Cooking Sap

I am glad we live on a small hobby farm in the country because although I have to stay home I am still able to go outside and enjoy spring. Trenton is considered an essential employee and is still able to go to work which is a great relief for our family. I am currently working from home gathering resources for my Kindergarten class while I am still long-term subbing for the regular kindergarten teacher who is out on maternity leave. I have also been planning lessons for Lucian who is now kimg0674being home schooled. I am also supporting my sisters as they work to home school their children as well. A small upside to this is that it is finally getting nice enough that we can be out with Penelope for longer stretches.

It’s sugar season! The kids love hiking through the woods to check taps. Especially since their dad will sometimes literally throw them across the creek into the snow bank on the other side. Even Penelope goes in her sled or stroller to check taps.

The sap has really been flowing since it has warmed up a little more and we have cooked down our fist batch for syrup.

Cooking Process

  1. Start Outsidekimg0697

We start cooking our sap on a homemade outdoor sap boiler. It is basically a small wood stove with a stainless steel tub fitted over the top. The tub can hold about 25 gallons of sap but for our first batch we only had 15 ready to cook. It is best to cook your sap within a week of collecting it and needs to be kept cool while it waits. We keep the fire going in the fire box for most of the day until the sap has cooked down enough to bring in the house.

2. Finish Insidekimg0698

Once the sap has cooked enough outside to fit into my stock pot we bring it inside to finish. During this last stage of cooking the sap needs to be watched closely to be sure it does not cook down too much. If the syrup is cooked too long it will crystalize and turn into sugar. It still tastes good but we want syrup. The sap must be kept at a continuous rolling boil without boiling over until it is the right consistency.

3. Checking the Syrupkimg0699

This year we invested in a hydrometer which is a tool that measures the density of a liquid. In previous years we have always boiled the syrup until we felt it “thicken” when stirred. Using a hydrometer takes the guesswork out of cooking sap down. This year all our batches of syrup are consistent rather than runny or crystalized.

Pulling Taps

We could have made more syrup but after three batches we decided to be done for the year. Making syrup is not particularly hard but it is a time consuming process that we like to do but we are also glad to be done.

For our sugar season we boiled 60 gallons of syrup for a grand total of about 1 and a half gallons of finished syrup. Hopefully it will last us until next spring but it depends on how much syrup the kids need on their pancakes!

 

Getting Ready to Tap the Maples

It is finally starting to warm up a little. The sun is shinning, the days are mostly warm, and the nights are cold. The warm days and cold nights mean the sap in the maple trees will start to run. It is time to tap the maple trees and collect the sap to make syrup.

There are however, a few items that need to be prepped.

  1. Milk jugs need to be washed and collected.

A few years ago we decided to use milk jugs instead of buckets to collect sap. We cut a small X into the side of the jug and push the tap into it. We drink a lot of milk so we reuse our jugs and turn them into inexpensive sap collectors. Using the enclosed jug also works well to keep various bugs and moths

 

kimg0673out of the sap.

2. Five gallon buckets with lids need to be collected and washed.

Once the gallon milk jugs are full we dump them into clean 5 gallon buckets that Trenton has brought home from work. These buckets originally were filled with barbecue sauce so they need to be washed very well and aired out a bit so the sap doesn’t take on a bit of BBQ flavor. The buckets also need to have lids to keep us from spilling sap out of the buckets when we carry them.

3. Sap boiler needs to be cleaned out.

For some unknown reason my children, my nieces, and my nephews decided to fill the wood box of the sap boiler with various bricks, rocks, garbage, sticks, and twine. Why? No idea, but the result is that it needs to be cleaned out before we can start a fire to heat the sap.

4. The sap tub needs to be washed.

The metal tub that sits over the fire box of the sap boiler needs to be washed out before we can use it. It has been upside down all winter and has acquired a fair amount of dust. Moving the tub is a two person job because of how big and heavy it is. Which means washing it is also a two person job.

The weather is perfect for starting to collect sap from the maple trees. I’m hoping that my next post will be about the successful maple syrup harvest.

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Change of Pace

Tragic events in one person’s life affect many others in different ways. The unexpected passing of a much loved teacher left Northwood School District of Minong sad and shaken. They really pulled together to comfort their students and staff. There was also a scramble to find long term subs for his class and for one of the Kindergarten teachers meant to go on maternity leave this last week. The school district decided the long-term sub lined up for Kindergarten would be a better fit for the 5th grade class who had lost their teacher so suddenly. She had helped with that class several times over the

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year and is more familiar with their routines.

I was called on Sunday with a temporary job opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.  For the next ten weeks my family is going to have a drastic change of routine because I am going to be a full time Kindergarten teacher while the regular teacher is out on maternity leave. Do I have much experience teaching Kindergarten? Not really, but I will soon!

kimg0646This will be a bigger change for the girls than it will be for Lucian because he spends most of his weekdays in school while the girls are home with me. The girls will be spending half of their week with their great Aunt Candy and the other half with their Daddy. Lucian will be riding the bus every morning rather than me bringing him to school and Grandma “da” will be picking him up half the week as I will not be home in time to get him off the bus.

In order to get to work by 7:45 (ugh) I’ll need to do prep-work every night.

In the barn:

  • Unravel enough hay from the round bale for the horses so I can just pitch it too them in the dark of the morning.
  • Put hay out in the winter pasture for the goats.
  • Fill chicken bucket with feed.

For kids:

  • Pack diaper bag with diapers, wipes, snacks, extra clothes, sippy cup, and baby food.
  • Pull outfits for Lucian, Fiona, and Penelope.
  • Find snow pants, boots, hats, and mittens for the morning.

For me:

  • Pack my bag.
  • Set coffee pot.
  • Pack lunch.

It is going to be completely different and a lot of work but I am looking forward to it. I am also glad my boss at the bookstore is awesome and is understanding of my need to take a 10 week hiatus from work. As long as I am back in time for her to go to Ireland at the end of April she will be able to fill in the schedule. Thank goodness it is the slow time of year at the bookstore or this wouldn’t work out.

 

Horse Classes

I love taking Continuing Education classes of all kinds and I don’t think I’ll ever be too old for school. These classes have come in many different forms from college seminars, to night classes, to online classes.

A little list of classes I’ve taken since I graduated from college in 2010:

  1. Cake Decorating

    people notes meeting team

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  2. How to Make Goat Milk Soap
  3. How to Knit Cables
  4. NW Graziers Conference
  5. Coffee and Canvas Painting
  6. Zumba
  7. Creative Journaling
  8. Conflict Resolution
  9. Minority Relations Workshop
  10. Tree Medicine
  11. Grammar Refresher
  12. Making Medicine From Backyard Plants
  13. Guided Reading: Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom
  14. Response to Intervention: Strategies that Work
  15. WI Responsible Beverage Server Training
  16. Introduction to Internet Writing Markets
  17. Knit Spinner’s Mitts with a Latvian Braid

A majority of the classes are education related with a smattering of randomness in the mix. I know the list is not complete as it is missing various webinars and other in-school professional development events. Looking back on this list I feel I need a cooking class or two to round it out.

Horses have been on my mind lately so I decided to look around the internet for any interesting classes that pop up. I found an online course called HALTER (Horse Adult Leader Training and Educational Resource) Level One. This class is to help understand horse behavior, develop safe horse handling practices, and to use the horse as a learning tool to foster positive youth development. It sounded perfect to help improve my skills of teaching with horses so I signed up for it. I am still on the first section which is devoted to horse behavior but it has been a great review so far.

Three years ago I supervised a group of students who were involved in an Equine Therapy Program. It was definitely my favorite time of the day. I was able to help teach students about horses and watch them become both physically and mentally stronger. I think about that experience often because while it had it’s challenges it was amazing. I am taking this new online course because it is similar to the program I was assisting with before and I would like to become skilled at using the horse as a learning tool.

kimg0402For the last two summers I have been giving my niece, Aurora, horse lessons because she is interested in riding and loves horses. This last August we acquired another horse, Melody, a Halflinger pony who supposedly knows how to ride and drive. I didn’t have a chance to try her out last summer as Penelope was a brand new baby and my time away from her was very limited. This summer is going to be a completely different story. The goal for this year is to help Aurora be confident enough to ride on her own so we can take both horses out on a little  trail ride.

The beginning of April will mark the start of my time to work the horses in. Starting in April will give me roughly two months to remind both horses and myself of how to behave properly. I’m going to develop an actual written program and scheduled days this year so I make time to spend in the saddle. I’m looking forward to it!

 

 

 

Maintaining Over the Winter

The days are getting longer as we enter the hard winter months. I consider January and February as the two months of hard winter. November and December are the months that start winter and March and April are the months that start spring but January and February belong only to winter.

During the hard winter months there is not a lot progressing on the farm, we mostly huddle down and wait. We wait for the weather to warm up, we wait for the days to lengthen, and we work at maintaining our health and the health of the animals.

Hay for Horses

This year was not a good year for haymaking which means hay is in short supply. We bought most of the hay we needed in July before it became really wet and obvious that it would be a bad hay year. I say most because we have an extra horse this year that we hadn’t had before. I calculated how much hay we would need but I forgot that when given free rein on hay horses are really pretty pigs. I figured a 1,000 pound round bale would last two horses about two and a half weeks when apparently they can eat a round bale in a week and a half. This harsh reality burned about a month off my hay supply.

I am feeding small squares now and rationing how much hay they get. They are no longer fat like they were when I let them free range on the round bales but now they are maintaining their proper weight. They are also pissy about their new diet it but last year I bought 50 pound small squares for $3 while right now the price is $7 -$10 for a 50 pound bale. Needless to say they are sticking to their regimented diet for the remainder of the winter.

Goats

There is nothing new with maintaining the goats over the winter. Mainly we bring them in at night, give them hay, break open their water, and make sure they have a good salt and mineral block. The block is important for the does to keep them healthy while they, hopefully, develop healthy babies. Goats need copper and selenium in their diets to stay healthy. We discovered this a few years ago when one of our goat kids was born with a little lump on his throat. It didn’t bother him in anyway but it was a deformity that we wondered about until Trenton’s uncle Kenny told him our goats needed a better mineral block. He had raised goats a few years before and had the same problem until he provided goat specific minerals and then poof no more lumpy babies.

The girls huddle together in the barn at night and Franky, our buck, has also been enjoying time in the barn. The good part about Franky in the barn at night is that he gets handled more when we bring him in and put him outside in the morning. The bad part is that he is not always docile. Right now his behavior is mostly playful but there are times when I can see him think about being more aggressive. He is on my watch list for aggressive behaviors. We have a strict no aggressive males on the farm policy but I would like to get one more breeding season from him at least.

Chickens

I think the chickens dislike the winter the most. They are unhappy about the snow, cold, and darkness of winter. Of my 17ish flock I am getting 1-2 eggs a day. That is enough to keep us mostly in eggs but not enough to sell to anyone. We were able to clean the coop with a mid December thaw and the fresh straw to pick through kept them happy for a few days but now they are back in their winter slump. I’m hoping with the longer days they will start laying soon. We are also trying to decide if we want to incubate chicks at home this year or buy a few chicks to freshen the flock.

Kids (The human kind)kimg0581

Lucian, Fiona, Penelope and I unloaded a trailer full of firewood on Sunday while it was above freezing. It was nice to have all the kids out working without them crying they were cold within 10 minutes. Penny sat in her sled and watched us work while I hauled the wood and Lucian and Fiona slid it closer to the end of the trailer so I could reach it. Lucian and Fiona have been enjoying going sledding down one of the giant snow banks created when we plowed the driveway. They sled each day when Lucian gets done with school and come in rosy cheeked and wet from rolling in the snow.

Other Projects

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Cable Hat for my dad!

I have been hastily knitting birthday presents for a while  but I think I am done now and can work on more leisurely projects. I’m looking forward to warmer weather. Before long it will be sugar season and we will start tapping the maple trees. The kids love hiking out to collect sap and I do too. Penny is old enough now to go out in the sled so I hope we do better on sap this year. Last year we didn’t tap as many trees as we usually do so we ran out of syrup a long time ago.

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone enjoyed Christmas yesterday and spent time enjoying their families. To me Christmas is a time to rest and spend time with my family. This post is mostly a recap of our Christmas fun.

Before Christmas

Last year we started a new tradition of looking through our toys and giving away a few that are no longer played with. Lucian and Fiona looked through their toys and put a box together to give away. This was a very hard task for our 5 and 3 year old. We had a long discussion about sharing and giving toys to kids who don’t have any. Our box only had a few toys in it to give away but its more about the concept than the amount of toys leaving the house.

Christmas Eve

We spent Christmas Eve at my sister’s house for our family’s Christmas celebration. The kids made ornaments, frosted cookies for Santa, and went sledding before we all had dinner together. The kids played one organized game before opening presents. At Thanksgiving we had each child draw a name for who they would be getting a present for at Christmas. It was our first year of drawing names and it worked quite well. My sisters and I also drew names for what Holidays we would be hosting during this next year. I managed to draw Thanksgiving again. The kids had a great time but were very tired when it was time to go. Spending Christmas Eve with my sisters, parents, grandma, and nieces and nephews is one of the best parts of Christmas for me, that and Alecia’s hot chocolate!

Christmas Day

Our day started later than usual because the kids slept in after too much fun playing with their cousins. When we were all awake we opened our stockings then took turns opening our presents. Lucian is old enough to shop for others now so he was very happy when we unwrapped presents from him. I think it is important for him to learn to

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give gifts and think of what a specific person would like. Lucian received a farm set and Fiona a stable that we set up in our playroom/attic space upstairs where Penelope can’t destroy them and try to eat the small parts. I would say that Fiona’s favorite is a new play-dough set with dough scissors that Lucian picked for her and Lucian’s is a harmonica. He wanted me to play with him so I dug our my Clarinet, which I haven’t played in about 2 years, and Fiona strummed the guitar on the floor while Penelope used it as a drum. We had our own little jam session which was really fun. The kids played with their new toys, we played with each other, everyone took a nice nap, and we had dinner with Grandma “da” so we had a great day.

On The Farm 

Even though it was a holiday chores still had to be done. The weather has been temperate at about 30 to 35 degrees so the goats have been going outside everyday to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. The chickens are even starting to venture out into the light. They don’t appreciate all the snow and while I should shovel their yard out a bit I have focused on walkways and the porch. So far we have accumulated approximately 2 feet of snow so I’m limiting where I shovel.

Our new horse, Melody, had a bit of a scare yesterday. All the snow whooshed off the lean-to roof and scared her. She went running and squealing so Jack had to run and go check on her. She was still freaked out when I fed them their grain and I had to coax her back into the lean-to. Fiona likes to feed Jack out of her hand so she kept him occupied while I convinced Melody it was safe to come inside.

Not only did we have a relaxing day at home we also worked on hauling a bit of firewood into the shed. Doing firewood is still one of Lucian’s favorite things to do so he was happy as a lark loading wood onto the trailer and watching the wood-splitter split the big logs.

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We had a great Christmas Day spending time with each other while still accomplishing a few necessary tasks and we all took a nap. I hope everyone had a day just as lovely!

Road Trip Tips

Going on a road trip can be a fun adventure but a road trip with little kids can be more challenging. Planning a successful trip (by successful I mean with the least amount of crying, complaining, and fighting) takes a bit more time than just throwing things into the car and leaving.

  1. Timing is Everything:

Knowing how long your trip is and when your kids take a nap is an essential. Sleeping through a portion of the trip will make it seem shorter to them and reduce the boredom of being confined to a small space for hours.kimg0560-1

For example, tomorrow we are leaving on the 5 hour drive to visit relatives in Minnesota. The plan is to leave around 9 because Penelope usually takes a morning nap at 10ish. We will stop for lunch around noon and Fiona naps just after lunch. In theory the girls will nap on the drive and will be well rested and in good moods by the time we get there.

2. Pack an In-Car Bag:

This is my list of essentials for in the car:

  • Books
  • Coloring Supplies
  • Small Toys
  • Snacks
  • Water Bottles

3. SING!

When the crying starts get ready to sing a few songs to distract the kids from their troubles. Remember a few:

  • The Ants Go Marching 1 By 1
  • This is the Song That Never Ends
  • ABC’s
  • John Jacob Jingle Himer Schmidt
  • Jeremiah was a Bullfrog
  • And any other song you can think of!

4. Take a Break

If the weather is nice stop for a bit and walk around. Being cramped in a car for a long time is really hard on little kids so getting out and taking a short walk will help.

5. Extra Snacks

The simple truth with children is that snacks make everything better so be sure to pack enough.

Our trip starts in the morning and while I’m not looking forward to the drive I am looking forward to having a nice visit with family.

 

 

 

Into the Deep Freeze

The weather outside is frightful! Moving closer to Christmas we have our first wave of below zero weather. The high is -10 and tomorrow looks to be about the same. Even though it has been getting steadily colder the temperature took a major dive last night.

I know complaining about the weather is the oldest complaint there is but on a farm chores become a little more difficult when it is this cold.kimg0155

A Few Changes While its Colder Outside Than it is in My Freezer:

  1.  The kids stay inside. Penelope is 9 months old now and loves to be bundled into her snow suit and pulled in the sled but I’d rather she not get frostbite on her face.
  2. Water – Watering the animals is now the longest part of completing my chores because I now have to clear ice out of all the buckets and dishes before I can give fresh water. I also managed to spill a little water on my leg this morning and my pant leg froze solid within about 2 minutes.
  3. Feeding – The animals eat a little more when it is this cold so I try to give them a little extra grain to offset the calories they burn to stay warm.
  4. Staying Inside – The goats have been camped out in the barn while it is this cold. We do not have heat in our barn but staying inside will keep them out of the wind which combined with the extra cold temperature is dangerous.

The other main hurdle to temperatures this cold is that Everything Breaks! Keeping cars, trucks, and water pumps running while it is this cold is a chore itself.

Helpful Cold Weather Hint:

While perusing Pinterest I discovered a hobby farming hack that has been useful. Placing a gallon jug filled with 1/4 to 1/2 cup salt and about a cup of water in a water tank will help keep the ice out of the tank. I have noticed that when it is this cold there is no stopping the ice but it will reduce the amount. Also one jug works for smaller tanks but a larger tank would need two or more to reduce the exposed surface area of the water. I’m going put the salt/water mix in a water bottle to try to keep ice out of the small buckets I use for the goats in the barn. I hope it works because soon it will be consistently this cold (Hello January 😦 and 5 gallon buckets break when they are too full of ice.

While the below zero weather lasts remember to bundle up and stay safe!

Christmas Baskets

Christmas is just under three weeks away! How did that happen?

A few years ago I stepped away from purchasing gifts for my family and started making homemade Christmas baskets. I love finding thoughtful gifts for my sisters and parents but now that we are adults we each have families. As our families have grown it became financially harder to buy gifts for everyone. Now instead of buying gifts for my sisters and their family I make each family a Christmas basket and fill it with goodies I have made over the year.

Homestead products I have made this year:

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I would need awfully big baskets if I were to put a sampling of everything I made this year into each basket. I pick and choose what items to put into each basket depending on whom will receive it.

What to Put Into a Basket:

  • Focus on the Family- For example, I know my older sister doesn’t use very much jelly or jam so she may receive applesauce instead of strawberry/rhubarb jam.
  • Mix Useful With Pretty- Each year I try to find something new that will be both useful and pretty. Knitted washcloths are nice because they are both functional and pretty. There are a variety of patterns and yarn types I can choose from which help to create a piece that is aesthetically pleasing.
  • Dress it Up- Mason jars look great with a square of cloth over the top and tied with a ribbon or a few strands of raffia tied around the top.
  • IOU’s are Great Too- A pretty note telling your sister or grandma that you owe her babysitting or a lunch date is also a great gift. You are giving the best gift: Your Time!
  • Baked Goods- I’m a sucker for muffins and hot chocolate so if I’m drawing a blank on what to put in a basket pumpkin/chocolate chip muffins are my go to.

Filling baskets with homemade goodies is a great way to give gifts that are both useful and thoughtful.kimg0578

Extras

I enjoy working at our local bookstore in town and I also love the extra perks that go with working there. What are my perks? Books, of course. I am able to pick though a variety of slightly damaged books or magazines which make great additions to my Christmas baskets.

A Basket Full

Making Christmas baskets takes more time than buying a simple present and wrapping it but I believe the time I put into them makes the gift better. I enjoy receiving gifts I will use rather than items that are lovely but essentially useless, so I make gifts that will be used. I have always enjoyed making anything from bread to scarves so I put my skills to good use and share with my family what our little hobby farm has produced through the year.

 

Goat Milk Soap

Making soap can be one of the funnest and most challenging products to make with goat milk. Goat milk soap is one of the best soaps, in my opinion, because it doesn’t dry out my skin like other soaps, I know exactly what is in it, and I can buy all of the ingredients locally.

I usually make a big batch of soap in the fall because I like to give it away as homemade Christmas presents. My family loves my soap and they wish I would make more of it but making soap is a bit of a process that requires kid free time, which is a hot commodity for me.

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I first started making soap about 6 years ago after we bought our goats. The local college happened to have a community education class for making goat milk soap which seemed like fate. I signed myself, my sister, and my husband up to attend the night class. (Poor Trenton was the only guy there). I love taking community education classes and I was very happy to find this one. Since taking the class I make one or two batches of soap a year and I think I have a good recipe now, although I still tweek it a bit.

To make soap you need three basic ingredients:

  1. Lye
  2. Water/Milk
  3. Oils

A few pointers when making soap:

  • Wear long sleeves and gloves!
    • Working with lye is the reason I need kid free time. Although it will not violently burn your skin (Fight Club) it is not pleasant to get on you, which I do every time I make soap. The lye will irritate your skin even after you wash it off and feels like an annoying slow burn for a few hours.
  • Always add the lye to other ingredients not the other way around.
    • For instance, add the lye to your milk a little at a time until it is well mixed then add the lye mixture to your oils.
  • Use a variety of oils!
    • Different oils have different properties and will effect the quality of your soap. I use a mix of olive oil, coconut oil, lard, sunflower oil, and castor oil.
  • For lighter colored soap use a cold process method.
    • Using the cold process method with milk based soaps helps to keep the color lighter rather than a creamy coffee color.
  • Immersion blenders are wonderful.
    • To make soap you need to blend your oil and lye mixture which takes a lot of stirring. An immersion blender is the best way to mix your soap.
  • It is just as easy to make a large batch as a small one.
    • I have recently discovered this fine fact. I can make 5 pounds of soap with the same amount of clean up as 1 pound so I might as well make more soap at one time.

A good resource that I use when figuring out recipes is http://www.soapcalc.net/ because it will help you calculate how much lye, water(milk), and oils you need per batch. It will also rate the quality of your soap based on which oils you select and what percentage you want to use. I played with this website for a long time before I found a good mix that I liked and I still play with it a bit when I want to try an experimental recipe.

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The Experimental Batch:

Usually when I make soap I make 2 Ibs of one scent and 2 Ibs of another. I have just enough soap molds to make 5 Ibs of soap so I experiment with the last pound of soap. This year my experimental soap is an orange coffee soap.

I wanted to try to make orange oil by simmering dried orange peels and olive oil in a double boiler for a few hours. I then used this oil as my olive oil in the recipe. When I had mixed the soap to trace(when the soap starts to thicken) I added the used coffee grounds from my morning coffee. It turned the soap a lovely brown and the grounds will give the soap a scrubbing quality.

I thought about adding orange essential oil to it as an added scent but I am curious if the orange oil I made will offer an scent to the soap. Hence the experimental batch of soap.

This last weekend I taught my Aunt Candy how to make soap and we had a great time getting Christmas soap done. I’ll admit I am cutting it close this year because it takes 6-8 weeks for soap to cure. My family will receive their soap with a warning not to use it until the week after Christmas!