Almost but not quite Spring…

We are crossing over from snow season to mud season and while caught in the middle it is what we call “smuck” a combination of mud puddles, slush and crunchy ice layers with surprising amounts of running water underneath. We are so on the edge of Spring, and with true midwest style, just when it feels like this is it, there are a couple days in the 30’s to remind you it’s not quite over.

3definitely meltingThe melt…

4bblue skies

3fnew boots …which prompted me to go to the farm store and pick up new boots. No more wearing plastic bags over my socks in my boots. These keep my feet completely dry!

6wood load

Although it’s warming up, heating season is not over. Hubby is out of town for a week visiting his parents and helping them out, and so I have been poking around here and there to find wood. With these temps it seems that just a fire at night is good enough and I found that the pieces that were frozen to the ground before were now free and so I loaded up the wheelbarrow with odds and ends.

3gwaiting for grass

Seems the cattle are waiting for some blades of green grass to come up. Any day now…

A very nice birthday

I was asked what I wanted to do on my birthday. What I really wanted was a day with my hubby, lunch at a diner, and a trip to this great antique/flea market that I have been wanting to check out, and so that is what we did.

1aamy bench

My birthday present from Hubby was awesome. He mad me this bench from old barn wood. I love it, and I love that he made it. He is a man of so many talents, he never stops amazing me.

1aday lunch

We went to lunch at a great place on the way to the flea market. This town has so much history, I love going there.

1flea market finds

My flea market finds. I have been meaning to get a double boiler for a long time, but because it isn’t a frequently needed item, I only think thought about the need on those rare occasions . The tea kettle was older, certainly not an antique but it has a history and was stainless steel. The enamel cookware reminds me of a pot my mom used. She always told me that was the pot she heated my sister and my bottles in, I may ask her if I can have that pot. It too has history. I’ve also wanted a pastry cutter and this one was nice as well as the solidly built potato ricer. I really liked what I found, but I also loved looking at all the great old things in the vintage collection they had.

It was a very nice birthday.

Flour day, with a bit of help…

Yesterday was flour day and my cuter than adorable, 3 year old neighbor came over to visit and help. We baked bread, bread sticks and pretzels together. Along the way she decided she was going to make pizza instead. She even placed the oregano one piece at a time:)

As we baked and looked out the window in front of us, at the blindingly bright snow, we decided to pretend it was Spring and suddenly we were looking at green grass and leaves on trees….then my cute little friend one upped me and starting “seeing” pretty flowers of many colors and birds in the trees!

Just another day that I felt such complete gratitude for a peaceful day at home.

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“We have 4 now”, or how Joe Meatball got his name!

Jo Meatball

My husband, like many husbands, has a way of saying things in less words then I can at any given moment. In this case the text message I would have sent him would have had a few OMG’s and exclamation points, and whatever the text version of squealing with excitement might sound like in a text.  So when my daughter and I were at the kitchen baking granola and received this text it was vintage Dad/Hubby! “We have 4  now” (one isn’t in this picture) was the text and a picture of this little guy with his Mama! Yes a man who is frugal with words…

We finished up our baking and came home to see the cute little guy. When we got this cow, we were told that most likely she was with calf, but clearly there are no guarantees or promises with animals or crops. Fortunately all went well with the birth, thank goodness for instinct. This cow had had 8 uneventful births prior so we hoped that run would continue and to ours and her good luck it did. Hubby had concerns about the little guy being too cold and whether or not he was nursing because he was napping for quite a bit that morning. After a few hours of working on jobs around the paddock area and keeping an eye on the little fellow things starting fitting into place. He was able to encourage the little guy to get up into the barn by his Mama and he seemed to know just what to do in the nursing department. So, lots of worrying but really there were no problems here, nature is beautiful.

My daughter named him Joe, since it fit nicely with the other’s names (Jack and Jill), but then her friend came over and suggested “Meatball” would be a good name. Hubby thought that that was not only a good name but a realistic name, as a friend of mine said after learning the name, “I sense you have a  plan for him”, lol! So in order to keep family peace, this little guy became “Joe Meatball”. My little neighbors thought it was a great name!

snow at the baker's

By the calendar, I know that it is past mid march but it is hard to believe when it just continues to snow and snow. The windchill today is -7, and the first day of Spring is technically tomorrow:)

straining sap

My neighbor and I split up the 4+ gallons of sap that had so far been collected. She was keeping it refrigerated and pooling it each day until it was time to cook it down. Yep it should be cooked over an outdoor wood fire. Yep it should get some of that smokiness into the flavor. Yep it should be stirred constantly. Yep it should not be cooked inside because it creates too much steam. Having said all this, it was zero degrees outside and so I cooked it indoors. Turns out that it does create a lot of steam but I did it in such small batches it wasn’t a problem. It cooked down beautifully and it is the most delicious, sweet, melts on your tongue flavor. The Box Elder syrup is less Maple flavored then Maple syrup, but is definitely Maple tasting. It also has a hard to describe flavor of it’s own as well, it is subtle and tastes like you are eating something very special. I used cheese cloth to strain it and below I show the cooking process and the final beautiful golden syrup.

cooking sap 1

cooking sap 2

syrup

Since after a few days of collecting it got quite cold and the sap stopped running, we still have quite a bit more time to collect on the next warm up. I am hoping to get about 16+ ounces. Next year I would like to invest in more then my current 5 buckets/lids and spiles and have about 20 buckets of my own hanging. This was a great learning experiment!

windy snow

The winds today and yesterday have been strong and gusty. Some up to 45 miles an hour, leaving the landscape swirled, and rippled, with patterns in all directions. It’s hard to believe these fruit trees will be full of blossoms and surrounded by beautiful spring green grass in a couple months. My favorite green of all is the color of grass in late Spring/Early Summer. This is usually first seen when out driving in the late Spring. Right along the edges of the barns where the snow has melted away the first blades of bright green grass come up and contrast themselves against the red of the barn. It’s an anticipated moment and a reminder that despite the crusty snow and constant chill that Spring truly is around the corner. Can you tell I’m ready?

“Get your pants on!”

When I came home from tapping the trees and with wet overalls and sweatpants that were wet up to the knees, all pants were off at the doorway. So, as I stood making a warm drink to thaw myself, in my long john bottoms and sweatshirt, hubby shouts out…”get your pants on”, and I started saying things that made sense like.. what? why? and a few other things, but the mantra continued, and he finally said we have visitors! So I run upstairs and am looking for pants… are these clean sweatpants visitors, or yoga pants visitors or take it up a notch to full blown blue jeans type visitors? As I am searching in my confusion, my bedroom door opens and I am thinking, “…what the heck, this visitor is coming in my bedroom?” and then in walks my daughter who till that moment I thought was out on the west coast. She said, “Happy Birthday!”.  I couldn’t have been more shocked and I stumbled across more useful words like, what? how? when? After lots of hugs and “I can’t believe it’s” I came downstairs WITH pants on to meet her nice friend who secretly picked her up at the airport and transported her to the farm. What an amazing and wonderful surprise! We had a week of fun! It was great to have someone to help me bake and keep me company, and we enjoyed cooking, and cooking. We do love doing that together. When she had a friend over for a beer we made some quick snacks (that’s a relative term), delicious pico de gallo and corn chips. The chips turned out way thinner and better then last time! Love the learning curve!

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I felt so grateful for her visit. It was great just having such ordinary time together, and not a visit surrounding a busy holiday or such. It was fun showing her what we have been doing out here! We also enjoyed a wonderful lunch the day way we went on Granola deliveries, as well as a cheese run to our favorite cheese factory. We all had a night at the local bar, for the Tuesday night special and she and her friend and hubby got some target shooting in too during the week! She even suited up and helped hubby pick up hay, and helped him score a round bale too! It’s been tough this winter after last years very dry summer, hay is at a premium now, and people aren’t quick to part with it.

It was great having her home!Having your daughters become old enough to be your friends is amazing, I feel very lucky to have these awesome, and wonderful young women in my life! I am lucky in so many, many ways!

My new favorite sign of Spring!

Our youngest daughter, who has a degree in  Outdoor Education (there is a longer title but I can’t recall it all), text messaged me saying…”it’s time to tap trees!” This is something I have never done, and my quick answer was that we have no Maples on the farm. We have lots of Oaks, Walnuts, Shagbark Hickories, etc. She explained that Box Elder trees are in the Maple family. We took out our Box Elders but the neighbors have plenty to go around. I banded together with my wonderful neighbor and despite the rain, she and the kids and I went out on a mini adventure to their stream area where they have many Box Elder trees. Here we are at work…

me,j and n tapping

My little helpers were wonderful, they even came with a ladle, in case it poured out:) We tried it the old fashioned way, with a Brace and Bit drill, and the kids were helping with it, but we didn’t get more than about an inch into the tree. So much for old fashioned, we pulled out the ‘ol power drill and sunk the holes in that way and look what happened! (I thought I could load the video which so nicely went “plink, plink, plink” as the drops of sap fell in but in lieu of that here is a still shot.)

plink

This was such a sweet sound when it began to plink! Not that that isn’t exactly what we expected, but it was still exciting. My neighbor reported that we have gathered 3 gallons of sap so far! This will be a fun experiment. I am going to have to track down some cinder blocks to build an evaporator or trust myself with our not very heavy duty tripod grate over the fire. Haven’t decided yet…

buckets on tree

Sweet, huh?

“Spring-like”…the good the bad and the ugly!

Although technically it is not yet Spring there are signs of Spring activity, like pouring rain that is melting snow so fast that if we lived in a valley and not on a hillside we would be blowing up our rubber raft to get around.

flood

This is our stream that is usually about two feet wide!

Other signs of spring- like weather would be, our driveway turning into a mud wrestling venue, and muddy, muddy dog feet.

tree trimming

Some of the more enjoyable signs are…trimming the fruit trees, mostly we have apples but one very nice cherry and one pear which fruits some years very well and some just not at all. Additionally, we will have a pond assessment done in order to get our pond re-dug and stocked, hopefully with trout! We are searching now for a good engineer to come out and look things over with us. Hopefully this will be soon!

Next post will be all about my new favorite sign of Spring approaching!