Monday, March 30, 2015


I started my tomatoes on March 1st. They sprouted one week later, it is always exciting when they emerge! It is nice to see something green growing, since we still have 2 feet of snow in the yard and it is snowing right now as I write this. Argh!

6:00 pm on March 30th!


I put them on the hearth of our gas fireplace to sprout. It is warm from the pilot flame and there is a hot water baseboard radiator under the stone hearth.

sprouts after 1 week

this is the next day after they have been under the grow lights

happy little seedlings!

this is what they look like today, only 4 or 5 more months till we have tomatoes!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

maple festival

This is the weekend for the 45th annual Central New York Maple Festival held in my hometown of Marathon. It is our claim to fame! It is held every spring in March or April, it is a different weekend every year. I don't know how the committee chooses the weekend, but you can almost guarantee that the weather will be awful! It was snowing this morning, and then it turned into rain.

There are a lot of fun things to do at the festival if you don't mind slogging around town through the mud and slush! There is a working sugar shack where you can see how maple syrup is made and get a free sample, a juried craft show, pancake breakfast,, various entertainment at the high school gym, all kinds of yummy foods like hot apple dumplings with maple syrup, hot roasted nuts sold on the sidewalk outside the school, hot sausage and peppers, and chicken spiedies (spiedies are a local food, it is chunks of meat-you can use chicken, lamb, venison- marinated in spiedie sauce. My favorite marinade is made by Lupo's. You can make an easy spiedie marinade with Good Season's Zesty Italian Salad dressing mix and add some dried mint leaves. Marinate over night in the fridge. Put the chunks on a skewer and cook on the grill. Serve on a warm sub roll or Italian bread ( I like to just put some butter on my bread, but some people like sauteed peppers and onions on theirs.) Yum!

I used to participate in the craft show back in the days when I was still doing shows to supplement our income. I sold my teddy bears there for quite a few years, then I sold my jewelry after I quit making the bears. It was never a huge money maker for me, but it was so close to home that I figured whatever I made was worth it. The weather was usually not great, mostly it rained, but every once in a while it would be sunny and nice. My most memorable Maple Festival moment was the year they had the rent-a-johns on the field next to where the helicopter rides were taking off and landing. I don't think I need to go into a lot of detail here, but I really thought the thing was going to blow over, it was a frightening experience, not how I really want to leave this Earth! I guess I wasn't the only one because they never put them near the helicopters again!

So if you've never been to it, it is fun (more fun if it is nice out), and it is a nice welcome to spring and gets you out of the house if you have cabin fever. 

If you've ever wondered why maple syrup is so expensive, I'm going to show you in this post. My dad, Vince, and his dad have all made their own syrup at one time or another using all kinds of boiling set ups. My dad did his in a small pan over a propane stove, and at one time Vince and his dad, Jerry, had a huge (for non-commercial) set up with a 5'x4' pan that they had set on top of a stove that Vince made out of an old fuel oil tank that he turned on its side. They stopped using that a few years ago when Jerry's maple trees were all killed off during a state wide caterpillar infestation. Those nasty caterpillars ate their way across the state and killed off the maple trees that were in their path and that were a certain elevation. Unfortunately, Jerry's trees were among these.

(holy cow, this post is going to be longer than I thought!)

Last year, Vince decided he wanted to make syrup again, using the few maple trees we have here. We just wanted to make some for us and a few extra to give as gifts. So he bought a few stainless steel chafing pans and made a little stove out of a 55 gallon metal drum. It was an ok set up, but took forever to boil the sap down.

 Because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.  

temporary shelter from rain

then it got windy and cold, so he put a tarp on the side. Eventually he ran a light out to it because he was out there until 11 pm a couple of times.

I think he spent 4 full days out there just to make 1 gallon. 
 He said "This is crazy, it takes way too long!"

So last fall he built a new set up. It is built on an old trailer that my dad used to haul firewood on.
He wanted to make the new system mobile so it wouldn't be sitting in the yard all the rest of the year. He did a ton of research on the internet on different set ups and came up with this, the Maple Syrup Machine, as I like to call it.
Or our retirement home on wheels, depending on how you want to look at it.

construction of the new stove. He took the old pan from his dad's set up and cut it down to 5' long x 20"wide.

NOWWWW,  here is the process that gets maple syrup on my waffles on Sunday mornings!

First, you have to tromp through the snow to tap the trees and hang the buckets ...

Then you have to tromp through the snow to empty the sap buckets into a 5 gallon pail...

That is Vince in the center of the picture

Then you have to tromp through the snow to carry the full 5 gallon pail back to the tractor...

and dump the 5 gallons of sap into a 15 gallon drum. And go back and get more sap if it is warm out and really running. Then drive the tractor back up to the shack and empty the sap into the large blue barrel.

 Please take note of the second trailer on the right that holds firewood for the sap boiler. That took 2 trips to his parents place to get, which involved cutting up the logs, splitting it into small pieces, loading it into our pickup truck, unloading it onto this wagon when he got home. Twice. I helped him unload the first batch, it was 90 degrees out then! I decided I didn't really like maple syrup all that much on that day.

The stove is two 55 gallon drums welded end to end with firebricks in it, on legs. Sap is pumped up into a holding tank from a large barrel, and then drains down through a coil of copper tubing that wraps around the stovepipe. into the boiling pan (which has 3 sections in it).

55 gallon storage drum, this is just frozen on the top

upper hoding tank, sap is pumped into this

from holding tank to boiling pan

boiling pan, it boils between 10 and 12 gallons an hour, unlike the old pan that boiled 10 to 12 gallons a DAY!

 this valve goes from main chamber to the finishing chamber, this can be turned off if you just want to finish what is there without adding more sap.

Now you sit out here all day and feed the fire and watch sap boil! It is more fun than watching paint dry, and it smells better!

after 8 hours, you end up with syrup! We let this sit overnight to settle.

getting ready to bottle it up

straining it

I got out my birdcage stand and some s-hooks, we rigged this up so we didn't have to stand there and hold the strainer bag

after it is strained, we heat it up to 180 degrees, then pour it into the jars

this is what we got out of about 80 gallons of sap

Sunday morning waffles, here we come!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

crinkle ribbon

I kept seeing this cool, crinkly, pretty ribbon on projects in magazines, so of course I Googled it to see how it was made. I just typed 'how to make crinkle ribbon' into the Google search. It is just rayon seam binding that has been dyed and wadded up into a ball while it is still wet and left to dry like that. The next day you have crinkly ribbon!

As luck would have it, I had purchased a spool of 1/2" off-white rayon seam binding a few years ago, but never did much with it. So I cut off a piece, got wet it, wrung it out, and dipped it in a jar of a pink Rit dye bath that I had leftover from another project (I was dyeing bottle brush Christmas trees that I had bleached the green out of, I'll do a post on how to do that another time. Or you can Google it now if you can't wait and learn it from someone else. I love Google for finding out how to do stuff, there is almost always a tutorial or video out there for whatever you want to learn.)

It was a little too pink for what I wanted to put it on (my Valentine ornaments) so I rinsed it, wrung it out and dipped it into a jar of  an instant coffee mixture I had left over from my elf dolls that I made at Christmas time. That made it a lovely antique rose color. When it dried, there were dark spots here and there, it was just the perfect antique-y touch. Then I did one in the teal dye the same way.

These are the first two I did, they were dipped into the instant coffee to age them.

You can buy this seam binding in almost any color, but the spools have 1,000 feet of ribbon on them, and cost anywhere from $7.50 to $13.50 a spool, depending on where you buy them. It is more economical (and more fun) to create your own custom colors. If you search on-line for tutorials you will see there are several ways to color the ribbon other than Rit dye. Some of them show how to make it in variegated colors.

The darker colored ones started out as the 'natural' color, which is kind of dark, it looks like it has been tea dyed. The brighter ones started out as white. The pile on the green dish is the ivory color that has just been dipped in water, wrung out and wadded up.

This is a closeup of the wet ivory colored ribbon.

Since I had used up my original spool making the antique pink and blue, I searched on Etsy until I found the best deal to buy some more. I ended up ordering several different variations on off-white: ivory, winter white, eggshell, natural and light gray, because you will get a different final color from the different base colors. You can also get this rayon ribbon in 1/4" width, I bought a spool in eggshell white, but have not done anything with that yet. I also went to my local variety store (Gregg's True Value in Whitney Point) and bought a new bunch of packets of Rit dye in all the colors they had! I'm sure I could spend a whole day playing with these ribbons! You can use them to hang ornaments, make necklaces (you might want to set the color according to the Rit package directions if you are going to wear it), or tie up a pretty package. I put mine in a fancy jar and just look at it!

Let me know if any of you try it!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

spring has sprung

well, inside the house anyway! I think the most benefit we are going to get out of daylight savings right now is being able to look at the piles of snow for an extra hour each day until it melts!

I brought these boxes of my spring decorations up from the basement a few weeks ago and just didn't get around to unpacking any of them til a few days ago. Vince walked by them one day and said "What's the story with these boxes, are they coming or going?" so I figured it was time to do something with them.
you can see the Valentine's decorations here

So it was down with the Valentine's. I only have one small box of Valentine's decorations, it is the smallest collection of any holiday decorations that I have. Easter is a close second. That's ok because
 my Christmas and Halloween decorations more than make up for it!

ooh! I forgot about my frog with a birthday cake!

This arrangement is in a beautiful old china mug, with a vintage spool of thread and a cute old card of tiny pearl buttons. It would make a great Mother's Day or new baby gift.


 These are all little vignettes that I have on various shelves in the dining and living rooms.

Gardener bunny and his box of dried herbs

 I love birds, and have many bird books and little bird figurines. 

Little gardening bird is ready to plant some flower seeds!

I love nests too!