Friday, April 29, 2011

Sugaring Off: Maple Taffy

When the sap has been collected and the evaporators are at work, there might be a lull where you can enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Pat down some of that melty, crystalline snow you find in Spring. We used a garbage can lid, but you can do this on a cookie sheet if you want to try it at home!

Gather some sticks.

 Boil the syrup until it reaches the soft-ball stage (it clings into a little ball when dripped into a glass of cold water). Pour it in strips across the snow, then let it sit for a minute. Before it hardens completely, take your stick and squish it into one end of the maple roooollll the strip up onto your stick! (Check out Jude's look of anticipation!)

Pass quickly to the nearest child. Ignore the warnings that the tooth fairy is whispering in your ear about your child's dental health. Making maple taffy outside is the clearest memory I have of my childhood visits to a sugar shack.

Gooey, sticky, sweetness dabbed with bits of ice and snow...incomparable and unforgettable!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Appearing, Puddleside

A magical creature, wearing brightly-coloured clothing, striped leggings, and a hood, appeared near a puddle at our home this past weekend. She did not seem to notice me as she gazed into the spring waters, perhaps admiring her fetching reflection. Soon, she was joined by another of her ilk:
I knew they must be of the same species of faery folk, judging by their stature, dialect, favourite colours,  hairstyles, and obvious penchant for hoods and stripes.

They briefly admired each other, then joined hands to find a bigger puddle to splash in...a rare sight indeed!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Wonder Times

In the quiet of the early morning, I slipped outside in my nightgown, rubber boots, and a cozy sweater to hide a few more eggs before the children awoke.
When I came back inside I was struck by the peace and quiet in this sunrise-lit space. So often it is cluttered, surfaces covered in spills and crumbs, yarn and toys. So often it contains the whispers of princesses conspiring with the pirate chief, the cries of wounded feelings, the loud negotiations for a coveted toy. This is truly a Living Room. It is the place where we play, rest, create, argue, veg out, make music, read stories, cuddle, and imagine. It is so rare that it looks this serene and orderly.

Eggs added splashes of colour here,

and there.

Magical creatures

and a guardian frog kept watch over the Easter treats waiting for my children to wake up.

Soon, we all ventured outside. A quick reminder to the oldest child to let the littler ones find some eggs, and they were off with shouts of glee and discovery.

This oldest child is always so considerate of his little sisters, guiding them to where the eggs were hidden.

The littlest one shows off her Easter booty!

Watching them, I was aware of the fleetingness of this time in our lives, when all three of our children "believe"; they have heard no rumours of whether or not our magical friends really exist, and as of yet, there are no arguments about what an older kid told them about these invisible purveyors of Christmas gifts, Easter eggs, and tooth money.

These are the Wonder Times, and, like that rare quiet moment alone in our Living Room, I have the good sense to pause and truly enjoy them.  

I know they won't last forever.

Friday, April 22, 2011


May Easter blessings and joy visit your home in great abundance!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sugaring Off: Boiling Down the Sap

Making maple syrup is a long, steady job, a few intense weeks of collecting, boiling down, and bottling.
While the sap boils, there is time to enjoy the inimitable scent of maple steam,

and time to enjoy a mug of chai tea steeped in hot sap.

Little ones are kept busy with stories and games of fetch-the-stick with a friend's dog. If there are musicians about, there might be some sharing of traditional Appalachian tunes, traded for a Canadian tune or two.

The magic moment arrives, where the bubbles look just right: the syrup is ready to be filtered...

...and bottled!

It's a true labour of time and love, one to be shared with friends, relatives, neighbours, and anyone else who is willing to stop by to lend a hand. The extra-curriculars (singing, sipping, storytelling, snacking) are optional but highly recommended to fully enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sugaring Off: Collecting the Sap

In provinces and states in the Northeast of North America, Spring means many things: an end to a long winter, wet basements, snowsuits traded in for rubber boots and splash pants, and the lengthening of the day.

The cold nights join forces with warm, sunny days to create a magical effect in forests all around: the running of the sap.

Wet forest floors freeze and melt, freeze and melt.

Buckets hang from spiles tapped into sugar maples, and the sap begins to drip-drip-drop with a sweet pinging sound.
The buckets are checked often for the watery liquid gold that will be boiled down into maple syrup.

There is work for people of all ages, and everyone feels needed and useful.

The littlest ones marvel at the gift of the tree, and pat her bark, whispering "Good job, tree!"

Small hands gain confidence with the support of a larger hand.

Off to another tree to collect more sap!

This is part one of a three-part series about the days we spent in the sugar bush! Join me tomorrow when I share tales of the boiling of the sap.

Monday, April 18, 2011


My mother is a go-big-or-go-home kind of gal, and has always been. Our childhood home was always festooned with hearts, shamrocks, eggs, spiderwebs, and pine boughs at the appropriate holiday. When  you step on her front porch, you know what special event is approaching. She continues to add her talent and eye for beauty to her home although her kids are grown...the grandchildren might drop by, after all! My dad teases her about her holiday Rubbermaids, but we all so appreciate the warmth and artistry of her home.

She is modest about this flair for creating tastefully festive beauty in her home, so today I want to share some of her Easter decorations with you. When I started walking around her house taking pictures, she laughed with surprise at how many eggs she had lying casually around...

 in bowls,

 on her porch,

 and front door,

 on top of her cabinet,

 on this leaf-shaped plate,

 and around her candles.

I couldn't resist adding these little sock-yarn "Easter eggs" that were sitting on her coffee table! Festive, indeed!

To see who won the giveaway, click here!

And the Winner Is...

We're overjoyed to announce that the winner of my Blogiversary Giveaway is
Barefooted Mama!

Thanks to all of you who joined forces to help me reach my goal!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Farm Friday

We had a visitor to our farm. His name is Flat Stanley, and he was sent to us from a school in Michigan. Stanley wanted a tour of our home and village, and met our hens face to face.

He helped with the chores.

And he tasted pure, Canadian maple sap!

He was a perfect houseguest, and will soon be on his way back to Michigan with a letter and photos detailing his visit to Eganville, Ontario.

Remember to leave a comment here for a chance at winning my Blogiversary Giveaway! I only need 8 more followers to reach my goal of 200 in a year...what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So Kind and Generous

I'd have to say that the best thing about blogging is the connections you make with complete strangers. A random comment that touches someone's soul, that inspires them to send you a personal email, that results in a back and forth of love and encouragement. There are women out there I've never met, who have sent me words of kindness when I am troubled; to whom I've sent birthday crowns for her children when the task overwhelmed them; who randomly chose me to win a giveaway and added some little extras to the gift; who asked me to take their child's Flat Stanley for a tour of my village.

Daily, I am amazed at and so grateful for the random acts of kindness of these strangers.

I received a parcel in the mail yesterday from Kendra from By Hand at Home. She'd read on my blog that I was attempting to crochet 17 of her beautiful wool nests as a party favour for my sister. She added a few nests to my efforts, beautifully hand crafted, and also included some strips of lovely wool.

Nestled into the box of woolly goodness was a camera.


It was an extra she had lying around. You who follow this space know the Camera Saga. You know how I've been budgeting and trying to figure out a way to save up for a new camera, when money is already tight. You know how much this random act of kindness means to me.

I am just so touched by this woman's kindness and generosity, and for all the friends I've made just because I started a blog a year ago. I have this fantasy:

A large group of women, all ages and stages of life, all sizes and shapes and colours, wander the lawns of the Knitty Gritty Homestead. Delicious, homemade food, generous quantities of wine/martinis/beer/organic juice, and craft goodness abound. This is a gathering of bloggers, women of talent and vision, women who mother and work, write and take photos, cook and craft and blog about it all. They are united in their mission to share their ideas, talents, weaknesses, triumphs and downfalls with the world and with each other. There is lots of laughter, tears, and hugs of solidarity and support.

Wanna come?

Don't forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win my Blogiversary Giveaway!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flannel Nightie

My mother spent her working years as a mother and a nurse. I joke that once she retired she started working for me. She does spend an awful lot of time at the homestead, and we're so grateful for the home cooked meals, the folded laundry, the little sorting jobs she does, and the love she so generously gives our children.

In her spare time, my mother sews: curtains, quilts, receiving blankets, and pyjama pants for Jude.

And for our girls? Flannel nighties.

If she would venture into the world of Etsy, I'm convinced my mother could make a killing by selling these cozy little dresses. For now, my girls are the privileged and proud recipients of seasonal nightgowns that make our hearts clench with their timeless, Little-House-on-the-Prairie appeal.

Hmm...I just got an idea for a future giveaway.

Don't forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win my Blogiversary Giveaway!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Local, Handmade Giveaway, and an Anniversary Goal!

Dear Friends and Followers,

It has been a year since I ventured out into the then-unfamiliar realm of blogging. I had no idea where this journey would take me. If I have given a small amount of encouragement, humour, inspiration, and nourishment to a few of you, I have received far more from the many people who have shared their love and encouragement with me!

Your feedback means so much! I'd like to take this opportunity to thank y'all, AND to encourage all you voyeurs (you know who you are) who faithfully read my posts to sign on as a follower, and to leave a comment now and then! Help me reach my goal of reaching 200 followers by my anniversary!

Here's some incentive: an anniversary giveaway! Anyone can enter, but there is a perk for followers: you can leave one comment each day until the closing date on April 17. If you're NOT a follower, you're only allowed to leave ONE comment. See?

Membership has its benefits!

I wrote my first post on April 18, 2010, so will announce the winner one year from that date.

Here's some of what you'll win:
  • a half-dozen hand-knit rainbow-coloured eggs
  • a wee hand-knit and hand-dyed cardigan and hat set!
  • a box of tea from the Algonquin Tea Company, grown, harvested, and packaged locally by my friends and neighbours Steve, Megan, and Kim!
  • a bar of goat milk green tea soap, created locally at Opeongo Mountain Goat Farm!
  • a few other goodies which will be a surprise!
The focus of this giveaway is clearly:  LOCAL and HANDMADE!

To enter this giveaway you may leave a comment below. If you aren't already a follower, please become one! Followers may comment once a day, every day until I randomly select the winner on April 18, 2011. Comments are now closed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Caution: Artist at Work

Our home has been overtaken by an unsavoury lot of characters.
Pirates and their treasure chests.

This boy of mine is into drawing, creating booby traps with yarn and masking tape, taking old appliances apart to create inventions, and dancing to "I Like to Move It". I've been struggling lately with the notion that in September he'll start going to school full-time. Struggling for lots of reasons: it's the first time he'll spend more time with people other than family members. Although he is considerate, funny, and gentle, he often plays alone in the schoolyard. He often needs reminders to "focus" and "pay attention".

Dragons full of the people they've devoured.

Many-limbed aliens from another planet.

This boy's head is right where it should be: in the clouds (not to mention on pirate ships, in underground caves and outer space, and inside robots). He is the proverbial square peg. I suspect many children, little boys in particular, are square pegs when it comes to the school system. I've seen him focus and pay attention for hours to his drawings and inventions. I've seen him reading and writing when it is meaningful for him. I've seen him absorbing math concepts, making connections between stories we've read and experiences he's had, and reading between the lines.

Robots that shoot arrows and wash dishes.

...and more robots.

I'm presently reading Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.You know when you read something that articulates what you knew all along in your gut? This is one of those books. My struggle lies within the fear that the confines of a classroom will not allow for this little boy's mind to reach the distant places to which it naturally longs to travel. There's a conflict between my intuitive desire to keep my boy home to learn at his own pace, and the fact that my income as a school teacher allows us to live on our little farm (not to mention the fact that I love my job). I struggle with what I see as the school system's unintentional (?) habit of creating tiny cogs to fit into the giant wheel of and pee on schedule, play outside only at specified times, learn what everyone else is learning whether it interests you or not.

Plans for snowball attacks a la Calvin and Hobbes.

Daddy and Jude on the toboggan, on their way to ATTACK!

I don't believe that school is all bad, or that it isn't suitable for any child. But it certainly isn't ideal for every child, and therein lies my struggle. Although I have been a teacher in "the system" for the past 14 years, I feel concerned that it isn't right for my child. I want him to tap every bit of creativity that exists in his growing mind and heart, without the interference of what he is "supposed" to learn in Grade One (or Two or Three...)

And my favourite: a geriatric robot with his cane.

I've had extreme fantasies of selling all we own so that we can live more cheaply in order for me to homeschool or unschool our children. In my more rational moments, I remember my parenting mantra: 

faith and patience.

I am choosing to have faith that if school does not suit our boy, we will find alternatives. If that means I eventually work full time so my husband can stay home to build pirate ships and draw maps with him, that is what will happen. Or maybe by then his interest will lie in gardening or astronomy or music. I sometimes wonder what I might have become if I'd been encouraged to seriously pursue my passions for writing, textiles, painting, and music rather than perceiving them as "hobbies" secondary to my school studies.

I want to find out what might happen to my child if we encourage him to pursue his passions, wherever they may take him.