Friday, March 28, 2014


It seems that spring is finally starting to break out around here.  The crocuses are blooming, and the daffodils are getting close.  Green leaves are barely poking up where the irises will bloom.  It's exciting to see green peeking out here and there after such a cold winter.

I did plant some spinach and broccoli outside in the garden, although only about 4 plants of each.  The rest are still happily growing in pots in the playroom.  The tomatoes and most of the peppers haven't sprouted yet, but I do have some sheepnose pimento peppers sprouting.  I'm very excited about that.  Outside in large pots on the deck, I have Cincinnati Market radishes sprouting.  The other pot, Radish Sparkle, isn't yet but probably will soon.  I will be starting more seeds soon, and doing a bit more outside planting of cold-tolerant things, but not for at least a week because the kids and I are going to my parents' for spring break!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Final Syrup - Grade B

I finished making syrup last night, and I ended up with a darker syrup with a richer flavor.  Generally, this would be called Grade B, and it is usually our favorite and the one we usually buy at the syrup festival.

I have about a quart of it (not all shown in picture).  It is really delicious!  

I think after our learning experiences this year that we can produce about a gallon of syrup per tank of propane.  Since we won't have to buy any supplies next year, that puts the cost of a gallon of syrup at whatever the current cost of a propane tank is.  Nathaniel keeps telling me that he wants to build an outdoor wood-fired oven, and if he does and it works well for us, that would be a free way to convert the sap into syrup.  We'll see how that pans out.  Nathaniel also plans on tapping a few more trees next year (and we have enough spiles and tubing to do so), so we may produce even more syrup.  We really enjoyed making our own syrup this year, and I'm happy to make this a new tradition.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ready for Spring

It's been a busy week here.  Our church preschool's consignment sale always keeps me busy for a week each spring and fall, and this year was no exception.  But now, the sale is over and I have some time to catch my breath.

Last night, we had a campfire and smores in the back yard.  It has gotten quite cold again, and the fire was a great idea.  Nathaniel went over and invited some neighbors to join us, and we had fun as we visited and stayed up too late.  It was really nice, and we'll have to do something like that again.

While it's cold outside, inside the playroom is warm and sunny.  The seedlings look great!
Tiny "fat" carrots are starting to sprout.  The soil is wet here because I just watered before taking the picture.

And below are some of the seedlings I started about a month ago.  At top is broccoli and on bottom is spinach.  They are all looking really healthy.

And right now on the deck, I'm boiling the last of the maple sap.  So far, we've made about 3/4 of a gallon of syrup.  When I get done with this last batch, we should have close to a gallon total.  Nathaniel pulled the spiles out of the trees so they can focus on getting ready for spring.  We are looking forward to tapping again next winter!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Starting Seeds

The weather is glorious today!  We enjoyed it by going to the zoo for the first time this year.  Then, we came home and worked on some gardening.  Lydia helped me start seeds in the playroom.  We planted tomatoes first, 8 seeds of each of these types: Better Boy, Golden Jubilee, Mexican Midget (cherry tomato), Black Krim, Emmy, Mortgage Lifter, Italian Heirloom, Blondkopfchen (a yellow cherry), and Eva Purple Ball.  You can add all that up, or just ask your super-genius 9-year-old to tally for you, and you'll get 72 tomato plants.  (Since we put 2 seeds in each of 36 little pots, I actually asked him what 36 x 2 was, to try to make it harder.  He said, "Mom, that's not hard!" and gave me the answer in about 2 seconds.)  There probably were a couple of extra seeds dropped into the mix, so we could end up with about 75 tomato plants.  Last year, I made enough salsa for us to eat for the year and give away, plus some canned tomatoes and some pasta sauce.  I did get some tomatoes from a farm and some from my mamaw, though, so I didn't actually grow all that I put up.  I had probably 40 or so plants last year.  We'll see what I end up with this year, and where I put all these tomatoes, but I'm so excited.  Of the kinds we planted, all are heirlooms except for better boy, which is the hybrid my papaw always planted and one of my all-time favorite tomatoes.  I've planted black krim and mortgage lifter before, and I always have some types of cherries, but most of the kinds I'm trying are new attempts for me.

We also planted sweet peppers: 8 sweet chocolate, 12 Bulgarian Chervena Chushka, 8 Sheepnose Pimento, and 6 Garden Sunshine.  I really wanted to up the pepper production, since Lydia and I love them fresh, and I use them in fajitas, soups, etc.  I plan to freeze some for those uses, if I get enough.  Also, I am looking forward to trying some Bulgarian dishes with the Chervena Chushkas.

We did go outside for some planting.  We planted 2 types of radishes in the big pots on the deck, which get lots of sunshine right now before all the trees get leaves.

We'll plant more seeds indoors tomorrow, probably tomatillos and some herbs.  I may be able to plant some herbs outside as well.  I have to read my seed packets!  But for now, I need to get outside and read my magazines while watching Malachi zipline.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review - Tide and Tempest

I've been eager to read this book but didn't want to start it until I had enough time to really read it.  I knew I probably wouldn't want to put it down, since it is part of a 3-book series, and the second book kept me turning pages into the night.  In this one, Irish immigrant Tillie McGrath gets a visit from the sea captain that brought her to America two years prior.  As Captain Morgan and his brother try to protect Tillie from danger and find out who is threatening her life, romance blooms.

For readers who have not read the previous two books, it would probably be a bit confusing or frustrating in some spots.  It could be enjoyed without reading the previous books, but I recommend reading the series in order for the best experience.  I absolutely loved the second book in this series, and although I enjoyed this book, I prefered the second one to the third.  Still, it was a fun read, and I do love historical fiction.  From a faith standpoint, I don't think this one had as much faith content to it as the previous one.  The two main characters are plagued by bad past decisions and Tillie in particular feels like God is (and in her mind should be) punishing her for her misdeeds, and I don't think the faith angle was fully resolved or fleshed out.

Overall, I believe Elizabeth Ludwig is a very good writer.  I still plan on going back and reading the first book in this series.  Although I prefered the second book, I enjoyed this book, and I do recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of a review, but all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

At Peace in the Storm - Book Review

Cover Art

My latest review is for At Peace in the Storm by Ken Gire.  I figured I could use this title, and I was right.  It is a collection of stories, bible verses, and quotes that are pulled together to show the grace of God even when we don't feel that he is near.  This book is not a "how-to," but more of a conversation.  It is uplifting in a rather understated way.  I did enjoy it, and I do think that it offers comfort and reassurance.  I think some of the most moving and inspiring parts of the book were when the author shared his own struggles with his own ADD brain and depression.  I think this book would be best enjoyed by reading it in a leisurely way, to let the stories really have time to sink in before delving into the next one.  I recommend this book to anyone looking for God's peace and reassurance, and really, isn't that everyone?

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of writing a review, but the views expressed are my own.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Zip Line

Yesterday and today have been absolutely beautiful!  I just love this weather.  We have all been enjoying lots of outside time.

Yesterday, Nathaniel installed the zip line.  All of the kids are excited about it.  Malachi is particularly enthralled with it.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Maple Syrup!

Success!  And it is so sweet.  When I moved the sap inside, there was enough to fill this quart jar and a pint jar.  This morning, I boiled it down and this is the amount of syrup I got.  I know it's not that much compared to the 5 or so gallons of sap we started with, but that's how it goes.  I'm very excited.  I have more than 5 more gallons to mess with, and more sap is pouring in.  Oh, happy day!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sap is Boiling!

Well, the weather is warm and sunny today, and we are boiling sap!  I'm excited to get going.  Most of the sap in the 5-gallon bucket is still frozen, but I had a stock pot full and 3 more gallons that were all nearly full from the trees this morning, so I filled my giant canner and set it to boil with that sap.

Lydia was really interested in "helping" me get ready.  Here the burner has not been lit yet.  You can see the ice in the sap.

This is the set-up I'm using on the deck.  I picked the deck so I can keep an eye on it from the house, but I put it on bricks so it was well away from the wood.  The burner is attached to a propane tank.  We borrowed the tripod burner from my dad.

Lydia really enjoyed playing outside for a while.  You can see that she's got a bad cold in her eyes.  She's been pretty grumpy and tired today.

This is how the sap looks now, after boiling for about 5 hours.  It took about 1 hour to get the frozen mixture up to a roiling boil.  After it had boiled off a couple of inches, I did add more sap back up to the full point.  Now you can see that it is well under half way full.  When it gets a bit further down, I will pour it into my stock pot and bring it inside to finish it off.  I will also turn off the propane but fill up the canning pot with the ice brick of sap, to hopefully thaw it out.  I have to leave to pick up the boys in a bit, so I plan to do all this right before I leave.

To be continued....

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sap and Capes

First of all, I know I owe you a sap update.  Last Friday, I had intended to boil sap, but that plan changed quickly when I realized that the sap was frozen solid in the 5-gallon buckets!  It's still frozen, but it should be unthawing tomorrow and Friday, so we hope to boil this weekend.  The round of ice and snow we got last weekend is starting to melt, although it is certainly not gone.  In good news, though, the sap started running again today, and the gallon jugs are mostly unfrozen.  I collected sap today, and we have more than 10 gallons total at this point.  I'd guess 11.  And tomorrow and Friday look like great days for sap collection, so by this weekend we should have plenty of sap to boil.  Right now we have enough to make about 1/4 gallon of syrup.

In other news, we had a great but super-quick visit last Saturday.  The girls all enjoyed their hooded capes: