Sunday, March 17, 2019


On March 8th, the temperature rose above freezing.  Not uncommon this winter of wide temperature swings.  However, the long term forecast (ie. two weeks) showed not one day of below freezing high temperatures.  Many days in the 40's. A few above fifty degrees,even.  And to top it off, the frost laws went on--I know this because the seasonal sign at the end of my road appeared the day before between the time I went to work in the morning, and the time I came back home at lunch time.

You know what that means!  No?  You don't?  It means that it's time to tap the maple trees!!

Since I still have the vast majority of the three gallons of syrup I made last year, I decided to only tap six trees this year.  I could probably skip syrup making entirely, but you never know what the run will be from one year to the next.  If next year is awful weather-wise, and I don't tap at all, I don't want to run out of maple syrup.  So, I'm tapping this year and making syrup, just in case.  An insurance policy, if you will.

Last year, I found and purchased (for cheaply) a bunch of food-grade 5 gallon buckets with lids to store my sap in between when I collected it from the tree, and when I boiled it down a day or two or three later.  This year I decided to upgrade my collection system: instead of using rinsed out milk jugs to collect the sap, I invested in some plastic taps, tubing to fit those taps, and drilled holes in the lids of six buckets to fit the tubing.

This upgraded system will hopefully keep the trips to the woods during the mushy muddy Spring thaw to a minimum, as I won't have to run out there twice a day on good weather days to empty my full jugs, (or at all on days where the sap doesn't run as hard).  Plus, with the buckets pretty much sealed (as the holes in the lids are just barely big enough to run the tubing through), there should be a lot fewer bugs to have to strain out of the sap before boiling.  When the bucket is full, I can swap it out for an empty one, sticking a hole-less lid on the filled bucket before hauling it back to the house.  Or, I can even leave the full buckets out in the woods for a day or two if I can't drive the tractor or four-wheeler 

Last weekend, I tapped six trees, none of which had been tapped last year or the year before (I like to give my trees a rest since I'm doing syrup on such a small scale).  So far, one tree has run pretty well, the others so-so. Those six trees gave me roughly 13 gallons of sap by Thursday afternoon. Then the weather took an unpredicted dive, becoming windy with snow and daytime highs only in the low to mid 30's.  The kind of weather that sap doesn't run well in.  *sigh*

So, Friday after work, I began boiling my first run of sap.  I finished it off on Saturday, getting some beautiful golden syrup with fantastic flavor. I think it might even be Grade A.  The pictures below were taken right after ladling it into jars, so it's still boiling hot and cloudy looking.  It cleared as it cooled to room temperature.

For my first run of 13 gallons, I yielded 2 1/2 pints, plus about another 3/4 cup that went into a dish in the fridge to be used for ice cream topping.  Just need to pick up some vanilla ice cream next time I'm in town.  ;0)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Quick Sewing Project

A few years ago, while on a layover in some airport somewhere (Atlanta?  Detroit Metro?  Minneapolis?), DH commented that he'd like "one of those pillows" as he pointed into an airport shop we were walking past.  I glanced really quick in the direction he was pointing, but pretty much forgot about it once we were to our gate.

January 2018, when we again were traveling by plane together, he pointed out the U-shaped pillows again as someone walked past us with one attached to their suitcase handle.  "Get me dimensions, and I can make one," I told him.

Time passed.  I didn't give it another thought.  Apparently, neither did DH.  Scratch that.  He thought about those little travel pillows every time he flew, whether he saw them in airport shops, or in possession of other travelers, or just because he fell asleep in his seat and woke up with a crink in his neck.  But he didn't bother to get close enough to one to gauge how wide and long and thick it might be, so that he could relay that info to me and I could turn it into a sewing pattern.

When he got back from yet another work trip via airplane a few weeks ago, I decided that he was never going to actually do anything (other than complain about not having one) to facilitate the manufacture and acquisition of one of those pillows.  So, I did a little googling, a little printing, some purveying of my fabric stash (which turned up nothing suitably manly for DH to use in a professional capacity), and then some shopping.

Normally I'm not big on shopping.  Fabric shopping, however, is another story.  This shopping was fun; it was a good excuse to go to a quilt shop about a half-hour from this little place here that I haven't been to in a few years.  A quaint, cute, shop with high quality fabrics in a vast array of colors, patterns, and age range.  It was a nice excursion that netted not only fabric for a travel pillow for DH, but also one for DS2--who also flies frequently for his job and has a March birthday.  I also came home with 11 assorted fat quarters of fabric for random future projects.  Because the fat quarters were buy 10 get 1 free, so. . .

And, they happened to throw in a full-sized Hershey bar with my purchase!  Bonus!  Perhaps I should frequent this shop more regularly.

Once my new fabric was washed, dried and ironed, I set to work making travel pillows for both DS2 and DH.  They were super easy to make. (Even though I picked the seam out of the first one twice because I forgot which side of the fabric to attach the strap to that I wanted to add to each of them so they can be fasted to a suitcase and not get lost in transit or dashes from one terminal to another at airports.) 

This is the tutorial and pattern I followed, with the exception of adding that strap (the pattern does not include one).  The strap is easy to make though: cut a 2" x 8" strip of fabric.  Fold in half the long way and sew right sides together with a 1/4" seam allowance.  Turn right side out, fold one end in about 1/4" and then iron flat.  Sew shut the turned under short end.  Attach to the center top of your pillow, with the strap sandwiched between the right sides of the fabric and the raw edge even with the top of the pillow.  Then just sew it down when sewing the pillow front and back together. When you turn your pillow right side out, the strap should now be on the outside and sticking out of the seam at the top of the pillow.  I sewed the female part of a large snap about 1/2" from the pillow end of the strap and the male part of the snap about 1/2" from the finished (turned under and sewn) end of the strap so that when the pieces of the snap are connected, the strap forms a flat loop (make sure to sew the male part on the same side as the female so there will not be a twist in the strap).

I'm pretty happy with the resulting pillows.  Hopefully their owners will find them comfortable on their next trips via airplane.

DS2's professional, manly fabric

DH's professional, manly fabric
 (it nearly matches his luggage)

DH's, showing the strap for attaching to his carry-on

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Big Tree Goes Down

The really big dead tree that DH and I had wanted to take out of our north fence line (originally talked about in this post) has finally been cut down!  DH got his chainsaw running smoothly, put a freshly sharpened chain on the bar, and we set out to cut down the big sore thumb between our field and the neighboring farmer's field.

The felling took a while.  The tree is so old that it had grown around (and enveloped) the old field fencing that runs between our field and the next.  This happened sometime prior to us buying the property in early 2002, and wasn't really a problem while the tree was living.  Now dead and needing removal, though, that wire hidden inside the wood was a matter of concern.  DH definitely did not want to hit metal with his chainsaw.  That's always bad news.

So, before he could start cutting, we had to find the remains of that old farm fence (long fallen down in most places), follow it to the tree, and try to estimate at what height in the tree the wire might reside.  Then translate to heights on DH's body on both the side to which we wanted the tree to fall (where he would make the notch that would guide the tree to fall in the desired direction) and on the side where he would cut straight and level to the center of the tree. Because of being in the fence row, there was nearly a foot of difference in height--on DH--from one side to the other.

figuring the height

making the notch

tree down

That tree had been dead at the top for so long that the upper branches were brittle and pretty much exploded when it hit the ground.  While DH cut the good wood into firewood sized pieces, I used the tractor bucket to scrape the debris out of the (still frozen) hay field.  Other than moldy hay, the other thing I really hate is hay with sticks in it!  Good horse hay, and a good hay farmer, makes bales that are both mold- and stick-free!

Now that the tree is gone, it seems like there is a huge gap in the fence line.  I can see all of the neighbor's house and outbuildings across the road a half-mile away.  When the tree was standing, you could sometimes see a little red of the edge of the barn on one side of the tree, and a little bit of the house on the other.  Now I can count four entire buildings, LOL.

Oh well.  Better to have taken down that standing dead wood on our terms (in the winter when it won't damage the hay field) and use it to heat our house than to leave it rotting away until some storm blows through and knocks it over to crush either my hay or the neighbor's corn.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Late Winter Day

On a not-terribly-cold (below freezing, but only by ten degrees or less) late winter Saturday, we had an impromptu family dinner.  It started as DD1 & Honorary Son coming down to stay with us before going to the wedding of one of DD1's high school friends on Sunday afternoon. From their arrival, it rolled into them seeing if K3 and Toad could come over to play for most of Saturday.  Then DS2 and Surprise drove over (to pick up some important mail of DS2's that was here) and DH decided we should cook out for dinner since a large majority of the family was present and the weather was decent for Michigan in late winter.

Way before dinner time, though, there was some work to be done.  DH and I had wood from those dead trees we'd felled a weekend or two prior that we had to pick up out of the field before warmer weather hit and the field began to thaw.  Toad decided that he wanted to help us with that.  Mainly because it would include riding out to the fence line on the tractor with his Papa.

He was a big help, though, picking up firewood and tossing it onto the wood hauler trailer just like DH and I.

Once the trailer was filled, of course Toad go to ride on top of the wood stack all the way back to the house.

We had left eight or nine of the larger chunks of wood out in the field.  Because, you see, we would need seats to sit on while cooking and eating our dinner that evening.  We were grilling out!  Using up some of the brush piles that had resulted from limbing those dead trees in the fire wood cutting process, DH's plan was to cook hot dogs over a real wood fire, the first 'grilled' dinner of 2019.

While they waited for the fire to burn down enough to cook over the coals, K3 and Toad set out to track some animals.  They followed deer tracks hither and yon through the field.

They came running back when it was time to cook the hot dogs.

After K3 and Toad went home, just before their bedtime, DD1 & Honorary Son went back in the house, but DS2, Surprise, DH and I stayed out for a while longer, sitting on our wooden 'chairs' enjoying the warmth of the fire and listening to coyotes calling less than a mile away.  It's mating season around here, so the coyotes have been more vocal lately.  I yipped back, seeing if I could get a response, and a few times I was successful.  Surprise tried it too, and we tried to get DD1 (who is excellent at calling coyotes) to come back outside but she was all ready comfy on the couch.

All in all, it was a good way to spend a day (and night!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Yarn Along: March

I am joining Ginny today for the monthly Yarn Along.

In the past month, I've done quite a bit of knitting.  I started two projects: a pair of Cadence socks with the yarn my Mom sent home with me in early February, and a Beachcomber shawl destined to become a birthday present for Surprise next month.

My intent was to work on them simultaneously; on the socks because I'd gotten the urge to make socks while finishing the Kempii shawlette I talked about in February's yarn along post, and on the Beachcomber shawl when I was in need of something with larger needles. No hurry on either one as long as the shawl was finished in April.

What I found was that once I'd started the shawl, it was quite addictive with it's color changes, stripes, and lace panels and I pretty much worked on that alone until it was finished in less than two weeks.  It is still in need of blocking, but looks pretty good even without it.

I really loved the ease of this pattern, and just the whole look of the shawl.  It's big, asymmetrical, and being knit in a cotton/linen blend, is lightweight for the size.  I envision making at least one more of these--DD1 saw it in the works and loved it--and have a new color combo in mind for one for myself (someday).

Once that was off my needles, I turned back to my barely started sock for Mom.  I had made these socks before, for myself, and once I got into the charted part of the pattern, I remembered that these, too, are addictive knitting.  The charts are easy to follow and knit up pretty quickly.  So quickly that I'm nearly done with the first sock.

Kind of funny that when I made them the first time, in 2016, I talked about how I'd probably make this pattern again in the future.  You see, when I went to give my Mom her fingerless gloves for her birthday, I happened to be wearing my Cadence socks.  And when she gave me this current skein of yarn and requested that I make her a pair of socks 'when I had time', I asked if she had a particular pattern in mind.  She replied: "I like the ones you have on.  Could you make a pair like those?" So, I guess it's fate that I am making Cadence socks now.

In addition to a lot of knitting, I apparently did a lot of reading this past month too.  In the photo above, you can see the book I am currently reading: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.  I have read some of her books before, and enjoyed them, but because of the topics and tone (so real) I have to be in the right frame of mind to read her works.   This one is really good so far, and yet personally touching me in a way that makes me hope I can continue the book all the way through; I might have to set it aside for a while.

The books I read and finished since the last yarn along are:

  1. The Girl on the Dancing Horse  about Olympian Charlotte Dujardin.  It was interesting, yet not quite what I had thought it would be.
  2. How to Walk Away by Katharine Center.  This book I could not put down!  I literally stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to finish it--and I am not a night owl.  I will definitely be looking for more books by this author.
  3. Naughty on Ice by Maia Chance.  Another Prohibition Era murder mystery by the author I discovered last fall.  Her books are funny and intriguing.
  4. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. She is another author that I greatly enjoy.  The depth of her stories is amazing.  I cannot imagine the hours of research she must put into her fiction-yet-almost-nonfiction story lines.
I've also thumbed through, but not yet read, the latest issue of Taproot, Issue 31: REVIVE.  In it, I found the perfect pattern for a needed item I'd recently told DH I wanted to make: little knit coasters for under the metal feet of his recliner.  I'd crocheted some (kind of ugly and very free hand thought up with no pattern) years ago for under the legs of our couch, but did not make any after purchasing his chair.  It had occurred to me, a few weeks ago, that those little coasters not only keep the couch legs from scratching the wooden floor, they also make it really easy for me to slide the couch out and back when I want to clean/mop underneath it.  Something I cannot do alone: move DH's big heavy recliner to clean underneath it.

Wouldn't you know that this newest issue of Taproot has a pattern for knit hexagons (which are knit in the round, then blocked into hexagonal shape) to make afghans, hot pads, throws, etc out of.  At approximately 6" in diameter, and left as circles, they are the perfect size and thickness for furniture coasters.  Yesterday, I made three, and today I am working on the fourth.  Then I'm going to get DH to tip up his chair so I can put them under the feet, and forever more I shall be able to slide that chair around to clean the floor underneath!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cold Weather, Cutting Trees

The summer before last, DH and I noticed that we had a few dead trees in the north fence line (property line).  Being summer, and we didn't want to crush either the hay or the crop in the field rented by the local grain farmer, we decided to wait until winter time to cut those trees down.

Well, last winter was kind of a bust, weather-wise.  Not too many weekends where the ground was frozen and we could drive the tractor across either the hay field or the crop field without making ruts, let alone drag tree trunks through the fields and up to the wood boiler in order to cut them for firewood.  Seemed like every time the ground was frozen, either we had other things going on or DH just plain wasn't home (he's been increasingly busy at work for over two years now). So, they didn't get cut.

All summer, those dead trees stuck out--to us--like sore thumbs.  We vowed that we would cut them this winter, once the ground froze.

Yeah.  Here we are, almost halfway through February, and those trees were still standing.  Again, the ground has not been consistently frozen.  Again, weekends have been busy.  I didn't think it was possible a year ago, but DH has been working even more hours (I'll spare you the details of the Saturday we were on our way to a wedding 3 hours north and DH's boss called wanting him to jump and run and go into work RIGHT NOW!)

This Sunday, however, we were free, DH was home (he has been traveling for work the past two weeks plus had to go into work for a while on Saturday) and the ground was frozen.  Now was the time to take action on those dead trees! 

So I did.  First, I told DH I needed some help pruning the orchard with the chainsaw (he really doesn't want me to run the chainsaw if I'm home alone).   Then, we moved on to taking a few limbs off of a couple of the trees that are on two sides of the garden.  Then, I mentioned those trees we'd planned to cut last winter and we moved out to the north line.

Our first target, we decided was just too big to tackle that day.  The trunk of the tree was quite a bit bigger than we'd thought (at least 28" in diameter), and DH didn't want to cut into it with his chainsaw acting kind of funky--it ran while we were pruning, but not quite right.  He didn't want to get partially through the trunk and have the chainsaw go on strike.  Instead, we did a smaller tree first, then moved on to one with a trunk that split down low enough it was like cutting two medium trees instead of one huge one. 

Split trunk tree:
cutting the first trunk

cutting the second trunk

Then we tackled a big (but not huge) tree.

He would fell a tree, then wrap a chain around the trunk, and I'd use the tractor to drag the tree up by the house.  At least, we did the smaller trunks that way.  The bigger ones we had to limb first, and I'd take the trunk and then the limbs separately.  And the biggest one I think came out in seven or eight large pieces between all the limbs and the chunks we had to cut the trunk into.  It was heavy wood.

the first two pieces

I actually ran out of room up by the wood boiler to leave the trees, so about half of what we cut ended up pulled out into the field and dropped there, until we can get the ones at the wood boiler cut up and out of the way.

During the three hours or so we were out at the north line, a snow squall blew in, and we had to quit working because the wind was driving the snow so bad it was hard to see.  Hopefully we'll have time yet this winter to go back out and cut that humongous dead tree, plus the four or so smaller dead ones we noticed while we were working.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Yarn Along: February

I am joining with Ginny this morning for the monthly Yarn Along.

Last month, I was working on a pair of Autumn Leaves fingerless mitts for my mom, and wouldn't you know, I forgot to take a picture of them when they were finished!  It's too late now, as they've all ready been gifted. 

Once they were finished, I dove right into my next project, a Kempii shawlette.  More yarn and a pattern that I don't think I would have ever picked out for myself, and I really didn't want either sitting around taking up space, (because this year I want to pare down on what's not being used but taking up space around here) so I dove in.

It turned out to be a very good January project, as with the weather being frigid and DH being gone 12-14 hours a day for work, I didn't mind working on a pattern that required I pay strict attention to what I was doing.  The sun shone brightly through the windows (January days are only sunny if they are super cold), and I knit for a few hours many afternoons. 

I actually finished it last night--well, bound off, anyway, still need to weave in all the ends (from the color changes) and block it.  But here it is in all it's still smooshy glory, spread out the best I could for a commemorative photo.

The speckled yarn (which I wouldn't have purposely bought, as I'm really not a fan of that trend) actually is kind of pretty.  It looks dull from a distance, with a light gray/off white base, but up close is much nicer and brighter.

It's been a while since I did a large project like a shawl, and I do have to confess to getting a little impatient to be done with it once there were a couple hundred stitches per row on my needles.  Oh, to be making socks with their 64 stitches per row!  On the other hand, I came across a shawl kit that just said  to me "Surprise has a birthday coming up in April, she'd love this" and so I bought it.  I think February and March are going to find me bouncing back and forth between two knitting projects: a pair of immediate-gratification-knitting socks and a longer-slower-per-row knitting shawl.

I did manage to read a few books since January's yarn along.

  1. Gap Creek by Robert Morgan.  If you like pioneer days/poor rural mountain folk type of reads that make you think about the differences between your life now and their life then, this one was a good one.
  2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  I've actually had this one for several years.  Had heard it was a good book, but it's about girl who grew up in an alcoholic and neglectful home, so I was a little afraid to read it (I don't like reading about violence).  Once I actually opened the book, I couldn't put it down!  There is no graphic violence or assaults, and it really is a fascinating story.
  3. Anna's Healing by Vanetta Chapman.  An Amish fiction, it was okay.  I like this author's Amish mysteries much better though.
  4. The Pint of No Return by Ellie Alexander.  A craft-beer themed murder mystery, I really enjoyed this book.  Can't wait to read more by this author.  Her technical facts related to brewing were spot on (having homebrewing experience myself, there was only one minor thing in the book I questioned).