing that).

So, after church yesterday, DH and I went out to the woods.  I set 10 taps, and he cut up downed trees with his chainsaw near our little pseudo sugar bush.  Then I spent about an hour helping to stack that cut wood into piles that could be easily accessed by a tractor pulling our wood hauler trailer.

Can't get the spile in fast enough!

Sap was definitely running hard yesterday.  In that hour or so that we stacked wood, a few taps had all ready put out nearly a gallon of sap each. I'm not ready for that!  I had to hurriedly find a few of our food grade 5-gallon buckets with lids so that we could empty the full sap jugs (because again this year I am using saved gallon milk jugs; purchasing real metal sap buckets or a number of 5-gallon buckets and plastic tubing and the size of spiles for that tubing, just isn't in the cards this season). We went out to the woods again after dinner and emptied more of the jugs, tallying about 7 gallons of sap in a 5 hour time period from those 10 taps.

Filling fast.
(I use baling twine to tie my jugs to the tree so they don't blow off in spring winds)

Somehow I am going to have to find the time to collect and boil sap this week, while also getting the house ready for the upcoming bridal shower.  Time to kick it into Homesteading Wonder Woman mode.

Sugar bush

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Not Over-The-Top Bridal Shower

I don't quite know what's up with (what seems like) the majority of American society these days when it comes to weddings and showers.  Maybe it's TV, maybe it's movies, maybe it's Pinterest that has given us the false idea that our life milestones need to be Major Events, television worthy if you will, with all the pomp and circumstance and opulent decorations and catered noshes that (more than) your money can buy.

I'm a simple kind of person. Foo-foo, finery and foppery don't impress me much.  I'm all about function, about understated, about humble honest truth. An attitude that has rubbed off on both of my daughters.  Sure, we can decorate for a special occasion, but we don't have to cover every single surface in swag, nor do we have to empty our bank accounts to do it.

Birthday parties at my house have always been fun, intimate--as in not the entire classroom from school (except the kindergarten class that numbered exactly six, including my child)--and at my house.  Graduation parties at my house have been huge (usually 100+ on the guest list by the time all sides of the family plus friends are invited), fun, and at my house.  So why should DD1's bridal shower be any different?  Especially since the maid of honor--traditionally the person who organizes the shower--is DD2.  Of course DD1's bridal shower will be at my house!

Now, DD2 has never been to a bridal shower, unless you count the one she went to when she was three years old, and the flower girl in a friend of the family's wedding..  DD1 has only been to two.  So they both have looked to me for "what do you do at/for a bridal shower" guidance.  And, together we've come up with what (we think) will be an awesome, fun, frugal, simple yet elegant bridal shower.  At my house.

Did I say it's going to be at my house?  So of course we need to have a plan for what part(s) of the house will be needed for this gala.  Since Honorary Sons mother had all ready stated her intentions to throw DD1 a shower for that side of the family (and family friends) up north where a major portion of that half of the guest list reside, the shower at my house only has a guest list of about two dozen people, myself, DD2 and DD1 included.  Guesstimating that 1/3 of the invitees will be unable to attend (the rule of thumb when planning a party is that 1/3 of your guests will be indisposed or otherwise unavailable) we should be able to comfortably seat everyone in my living room.  Other rooms needed will be the front hall (for guests who come in the front door), the mudroom (for guests who are more familiar with our home and know that front doors are rarely used on farms), the dining room (where we will stage the food) and the downstairs bathroom.  Easy enough to have those areas spick-and-span.

Parking is probably our biggest concern. We have tons of room, since the driveway is 400+ foot long, and there are six spaces near the garage that are used regularly (when we built this house, we made accommodations to park one vehicle for each DH & I, as well as each of our offspring).  However, since the shower will be held in March (since DD2 is the hostess, and she is 500 miles away at college, this shower is scheduled to coincide with her Spring Break), and March here is either muddy or snowy, we're a little concerned with having enough hard, dry ground to park on. There are two 4-wheel drive trucks as well as a tractor than can be used to pull cars out of mud or snowdrifts if we have to, but we'd rather not have to.  I mean, bridal showers and mud bogs should not be simultaneous events.  LOL.

We have a location (hopefully with firm, solid parking).  We have a date.  We have a general idea of refreshments.

DD1, DD2 and I agreed that if we had the shower from 1-4 on a Sunday afternoon, that eliminated the need to serve a meal (guests eat lunch before arriving, and dinner after leaving), and would let us get away with more simple fare.  Finger foods, small portions that could be served on small plates. Small plates are not only cheaper to buy than large plates, they are easy to hold in your hand or on your lap.  This makes it possible to not need tables (and all the space tables take up).   Finger foods also generally do not need to be kept warm, which cuts down on time needed to prepare food the day of the shower.  We can make everything the day before and either keep it refrigerated, or on the counter at room temperature, depending on the dish.

This is our tentative menu so far

  • mint squares (very rich chocolate brownies with a creamy mint filling and chocolate ganache-like top layer)
  • lemon bars
  • veggie tray
  • fruit tray
  • cheese ball 
  • crackers
  • ham and cream cheese roll ups
  • lemonade, water and possibly sangria
  • mini cupcakes (because ages ago I bought a mini muffin pan, and DD1 likes the idea of mini cupcakes rather than one larger cake or even normal sized cupcakes)
  • linzer cookies (DD2 has been dying to make these)

We have a list of activities.  We have ideas for decorations the majority of which will be given to DD1 as decorations for her future home.  We have a plan for favors/prizes for the guests.  Details on all of these will be coming in a future post.

We are going to have a great time.  It won't be fancy, won't cost an arm and a leg, but it will be a memorable time all the same.  A shower shouldn't be about how extravagant the whole thing is.  It should be about showering the bride with love, friendship and encouragement as she heads toward a huge change in her life.