Family Currents: The Birds and The Bees

A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I went to the orchestra. We have been attending this program for children for years, and it never disappoints! The performance is splendid and the auditorium exquisite. The program welcomes all school groups. While we were there, Samuel hung out at Nathan’s office and pretended shy while everyone hoped for some cuteness.

We are so excited to introduce the new addition to our farm! Harry the ram is a calm male that is wooing our four ewes. Larry the llama doesn’t mind him hanging around, and they’ve welcomed him to the pasture better than we had expected. We hope to grow the flock with some lambs coming late summer!

Alexander and Nathan’s Dad attended an all-day beekeeping class last week and had fun learning some crazy facts. They came back excited to start another season of honey bees.

And that’s a wrap for syrup! Nathan and the boys boiled gallons and gallons of the last sap collected all weekend. We are so very grateful for their labor! This time, the boys got to roast marshmallows, and the girls were oh-so-jealous. We have been enjoying selling this precious amber sweetness. If you would like some 2018 local maple syrup, please contact us by replying to this post or email (under the category contact), Facebook, or Instagram. The supply is limited : )

with love. Damaris


Tap, Tap, Tap – Maple Syrup Time!

Over the last several years the boys and I have learned to enjoy the debut of spring by working in the brisk sunshine over a hot fire and the warm, sweet steam of boiling maple sap! All of the restless knots of winter work themselves out in the most marvelous of ways – physical labor in God’s creation…and a sweet reward at the end. : )

Maple syrup making is one of a few unique ventures in which only those of us who are foolish enough to live in the sub-arctic northern hemisphere can participate. Of course, if you live in Vermont, up-state New York, Maine, or (cue angelic choir music) Canada you can claim all superiority and expertise in the art of making maple syrup. In Michigan, though, there is still plenty of maple sap to go around and plenty of cold nights and vacillating spring days to bring the sap to our buckets. It isn’t uncommon for neighbors to drive down our muddied road and see kids slurping sap tubes from ancient maple trees like little fairies at a forest soda fountain : )

While I’m not going to go into the detail of a how-to for making maple syrup – YouTube has that covered with about 400,000 video tutorials (which is where I learned) – I thought it’d be fun to share some lessons-learned for those of you who may be curious to try your hand at robbing nature of it’s second-best golden nectar (first-best is found here).

Hmm…I think that the first lesson is:

1. It’s OK to Start Small – that’s good news! If you’ve got a couple of Maple trees that you’ve been harboring a grudge against while you splurt Aunt Jemima on your waffles some mornings, then put an end to it! Grab the following, and you’ll be well on your way:

  1. a bucket, washed-out milk jug, etc

  2. drill & drill bit

  3. Spile (OK, gonna have to buy some of these)

  4. hammer

  5. plastic tubing (best price around!)

  6. (whole kit found on Amazon, yay!)

2. Be Prepared

Last year I was caught off-guard by an early warm-up in the weather. This got the sap flowing early, and I missed about 2 weeks of sap collection. Don’t wait to gather your supplies. Do it NOW for next season, then when the temps get to 40s in the daytime and still below freezing at night – Tap Those Trees!

3. Surface Area Matters!

Our first year, we used a large stock pot to boil the sap in over a wood fire. It was a large container, but the problem was the diameter. The goal is to get as much water to evaporate out of the sap as quickly as possible. For that, you need as much surface area as possible. After spending days watching a boiling pot…boil. I was finally able to upgrade to a large stainless steel water bath (think Old Country Buffet cast-off). This pan is about 5 inches deep and has about 11 square feet of surface area! This simple change in equipment has allowed us to cut our boiling time down by 75% – effectively quadrupling our syrup production in equal time.

4. Feed Your Fire

As I noted above, making maple syrup is all about time. That’s where the cost comes from, not the equipment or supplies, but how much of life someone has had to give to the product! Unless you’re retired, a trust fund baby, or a recent lotto winner, you probably don’t have unlimited time to boil down sap into the liquid gold you’re going for. In addition to a large surface area to enable evaporation, another key to speed up the process is a consistent, hot, efficient fire. I’ve used a smoke stack (6″ galvanized duct pipe) to keep oxygen drawing through the fire and as much hard wood as I can get a hold of.

5. Oh My Nitre!

Nitre and Sugar Sand are symbiotic evil twin gremlins of the sugar shack (there’s a picture for ya). Both of these substances present as a result of boiling the natural minerals found in the wonderful Maple sap. Nitre will show up in flakes on the evaporator pan (think calcium deposits). Sugar sand will appear as the syrup cools after bottling. You may have seen sugar sand as a haze suspended in, or at the bottom of, bottles of finished syrup. So how do you combat these gremlins? Well, the professionals force their syrup through layers and layers of pressurized filters. That’s a bit out of my league, and I’m still fighting this battle. As of this season, I’m filtering our sap right out of the evaporator, then filtering again before bottling. I’m also trying to be careful not to bring the syrup to boil any more than I have to while finishing it. Boiling will always create more sugar sand.

6. The Art of Finishing Well

There’s life application in making maple syrup?? Yep! but isn’t that true in pretty much everything worth endeavoring? While the bulk of the work of maple syrup production is on the front-end – tapping, collecting, hauling, and of course boiling the sap from 4-6% sugar content to around 60% sugar content; the real art of syrup making comes in the last few moments. The sap needs to be watchfully brought to 219 degrees & 66-68 brix (density). After struggling the first two years to get our syrup to be the best consistency, I finally bought a hydrometer. Using the hydrometer to measure the density (brix) of the syrup, as well as making sure I am using a calibrated thermometer have been key to achieving that lovely, palette-coating consistency of high-quality maple syrup.

Check out this awesome illustration of the evaporation process which will turn your sap into high-value maple syrup!

“Variation in Sugar Content of Maple Sap” by Fred Taylor

AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION

University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Burlington, Vermont

MARCH 1956

BULLETIN 587

Happy Tapping!

some thoughts, Nathan


Family Currents: Early Spring at the Capitol

Some of you might have heard of the program called TeenPact. We were able to take Alexander this year. It is a civics program for junior high and high school students hosted at state capitals around the country. He participated in the one day political communications course and loved it so much. The students get to practice writing bills and resolutions and defend them in debates.

While we were in Lansing for Alexander to attend TeenPact at the capitol, Nathan came with us, and we spent the day with the other children at Impression 5 Science Center. The kids loved creating, experimenting, and discovering. The hands-on experience took all day with a little break to eat a packed lunch.

Nathan, his Dad and the boys boiled over 70 gallons of sap on Saturday! It was a gloriously sunny day and cold. They bottled the maple syrup, and it’s been going to happy homes. They’ll continue to make more maple syrup for the next few weeks, boiling as the collection tubs fill up. Later this month, we will have a full post on the beautiful and interesting process of making maple syrup.

We’ve been doing Whole30. We’re more three weeks in and living our best life…Who am I kidding?? It’s not any kind of fun without pizza. I’ll be writing a post very soon about the whole family’s experience, what we ate, and must-haves for survival.

with love. Damaris


Our Very Own Holly

Who remembers when Scrooge wakes up thrilled by Christmas morning, calls to the boy in the street to buy him the biggest goose at the market, then heads to Tiny Tim’s house to surprise the little family with the most opulent celebration they had ever experienced? Well, it wasn’t a goose that showed up on our doorstep last week, but maybe the next best thing – a Christmas PIG!?

Meet Holly, Larry’s next best friend (if the sheep will allow it)! A farmer from around the corner, who operates a petting farm (with a fantastic business model – it’s mobile. He brings the farm to you, and his 20 ft. trailer actually looks like a miniature barn and silo!), apparently wanted to relocate his little ‘wilbur’ after the petting farm season wrapped up. So, what a blessing, we are now the proud (and rather clueless) owners of our very own 3 month old Yorkshire sow.

Last Monday was welcoming day at First Fruits for Holly. I raced home from work, threw some chore clothes on, and helped our farmer friend get Holly acquainted with her new pen in the barn. With little time to prepare, we just converted the old sheep pen into Holly’s pen. Alexander and William were a big help in getting the pen to work. While sheep often get a bad wrap for being “dumb”, it is actually quite nice for the shepherd – sheep stay put. They stay in a pen with little complaint. Pigs are a different story. Our temporary home for Holly (now 17 pounds) will do for a little while – we took some salvaged galvanized roofing sheets that were laying around, set them on edge on the barn floor, and screwed them to the inside of the pen. Now Holly can root around all she wants, she can squirm and squeal, but she won’t be able to get out of this pen for a while. This is definitely a temporary measure, though. At a weight gain of 15 pound per week. Holly will need a permanent pen with both physical and mental (electric) barriers pretty soon. Right now we’re thinking that, if we get a break in the weather, we can run some quick fencing around the garden plot and let Holly till the garden for us until planting season. I scored an electric fence charger off of Craigslist (the go-to farm supply store). I have the fencing and posts – now just for some sun to melt the foot of snow (my mental barrier)!

And, really, this is how so much in life happens. There is certainly virtue in planning and preparing, but sometimes you just have to ‘go with it’. You can probably think back to twists and turns of your own family’s that follow this rule. Sometimes you figure things out along the way, together. And those are the real-life adventures – the best times and the best memories that your family creates and owns. I have a feeling that the “…remember when you and Mom…” and the “…I can’t believe we ever…” conversations that Damaris and I look forward to having around cups of coffee with our kids many years from today will now include stories of Holly, our Christmas pig.

some thoughts, Nathan


Holiday Bucket List

Is anyone else feeling behind on all the holiday stuff? Presents, decor, tree, wreaths, outdoor lights, cards, family pictures, BREATHE! But really, all we have to prepare for this Christmas is our hearts. Daily advent readings are such a cure for all the distressing about to-does! You can find readings for your simplified advent here.

When I begin to feel the overwhelm, I try to see it all thought the eyes of a child. When our hearts are full of wonder, it’s easier to delight in the small things – we enjoy what we already have and are more ready to share it with the loved ones that surround us! When we celebrate the simple things, we can find rest and even recharge during the holiday hullabaloo. Since I’m a list-maker extraordinaire, I’m sharing today our Christmas bucket list! We plan to enjoy these favorite activities during the school/work break of the holidays. Most of these we do every year and anticipate them for weeks, but some activities are new additions which may well become a special tradition. Here it goes… our holiday bucket list:

  1. playing board games with a mug of hot chocolate

  2. sleeping “under” the tree

  3. baking wheels of brie

  4. making bread loaves for all the neighbors on our road

  5. going to Panera for coffee and bagels

  6. making chocolate bread pudding

  7. trying our hand at a lattice apple pie

  8. eating croissants and chocolate for breakfast

  9. watching special Christmas movies

  10. baking and frosting cut-out sugar cookies (recipe in an upcoming post!)

  11. Cracker Barrel brunch and sitting by the fire to play checkers with Dad

  12. making monkey bread

  13. Christmas caroling at neighbors’

  14. making cream puffs

  15. taking the kids treasure hunting at a nearby antique mall

  16. enjoying huge cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning

There you have it! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

with love. Damaris


December: Preparing For The Season

The twinkling lights glowing day and night and the extra greenery brought inside fill our home with wonder. With little effort, we all can turn our homes into a snow mountain lodge overlooking the frozen lake (that’s what imaginations are for- wink!) This is the month for stringing up a little tinsel, sneaking a kiss under the mistletoe, and sampling the entire array of hot chocolates – embracing all the simple joys! yay!

Our family loves December because it’s the month we get to spend extra time together! …and Christmas! Full of advent readings and carols, we also enjoy the mood with a few fun activities. Over the years, many of these have become traditions.

Here are the activities we’ve been up to:

  1. wearing our flannel plaids

  2. making stock pots of soup

  3. listening to Christmas music all day long

  4. trekking across a tree farm for the perfect Christmas tree cutting

  5. burning seasonal candles like “mulled cider” and “fresh balsam”

  6. diffusing essential oils that complement our freshly-cut tree (3 drops cedarwood+3 Douglas fir or 2 wintergreen+2 rosemary+2 peppermint)

  7. trimming the tree and decorating the house – the kids love it!

  8. making cookies

  9. advent readings

  10. popping giant bowls of popcorn

  11. roasting chestnuts

  12. filling up our Christmas book basket

  13. making homemade hot chocolate (recipe coming soon-yum!)

  14. writing cards to friends near and abroad

  15. taking the obligatory cheesy smile portraits

  16. making a bucket list for our upcoming Christmas break (sharing it on the blog tomorrow)

What do early December days look like at your house?

with love. Damaris


November Homebody

November air is chilled with the breath of coming winter. We have been waking up to a frost-covered meadow, and it’s magical to see it glisten in the morning’s first light. Everyday, the children look closely at the frost hoping it’s snow, but soon enough, my loves, soon enough. Crowded days of school go swiftly by, and our moments are full. November has also brought evenings of cozy reading aloud while drinking spiced tea. Does this time of the year turn you into a homebody too?

A good day is a slow one at home with a little nesting and a little baking. Time to read and time to make is what has been filling our November so far. The children helped put this list together of our favorite activities:

  1. Collecting leaves and pressing them

  2. Enjoying a bonfire for roasting marshmallows

  3. Taking a leisurely drive to see the colorful trees

  4. Making caramel brulee lattes: 1/4 cup strong coffee, 1 hot (steamed) milk, 2 tablespoons vanilla syrup, 2 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping.

  5. Making a pumpkin pie

  6. Harvesting our autumn garden: butternut and buttercup squash, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and kale – always more kale.

  7. Adding Thanksgiving books to the fall book basket. You can read about our favorite Thanksgiving books here.

  8. Making applesauce and serving it hot

  9. Making the best apple cake with the apples we preserved

  10. Making lots of homemade hot chocolate

  11. Looking forward to spending time with cousins for the holidays and dreaming up a delicious menu

  12. Taking turns adorning the Thankful Tree (full blog post coming tomorrow!)

    As November’s autumnal splendor swiftly fades into all shades of pale, let’s reserve a slow day at home and savor the small slices of life that make us smile.

    with love. Damaris


    Farmhouse Biscuits

    Not too long ago, I had 5 babies. The oldest had just turned 7 and the baby was a very unhappy newborn. I felt that my world was upside down as I struggled to find time for the most daily basics. It was during those long weary days, that I dreamed of making a batch of biscuits. There was something so fulfilling about old-fashioned biscuits – If I could make a batch of well-raised biscuits, then all would be well with the world. I still get the same soul-satisfying feeling when I bring these biscuits, tall and tender, to the table. This farmhouse biscuit recipe is unbelievably easy to make and more than worth your time. In less than 20 minutes, you’ll enjoy golden, slightly crunchy tops and bottoms with a soft inside crumb. No kneading, no rising, and only four ingredients! This is the only biscuit recipe that my family requests again and again. When you make them, there will be no crumbs left, and everyone will feel all warm and cozy inside! Last night, as I dusted the rolling pin, I thought with pleasure of the days gone by, when the smells of the kitchen’s goods called everyone in from the fields. Our days aren’t quite like that, but we still think that our farmhouse kitchen sighs a familiar sigh when a piping hot batch of these biscuits comes out of the oven.

    This farmhouse biscuit recipe is adapted from this original that I fell in-love with. Aren’t there so many ways to enjoy a biscuit? These are some of our family’s favorite ways:

    -paired with soup or stew

    -for afternoon tea with a pat of butter and a bit of jam

    -makes a hearty breakfast with sausage gravy

    -strawberry shortcakes (add 1/4 cup or less of sugar to the dough)

    Farmhouse Biscuits

    • 2 cup flour

    • 1 tablespoon baking powder

    • 1 teaspoon salt

    • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream + a little more for lightly brushing the tops

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add the cream incorporating gently with a fork. No need to knead! With your hand, make a ball of your dough trying to gather all the little bits left on the sides of the bowl. I avoid a countertop mess by rolling them out on the parchment they’ll bake on. Dust your cut parchment and a rolling pin with a little flour (the original recipe has a very quick way to just shape the dough with your hands and cut rectangles into it, which will be the individual biscuits- works great!). Cut out (an upside down drinking glass does the job!) your favorite shape. Don’t be shy about combining the last bits of scrap dough pieces into one more biscuit! Arrange them on the parchment, brush their tops with a little heavy cream, and bake, on the oven’s middle rack, for 15 minutes or until tops are slightly golden.

    I can’t wait for you to try them!

    with love. Damaris


    Autumn in Olde Towne

    Is it too soon to be planning our next trip to Boston!? If you have been there, you know how charming it is! We walked, and we walked. We learned, and we were awe-struck.

    Nathan had a work conference in Boston, and we had been making plans to go with him. We prepared meals and packed 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 6 suppers allowing for a seafood dinner- which did not disappoint! We stayed in a suite-style room with a small kitchenette and two rooms. The accommodations were perfect for our family!

    Boston was not rushed, giant, nor overly touristy which made it perfect for our family of nine to enjoy and soak-in the history. Of course, it wasn’t me driving us in and out of the city everyday- hehe! Since it was founded in 1630, we enjoyed learning about events, people, and the charming architecture of one of the oldest cities in America! We are studying U.S. history this year, and so many of the places we visited on the Freedom Trail were fresh in the children’s memories from these past few weeks of school! The dramatic events that took place in Boston are certainly more real and meaningful to all of us now. Climbing to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, Fort Independence in Castle Island, JFK Presidential Museum and Library, playing on the pebbled beach, Boston Commons and the Public Gardens, and getting aboard the WWII destroyer Cassin Young and the USS Constitution (war of 1812) were each of the kids’ favorite sights in Boston.

    For me, it was the weathered facades, the tree-lined avenues, and the glistening city lights reflected on the Charles River. The highly symmetrical Georgian architecture, the row-houses with pristine glossy front doors, and the lovely people that charmed me. If you asked, “Why was it so magical, Damaris?” I would very matter-of-factly admit that being raised in a metropolitan city did something to my soul from which I can’t escape. When city air fills my body, it makes my eyes open wider and my heart beats faster. It makes me feel more alive.

    And if you live there or have visited, would you share your favorite places in Boston? I would love to hear your recommendations!

    with love. Damaris


    Family Currents: Everyone Cleans Up For Fall + A New Recipe!

    It’s late in the season to be harvesting honey, but Nathan was happy for a sunny day to finally get to it. He and William pulled the frames from the hives this weekend, and now it’s in a couple tubs in the garage. They will spin the frames to extract the honey soon, and that will be our 2017 honey harvest! Sometime soon, we’ll write a full post on our adventures in beekeeping.


    I’ve been making beef stew on the stove top since we first got married. And…it was time to try something new! I found this recipe several years ago, and it’s the only stew we all love – LOVE. Beef and Stout Stew is wonderfully wholesome and very hearty nestled in buttery mashed potatoes. This flavorful, full-bodied stew is the most warming addition to your next week’s menu. When you open the lid, you’ll have everyone running to the table! Please tell me you’ll try it!


    We all knew he’d look older when we did it, but Samuel had been needing a haircut for quite awhile. Eva provided him with Daddy’s watch, cellphone, pager, ID badge, and finally a sucker to help get the job done. His strawberry blonde hair is gone!

    with love, Damaris