Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Maple Syrup Tour

Today is Saturday, March 28th, 2015.  It was a cold frosty morning here in Wisconsin.  My daughter called to see if we were doing anything special.  She had signed up for an activity called "Tap into Sweetness: Maple Syrup Tour".  It was one of many events sponsored by the Green Team.  The Green Team is a partnership of many organizations in the Green Lake Wisconsin area such as the Green Lake Association, Green Lake Conservancy, the Green Lake Sanitary District, and the Green Lake School District..  They introduce special, unusual, and unknown natural and historical features of the Green Lake area through the special talents of their volunteers.  These are free, family-friendly events.  This is the first time we participated, but looking at the calendar of events, it won't be the last.

It was a bit frosty when we arrived at the sight this morning, but the sun was bright in the sky and it was perfect weather.

Our daughter Heather and grandson Ewan waiting to start the tour.

We were given a brief explanation of how to make maple syrup.  I have written in  a previous blog about one of my childhood memories about making maple syrup. 

It was fun to see the process again in person.  Rather than hang sap buckets from the trees, they use a tap connected to a hose.  The sap runs out of the tree, and into a covered bucket.  This way the bucket is solid on the ground when it gets heavy and debris can't get into the sap.

A sample of a tap and tube.

The sap is clear.  This much sap makes the little 2 oz. leaf shaped container of syrup.

After the information and a question and answer session, we started the walk into the woods.

Following the leaders, the sugar shack signs and the sap buckets scattered in the woods.

Finally off in the distance, we could see the steam from the boiling syrup. 

When everyone arrived, we learned more about the process.  We learned that the weather is what determines whether or not the sap will run.  It has to freeze at night and warm up during the day.  When the weather stays at freezing the sap will not run and vice versa, if the days and nights warm to above freezing the sap won't run.  Today should be an excellent day because it was very cold last night and today it is in the 40's.  When the buckets are full, they are emptied into a stainless steel holding tank.

This is the large holding tank.

The sap is poured into the evaporator and is boiled.

A Hydrometer

They use a hydrometer to determine the density of the syrup to determine when the proper thickness is achieved.  As it is boiled and the water is evaporated, it is tested for the exact thickness.  There is niter in the product that has to be strained out. 

You can see the Niter settled in the bottom.

We were given maple cookies and maple candy to sample, but before long it was time to leave the woods.  Grandpa and Ewan headed down the path.  He told grandpa he wanted a Micky Mouse pancake, so guess what we did.  We went to breakfast.  These are the days memories are made of.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Free Child's Robe Pattern

In a few days our youngest grandson will be five years old.  Where did the time go?  All of a sudden he turned from a baby to a little man.  I have been picking up a few items for his birthday.  He loves office supplies, just like his mother.  When she was young, nothing made her happier than a ream of paper, a stapler, a roll of tape and some markers.

So that is what I bought him, more paper and markers.  Then last week I stayed with him for a few hours until his parents got home.  He mentioned that he wants a robe.  I asked his mom, and she said for some reason he really wants a robe.  I thought that would be fun to add to his gifts.  I started searching for one.  I had no luck in any of the stores available to me.  I found a little princess robe but nothing for a boy.  I looked online and found a couple boy's robes, but they cost $39 plus shipping. He is worth it, but the way he is growing, it probably wouldn't fit him for very long.  As I was searching online, I came across a wonderful website called mellysews.  It has free sewing patterns. They had a free child's robe pattern.  I thought I have plenty of time, I will just make him one.

This Mellysews website allows you to print off all the pattern pieces.  This robe pattern had 14 pages to print.  Then you match up the letters and circles printed on the pieces.

It was so easy.  I just matched up the letters and taped the pages together.  Then I trimmed the pages for the size I wanted.  I also printed out the instruction page with step by step instructions for sewing the robe.

Next I had to buy some material.  That doesn't sound like a big task, but where I live there are not any fabric stores nearby.  Recently a Joann Fabrics store opened in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but that was a 45 minute drive.  I ended up at the dreaded Walmart.  I hate to admit that because some of my friends would not step foot in that store.  I have to go there because it is the closest general merchandise store within a half hour.  I found a wonderful light weight fleece for $2.94 a yard.  I bought a little extra, so the robe took 1 ¼ yards and cost $3.68.  That is a far cry from $45 to $50.  I laid out the fabric on my dining room table and cut it out.

Everything was going very smoothly until I took out my sewing machine.  My Sears Kenmore sewing machine is over 40 years old.  It has never given me any problems.  I store it in the laundry room because I don't use it that often.  I went down to retrieve the machine.  As I was bringing it up to my dining room table, I dropped the foot pedal.  It broke in half.  All I could think was my grandson's robe was now going to cost the price of a new sewing machine plus $3.68.  Somehow at that point $39 plus shipping didn't seem so much.  As I had nothing to lose, I got out the super glue and duct tape.  I proceeded to glue the foot pedal back together.

All I could find is the camo tape we used for a
geocaching container.

I waited for a couple hours, held my breath and plugged it in.  It worked.  Everything was going great, until I got to the inside band.  I switched to a stretchy overcast stitch.  The tension went wacky.  I had another panic moment.  I walked away for a while to regroup.  When I returned, I rethreaded the machine and walla it was working again.  The inside band isn't perfect but it's good enough.

Finished robe.  I don't know why my table looks green.

I think he will like it.  He doesn't read my blog so it will still be a surprise.  I will write about his party after it happens, and I will have him model his new robe. 

Update:  He loves his new robe.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Maple Syrup Cake

Last week I wrote about making maple syrup.

As I mentioned, my cousin shared information about how they make the syrup.  She also included this recipe.  I tried it and was pleasantly surprised.  I thought it would be very sweet, but it was just right.  The frosting is quite sweet, but the recipe makes just enough frosting for a thin layer.   If you like the taste of maple syrup, this cake is a keeper.  The recipe says it can be made in layers, 9 x 13 or a jelly roll pan.  I used the 9 x 13, but I think making bars in a jelly roll pan would be the best.  Next time that is what I will do. 

Maple Syrup Cake

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter(softened)
3 cups flour
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. each of baking powder, baking soda and salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 eggs
1 cup water

Beat together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. 
Add flour, maple syrup, other dry ingredients, eggs and water.
Beat until just mixed, then on high for two minutes.

Pour into pans.  Three 9 inch round pans,  a 9 x 13 or a jelly roll 10 x 15 pan. 
Grease or spray with cooking spray

Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.


1/2 stick butter
2 cups powdered sugar
enough maple syrup to get spreading consistency (about 2-4 Tbs.)
Beat until light and fluffy.

If you like more frosting, you can double this recipe.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Ewan's Special Surprise

While writing yesterday's blog, I noticed a group of photos I hadn't mentioned.  It all started a couple weeks ago.   My daughter and her husband had an event to attend.  It was an opportunity for my son in laws' parents to take our grandson to their house for a few days.  My husband was volunteering at the Berlin hospital that day, so he picked Ewan up from school and brought him to our house.  Then Beth and Wayne, his other grandparents, picked him up.  Ewan was being a very secretive for a four (almost 5) year old.  He was working on a surprise for us, but he wouldn't give us a clue to what it was.  This is a hint.

Ewan is working on the surprise he helped make for Nana and Papa.

All of them worked very hard.  Grandpa Wayne made the houses and Grandma Beth with Ewan decorated them.  We love them.  What a great surprise.  We have to find the perfect place in the woods for them.  Maybe we will have Ewan come out so he can participate in choosing the perfect locations, but first he will have to sign them.  He was practicing writing his initials last weekend or he can autograph the birdhouse any way he chooses.  Papa thinks we should keep one of them in the house so it lasts forever. 

Grandma painted the flowers.

Ewan painted a bird on the back.

I don't know what kind of bird this is, but if I see such a bird I will be calling the Green Lake Bird and Nature Club, that's for sure.  It would be a unique species.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Walk About In The Yard

Continuing with the Spring theme, I thought I'd take a little walk down in our marsh.  It is a little cooler today, but it is still seasonable.  This year I can walk out further than I ever have.  As sad as it is to have so little moisture, I could see things from another perspective.  I could look back at the house.  It looks a little drab and sad looking from this angle without the contrast of the summer greenery.   You can see why we don't worry about flooding even when the river gets over flood stage.

Next as I looked around, I saw what is left of the cattails.  I love the fresh new cattails when they form, but these are pretty too.  Some birds use this fluff for making nests.

Interesting lichen growing on a branch.

The pussy willows are starting and will be fully formed very soon. 

It's hard to believe the Baltimore Oriole nest is still hanging from last summer.

There was an eagle sitting in the grass.

Wood ducks have returned.

As I walked along the edge of the marsh, I worked my way up into the woods.  When we were planning the leprechaun trail last Sunday, my husband found an arrow in the woods.  I wonder if this arrow had been used to shoot one of the deer in the area.  The arrow is broken off, but there was no sign of blood.  Hopefully it was just used for target practice and didn't injure an animal.

Circling around into the pine trees, I noticed the pine cones are gigantic this year.  They are usually about five inches long.  That is the size I used for the pine cone wreath I made last fall.  This years cones measure about nine inches.  Nature is amazing.  Last year we didn't have any acorns, and this year we have mutant pine cones.

Normal sized cone on bottom is five inches long.

The Spring plants are just beginning to poke through the dirt, and the trees are about to bud.  I will take another walk around in a week or two to report on them.  Right now my poor husband is working at raking the yard, and I am walking around taking pictures.  If I stall long enough, the raking will be done.