Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

A month or so ago, while Sweetie was enjoying her pancake breakfast, she inquired about how they make maple syrup. I explained the process to her as best I could from memory and as I concluded she asked if we could try to make some ourselves.  I assured her that we could. That in fact, her Papa J was an expert on making your own syrup.

It’s Sugaring Time!

I pulled out an article he wrote for his company newsletter years ago in which he described his experiment tapping Big Leaf Maple, Alder, and Wild Cherry trees in the Willamette Valley. We gave him a call and he shared a little more about his experience tapping Maple trees. We talked about getting together with him but travel and work obligations just didn’t cooperate. We would just have to play it by ear and see what developed.

A few days later, we met up with him for a birthday dinner and he presented us with the taps. “You’re in luck, Sweetie. The weather the past few days has been just right for tapping trees,” Papa said. “You’ll just need to find some over there in Central Oregon.”

Making Our Own Maple Syrup

By sure luck, as I was explaining this endeavor to my girlfriend, she mentioned that her grandmother had a Sugar Maple in her yard. “I’m always having to rake her leaves in the fall!” she exclaimed, and she gave us permission to tap it.

We tapped it on Monday around 12:30 p.m. and within a few hours we had collected nearly 1 liter! I was actually surprised with how quickly it started to flow. Unfortunately, the weather has since changed and the flow has slowed significantly.

The bottle was in place for just a couple of days as we had a bit of a cold spell and the sap flow had slowed significantly. We were fortunate though to collect nearly a 1/2 gallon of sap from that one tree. As we wanted to do the experiment with Papa, we stored the sap in the refrigerator and waited until he came to visit.

Papa came over a week later and we got to boiling down the sap we had collected previously. You can see in the photo, that the sap has just come to boil… from that point, it took about an hour and a half to finish the process. Unfortunately, we yielded only about 1 tablespoon of syrup but it was so yummy! While they waited, Papa read a book about Maple Sugaring to Sweetie and thereafter, they spent the rest of the evening drawing.

Fortunately, in the weeks that followed, we were also able to locate several other trees and obtained permission to tap those as well.  As the weather was more conducive to tapping in the following weeks, we employed 8 taps and collected enough sap to yield a greater quantity – enough to enjoy on our pancakes!

Thank you, Dad, for sharing your experience with me. Your love of nature has certainly shaped who I am as a woman and is a major part of why I chose to home school the kids.

Maple Syrup Unit Study

We covered a variety of topics associated with maple syrup such as:  trees to tap, parts of a Maple tree, where maple syrup is produced, tapping tools, maple syrup products, the maple syrup process and even more.  It was a great week of fun learning.  Here are a few of the resources we used throughout our study:

Literature

For a unit study on maple sugar, Little House in the Big Woods, is the perfect book. Told from four-year-old Laura’s point of view, the story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin and includes chapters devoted specifically to sugaring time.

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s treasured Little House series, which was based on her life growing up as an American pioneer. You might also be interested in the complete Laura Ingalls Wilder set that includes: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years.

Hidden away since the 1930s, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s never-before-published autobiography, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, reveals the true stories of her pioneering life. Some of her experiences will be familiar; some will be a surprise. Pioneer Girl re-introduces readers to the woman who defined the pioneer experience for millions of people around the world.

With this heavily annotated edition, with maps and appendices that enrich the text, readers can revel in her memories of her family and their pioneer life from 1869 to 1888 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakota Territory.

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker is far from just a cookbook, it’s about a way of life that was a hard existence, but one that many of us dream of. Whether you are already a “Little House” fan, or are new to the series, this book can be enjoyed by all “wanna-be 1800’s pioneer women.”

It includes more than 100 recipes introducing the foods and cooking of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneer childhood, chronicled in her classic Little House books. This is not just a cookbook, it’s an interactive history book, and an in-depth analysis of Laura Wilder’s Little House books.

We also enjoyed:

The Maple Syrup Book by Marilyn Linton

Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky

Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall

Memory Work

From where I lingered in a lull in March
outside the sugar-house one night for choice,
I called the fireman with a careful voice
And bade him leave the pan and stoke the arch:
‘O fireman, give the fire another stoke,
And send more sparks up chimney with the smoke.’
I thought a few might tangle, as they did,
Among bare maple boughs, and in the rare
Hill atmosphere not cease to glow,
And so be added to the moon up there.
The moon, though slight, was moon enough to show
On every tree a bucket with a lid,
And on black ground a bear-skin rug of snow.
The sparks made no attempt to be the moon.
They were content to figure in the trees
As Leo, Orion, and the Pleiades.
And that was what the boughs were full of soon.

~ Robert Frost

Lapbook

We created one of our first lapbooks, Maple Syrup, as a part of our unit study. This free download covers the how-to of sugaring very well.  There are mini-books for the tools and equipment, the process of tapping trees, what trees can be tapped, and science experiments.

Websites

  • Tree Ring Diagram (from Arbor Day) provides a description of tree layers. As the kids are young, our focus was on understanding there are layers to the tree and that the sap runs in the one called sapwood.

 

Come Gee! Come Haw! – A Sled Dog Ride to Remember

We enjoyed a spectacular morning as a family today. A sled dog ride to commemorate our unit study of the Arctic and the Iditarod. It was truly a wonderful experience and one we will never forget.

The kids had been a little nervous on the drive up to the mountain. They weren’t sure what to expect and didn’t want to be scared. I assured them it wouldn’t be scary…. that it would be similar to me pushing them in the jogging stroller only they would be pulled by dogs instead. This seemed to alleviate their concerns.

We arrived a little early so that we would have an opportunity to get to know the dogs and help with the feeding. When we arrived at the site, the dogs were tied to stakes awaiting their turn to pull the sled. They run anywhere from 1-6 tour runs a day – alternating dog teams for each. There were two teams out pulling sleds and we waited from them to return before they harnessed the dogs for the next two sleds (one for us and one for another family). The dogs were very amicable and enjoyed our caresses. One dog even put his front right paw around another woman’s leg in what resembled a hug as she was petting him.

When the dogs were brought to the tow line, they were lifted up onto their back legs and walked on two legs to the line. I asked the mushers why they did this and they explained that the dogs are strong and anxious… it is one of the first things they are taught when they start working with the dogs. It essentially takes them out of ‘4 wheel drive’ and helps assure the musher isn’t overpowered and so the dog doesn’t take off.

Twelve dogs pulled our sled… I didn’t catch the names of the Team Dogs but the others were as follows:

Lead Dogs: Pepper & Ripples
Swing Dogs: Pele & Echo
Wheel Dogs: Yoda & Joe

It was amazing to see how their personalities and experience had a huge impact on the sled. Both Pele and Echo were essentially puppies (18 and 12 months). Occasionally, Echo would get distracted and would look over his shoulder or get a little tangled in the line.

These are the same dogs that Rachael Scdoris trains with and it was great to essentially meet ‘her family’. Mushing is certainly a lifestyle – but it was nice to take a peak into that way of life, even if just for a couple of hours.Along the trail, Sweetie even asked, “Can we do this again?”

Like all organized tours, they even had a photographer to take our picture. I can’t wait to see them! 🙂

Check out my Squidoo lens The Iditarod: A Homeschool Unit Study for resources and activities to bring this historic race to life for your family.

Dragon Theme Birthday Party ~ Another Success

Several weeks before his birthday, I showed Buddy the Wilton Yearbook and asked him to select a cake (and thereby a theme) for his party. My assumption was that he would select Diego or Lightening McQueen from Cars and that I would thereafter purchase the specified pan … a relatively simple undertaking. However, the cake he selected was 3-dimensional and required both fondant and buttercream icing. Substantially more involved than I would have liked. I certainly couldn’t refuse, however. So, Dragons it is …

Dragon Theme Birthday Party

I spent some time researching ideas on the internet… games to play, foods to make, unique treats for the goody bags. I found a very cute graphic online that I used on the invitation and on the goody bags.

GOODY BAGS

  • I found a candy mold with a dragon image so I made hard candied lollipops for each of the party guests (banana and orange flavored).
  • A Dragonology bookmark
  • A Fourth of July ‘popper’ (more left over fireworks from the summer)
  • A scratch-off ticket I designed whereby all tickets were winners. The kids exchanged their winning tickets for a mini dragonology figurine which I discovered on Clearance at Fred Meyer. This was a huge hit!!

ACTIVITIES & GAMES

  • Egg Carton Dragon Craft

Before the party, I cut purple egg carton cups down the middle, into long, 6-cup, rows. I hot-glued google eyes onto plastic easter eggs for the heads and DH drilled two small holes into the back end. Finally, I cut green pipe cleaners into small lengths. When the kids arrived they poked a piece of pipe cleaner into the back of the head and twisted it through the hole in the egg carton to attach it. They then decorated the body with glitter glue and sequins and stuck a red feather into the mouth for fire.

  • Dragon-Foot Relay

Before the party, I cut four claw-foot shapes from cardboard. Divide your guests into two equal lines and give the first person in each line two feet. These feet become the only thing they can step on as they travel from the front of the line, around a chair, and back to the start. Begin with the first two players placing one of their claw-feet on the ground and stepping on it; then, they place the other foot on the ground and step on it. They continue this all the way around the course and then return to the line. When they reach the finish line, they hand the two feet to the next person. The relay continues until everyone has a turn. The team that completes the course first wins!

  • Dragon Tag

Basically, the kids line up and hold onto the waist of the child in front of them. The person in front is it and tries to tag its tail (the last child in the line). Once he succeeds, he moves to the end of the line. {We didn’t actually play this one as we were inside – certainly didn’t want anyone getting hurt or something getting broken.}

  • Dragon Egg Relay

Again, divide your guests into two equal lines and give each child a spoon. Each child has to carry a dragon egg on their spoon to the other side of the lawn and back again. If they dropped it, they could just pick it up. We used glittery easter eggs I found at a local party store.

  • Hunt for the Dragon’s Lair

I showed the children a page from Dragonology that describes how dragons hoard treasure in their lairs. I had made up a treasure map before the party, and told them that an old dragon-hunter had given it to me. The map wasn’t very specific, and as most of the children can’t read yet, I embellished our hunt orally as we went along. I wanted to make sure that the children weren’t scared. As we followed the map, we found dragon scales in the desert (small abalone shells in the sand box), and a few jewels that the dragon dropped along the way (plastic treasure jewels). We knew that we were getting near the lair when we found all the baby dragons out playing (small plush dragons). Inside, the kids found the dragon’s treasure: more jewels, chocolate gold coins, and Mardi Gras necklaces. I think that this was the best part of the party in the children’s eyes. They LOVED the treasure hunt! The kids put everything that they found in the dragon’s lair into their goody bags.

THE CAKE

I am generally pretty critical of my creative endeavors, but I was very pleased with how the cake turned out. Certainly room yet for improvement but I actually enjoyed making this one and I didn’t stress out about it! Everything came into place in time. Buddy loved it! Looking at the pictures now, I am actually surprised how similar the cake and invitation/goody bag graphic are… the cake just needed wings!

In the end, the guests enjoyed the games and my little man was all smiles.  The dragon theme birthday party was a roaring success. 

Chinese New Year Party

Although we had finished our unit study of China, Sweetie wanted to have a Chinese New Year Party to commemorate her studies. We thereby left all her ‘China’ projects out for display and hung paper lanterns for decorations. We invited the neighborhood kids to join us in the celebration. Unfortunately, most came down with a bug and were unable to come to the party. It was therefore a small but very relaxed atmosphere.

newyear2009When the party guests arrived, Sweetie greeted them at the door with “Ni hao”, dressed in her Mulan costume from Halloween ’06. The kids then got started on a couple of craft projects: a paper kite (the Chinese were the first to fly kites) and paper lanterns just like those that hung from the ceiling. I was very pleased that everyone enjoyed the activities and worked well together. Buddy was the only one who wasn’t interested in crafting, instead he took a few photographs and wandered about visiting with his friends.

When the kids finished their projects, they gathered in the living room and watched an episode of Sagwa that I had recorded the day before. My kids love Sagwa! I had tried to get the book from the library (I had checked it out previously) but when we checked on Monday, not a single book about China or the Chinese New Year was available.

While they were engaged in the story, I finished preparing our afternoon snack: pot stickers, egg rolls, and BBQ pork. I encouraged everyone to at least try everything but ensured them that they didn’t have to eat it if they didn’t like it. The BBQ pork was a big hit – the egg rolls, less so.

Following our meal, we ventured to the front yard and enjoyed a dozen or so fireworks that I had left over from the 4th of July (we didn’t get the opportunity to use them in the summer – too dry). This was by far the highlight of the afternoon.

When the kids departed, I gave each a Chinese to-go container with shredded metallic red paper, a fortune cookie, a small firework, chopsticks, a pencil and a Valentine chocolate heart (I had them handy!). The treat boxes were adorable and the kids loved them! Another party success!

Scary Halloween

The kiddos and I were at the Homestead yesterday. It was just us as the lead staff member was out ill and the other volunteer was away on vacation. All was going well… Sweetie was practicing spelling words as I spun each of them around. As they awaited their turn, they were standing on a table – the right height to give them a hug and spin. We’d done this a few times and stopped briefly as a visitor asked a question. I was standing right next to them and in my peripheral vision, I see Buddy step next to Sweetie in an attempt to hug her or tickle her as they had been doing previously. Everything happened so quickly but the next thing I know, Sweetie falls head over heels to the ground, landing on her shoulder.

She cried for a couple of minutes and I believed all was well again until I went to lift her onto the bed. In doing so, I unknowingly put pressure on her forearm and moved her shoulder up…which caused her to scream in pain. We packed up and headed home.

I tried to get in to see our pediatrician yesterday but there were no openings so we waited until this morning. During the evening, she kept it held closely to her body and didn’t want to change her clothes as it would require moving her arm. When she thought about it or if her shoulder was touched, she would cry. Otherwise, if distracted and involved in something (AquaDots, playing with a girlfriend at the Halloween party across the street, etc.) she was fine. I even caught her using her arm on occasions.

This morning, she showed me how she could lift her arms above her head and outstretch them in front of her. “I can go to Karate!” she exclaimed with excitement. She seemed to be fine – just a little tender to the touch. There isn’t even any bruising visible.

The doctor confirmed my suspicion and said to continue administering ibuprofen, occasional ice packs, and lots of love. She should be fine by Monday. She felt that the injury was mostly to her collar bone, and if in fact broken, there was nothing they could do anyway. It would heal naturally on its own. If she doesn’t feel better by Monday, then we are to give her a call and we may do x-rays then. Watching Sweetie, though, she’s been improving little by little already. I am confidant she be fine.

When I returned from the clinic, I received an email in which the Living History director has asked that we pull out of the program. I want to state that I completely understand where he is coming from. However, I have been volunteering at the museum for nearly 4 years. I would have much preferred to receive this information in person. An email is impersonal.

I am disappointed. He should have asked to speak with us in person. The kids don’t understand why they can’t continue to volunteer. Sweetie said, “I could have fallen at home, too.” It just doesn’t seem fair. My mom thought perhaps there have been concerns expressed by other volunteers or staff of which I am unaware.

We enjoy the experience so much. When I was teaching, I put so much of myself into my career… into the classroom. When Sweetie was born, it was very difficult for me to transition into a stay-at-home mom. I felt as though I lost apart of who I was as a person.

When I started volunteering (initially at South Slough Estuarine Reserve before we moved and most recently at the museum), I reclaimed that part of me. I became rejuvenated. The fact that I have been able to do it with the kids has made it even more special, more memorable.

It is very important to me that the children grow to appreciate the sacrifices that our ancestors made. That they grow up with an understanding of how our country has been built by strong men and women who have fought for their beliefs… who set out to create a better life for themselves and their children.

In today’s society, children frequently lack exposure to the outdoors, to a more sustainable way of life. Parents are not comfortable giving their children the freedom to walk a few miles away from home to buy penny candy at the local Mom & Pop or ride their bikes across town to a friend’s house. There are just too many dangers these days. Children seldom get the opportunity to explore the neighborhood woods, undertaking spur of the moment scientific inquiry. Questioning. Exploring. Learning.

This is one of the biggest reasons I chose to home-school. I want to provide that for my children. I am just so sad to lose this learning opportunity. I’ll just need to remember that when a door opens, another is frequently opened. When the time is right, if we are ready and open to change, new opportunities will become available.

** Edited 8th November 2007.

Learning Nonetheless

The kiddos and I met the COOL group downtown today to attend The Miracle Worker, a theatrical play about Helen Keller. It was an educational experience…. but not in the way you would expect.

When I was in the fourth grade, I remember reading a biography on Helen Keller and was captivated by her story. I started writing my name on my paper in Braille… Mr. Claska, my teacher, said it took him quite a while to figure out whose paper it was. This, of course, inspired me to complete entire assignments in Braille as well. I basically poked tiny holes in my paper using a soft eraser underneath so the hole wouldn’t puncture all the way through the paper… just enough to make a little bump. To accomplish this, I had to write out the dotted alphabet backwards, so when the paper was turned over and positioned correctly, the words would be spelled correctly and thus legible with fingers.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that a local theater group would be presenting the play. We borrowed several books from the library and read up on Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Sweetie added Helen Keller to her ‘Book of Centuries‘. We were both surprised to learn that she was born in 1880, the same year that we protray at the museum.

Before our arrival, I discussed with the kids my expectations for their behavior. Both insisted that they would remain quiet and seated throughout the performance. I even stooped low and said we’d go out for hot cocoa or ice-cream (their choice) afterwards if they indeed behaved themselves.

I should not have gotten my hopes up for no sooner were we shown our seats and Buddy starts to climb up and down the steps…. walk up the aisles…. investigate the restrooms…. bang on the seats… he just doesn’t sit still and to top it off, continually makes noises throughout the first act. I tried to pacify him with a lollipop but he devoured it in just a few minutes. At one point, he gets his foot caught and twisted between two seats as he is attempting to climb out of my lap and into the vacant seat beside me. He cries in pain. As soon as he calms down, an usher comes up to us and hints that we should probably leave if he can’t settle down. URGH! I decide not to try any longer and we pack up.

I am embarrassed once again (yesterday, his behavior elicted an ‘involuntary vacation‘ from the fitness center). Sweetie was very disappointed herself. I hated that his misdeeds were causing her to miss out on something she has looked forward to doing.

As it was just 10:30, we went to Costco for groceries. On the way home, we made a quick stop at Dairy Queen so Sweetie could get the ice cream treat she had been promised. Buddy was furious that he didn’t get to pick out a treat. When we got home and I proceeded to unbuckle him from his carseat, he kicked me in the chin. He thereby earned himself another timeout – buckled in his seat – as I unloaded the car.

I have had to remind myself that a lesson was learned today. Not the one necessarily planned but a life lesson nonetheless.

I am perplexed. I don’t know exactly how to approach his misbehavior. I’ve been using the same strategies with him as I did with Sweetie. Time-outs just don’t seem to work with him. I’ve tried taking toys away and he actually brings them to me… even his favorites. The Love & Logic strategies I’ve always used do not seem to work as well with him. He is just 2 1/2 years old… I hope it is just a phase.