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

โ€”

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


Family Currents: Late Winter at the Farm

As I write this by the window, the sun flooding my pages, I have hope that the sun will shine warm again. It may very well be that the days of braving the bitter cold and snow are behind us, and I couldn’t be happier! The children have missed their bikes and the creek adventures. Not only are the humans pleased, but the sheep and the llama love every blade of grass they see even if it’s crunchy and yellow. The snow is gone, and they couldn’t be more exuberant about it. Just minutes ago, Larry the llama was trotting like a mini giraffe.

On my last visit to Trader Joe’s a picked up this little rose water. It smells clean and pleasant, so I thought I’d try it as a face toner. The little pink bottle has migrated to the girls’ room. They love spritzing it on their faces – I imagine it feels grown-up : ). And I don’t mind since it’s just water and rose extract. I haven’t noticed a difference on my face, but at least it smells of midsummer around here. Have you tried rose water as a facial product before?

All the maple trees have taps in them, and the clear sap runs constantly. The kids love taking breaks from their running around outside to pull a tube from a bucket and drink the sap straight from the tree! It tastes like slightly sweetened water. Depending on how much gets collected by this weekend, Nathan and the boys will start to boil the sap down to thick amber syrup. Stay tuned because we’ll start selling it soon!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: New + New + New + New = : )

Breaking into the new honey harvest!

We have bucket-fulls of raw honey from our hives. Nathan, his dad, William, and Alexander spun it out of the honey frames and screened out the wax. It’s so fun to see the difference in the honey the bees produce from year to year – this year’s bee sweetness is more gold than amber, and the raw texture is beautiful! Nathan bottles it fresh for each customer, so contact us through this post, facebook, instagram, or email. You’ll want to get a taste of this year’s honey harvest.

Fresh and green makes the kitchen feel new!

My little potted rosemary is surviving the winter in our kitchen. It’s perched on the window sill, and I water it everyday. Rosemary is my favorite herb in cooking and baking, but I’ve been hesitant to cut sprigs in case it saddens. It’s alive greenness makes me happy.

Fresh textiles bring a new mood!

Two warm days in a row and I already changed up the pillows in my bedroom – hah! Something so simple made the room reflect the sunshine and brightened up the room. It’s amazing how quickly our mood perks up with the sun warmth and glow through the windows. Now I’m off to pick up some Trader Joe’s eucalyptus and spruce up the bathrooms.

Bring on a new year!

This good-lookin’ lad had a birthday this week! He’s the firstborn, and we all enjoyed the excuse to love on him. Last year, his sisters practiced a little dance to perform in celebration of his special day, but this year,I dropped the ball. Nathan ordered a cookie dough ice cream cake for him, which was really fun. Not only did the cake make birthday dinner preparations much simpler, but it was a huge hit. First time, but may not be the last : )

with love. Damaris


Families Warm The Winter Blues

January so far is anything but dull. Outside my window panes, the meadow and all her barren beauty, offer a frail salute to the new year. The maple trees need a good cold and snowy winter to produce ample sap in the spring. As we inch toward even more snowfall days, I’d say it looks a lot like a good ol’ traditional Michigan winter is underway. Today’s whirling whiteness asserts this winter is wild and woolly.

These days, we find beauty is in the stillness. We’ve settled snug for winter with a few episodes of speeding swiftly and smoothly down the cold, hard snow. Nothing could warm our hearts more than gathering close with piles of new good picks from the library and a whistling kettle nearby.

Today could appear dismal if we had grand eventful plans, but the simplicity of the smell of rosemary, sweet potatoes and apple cider fills me with gratitude for the chance to hold all my loves and keep them close. And when we do have to spend the day out, we relish the delightful consciousness of home waiting at the end.

Some of our favorite things this January are:

  • woolly socks – I wear these everyday

  • peach tea- reminds us that the sun will shine again

  • making candied nuts- recipe is at the end of this post!

  • felt sewing- hard to mess up and easy for kids

  • making indoor s’mores- first time trying, so fun!

  • new picture books for read alouds- we order online and swing by for pick up

  • game nights- this is our new favorite

  • Nathan reads missionary biographies sometimes in our bed and kids pile up- currently reading this one

  • chicken pie- our absolute favorite recipe coming soon!

  • robust soups and this crusty artisan bread

  • fleecy jogger pants- we live these ๐Ÿ™‚

Candied Nuts

3 cups whole almonds, or halved pecans/walnuts

1 cups sugar

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside. In a large skillet combine nuts, sugar, and butter. Cook over medium heat, carefully stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until sugar melts and turns to a rich deep brown color. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Spread the mixture onto the parchment liked cookie sheet. Allow them to cool and the candy will harden. We often fill a pint jar with these and give them as a hostess gift . They are delicious eaten straight or sprinkled on salads.

with love, Damaris


Christmas Simmer Pot

Few things have been bringing me more joy these blustery winter days than listening to Handel’s Unto Us A Child Born from the Messiah masterpiece. My kids surely think my heart will burst as I sing along with my eyes closed for focus. To perfect the moment, this simmering pot has been steaming for hours now on the stovetop, adding warmth and sharp aroma to a day spent at home. Just like the world outside my windowpanes, the simmer pot is delicate and woodsy. It’s is all the smells of the season in one pot. The amazing aroma also looks lovely. There’s no better combination than citrus, spices, and some springs of nature. This simmer pot is a beautiful way to enrich your space with homemade Christmas scents (in lieu of pricey candles) and also adds a little needed moisture to the dry winter indoors. If you’re feeling restless on this very still Monday, a simmer pot will undoubtedly warm up your senses.

  • one sliced, whole orange

  • a large handful of cranberries

  • a couple cinnamon sticks

  • a few bay leaves

  • rosemary sprigs (or cuttings from your Christmas tree)

  • a large pinch of whole cloves

Fill a large pot with water and add all the aromatics in. Simmer for hours and hours adding water as needed. This makes a fun kitchen experiment when you switch things up by using what you have or choose your preferred winter scents.

with love. Damaris


If It's Not Too Late…A Shopping Guide!

Over the last twelve years of parenting, we have purchased or crafted many presents, and found that some toys ended up in the trash broken or in a donation box a few months later. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have felt the frustration of wanting gifting for children to be both fun and valuable?? Of course, add into the mix the opinions of what is ‘valuable’ to a 9 year old, and it really can get exasperating! hah!

All these items below our children own – still own, and they use again and again. Isn’t that what we want them to do with all the well-thought-out and purposeful presents we gift them? Nothing makes me more happy than to watch them use these toys and tools over and over, year after year!

This guide includes presents appropriate for our seven children – from the little toddler to our oldest who is 12. You’ll notice that the guide includes many simple gifts that are practical, useful, and for their enrichment. For example, our girls use their donut pan and cookbook while having conversations with me and each other, and learning the importance of cleanliness, precision, and proper temperatures, and how materials can be blended and mixed to create new textures, aromas, and tastes. Most of all, they will understand that mistakes can be quickly forgotten with the next batch of donuts!

For our boys, carving shapes out of wood or simply reducing a stick to a single toothpick (or knife) has been a popular pastime for centuries, and could sometimes be a necessity. Carving teaches them about the properties of wood, taking proper care of tools, and using proper techniques for safety in addition to experiencing the pleasure of handling oneโ€™s own smooth, carved creation. I hope you’ll find an idea or two for some affordable gifts that enrich your children, enhance their skills and build their creativity! Obviously, I didn’t attach pictures, but each item does have a link- I hope this is helpful for your family!

Girls –

Boys –

Both

with love. Damaris


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