Friday, 28 February 2014

Happy: Starring, Children of the Boxes and the Queen of Balloon People

Walnut Syrup Part Two

So here are the photos of the final straining and jarring up of the walnut syrup. Usually, we strain as the sap comes in the house before it goes to boil, but this time we were working with frozen chunks, so straining came after it was syrup.

It is more jelly like than maple syrup, but sweeter. Not so much walnut flavour as the boil smell hinted at (you know, making my house smell like German Chocolate Cake....), more of a plain sweet. This may be because it was very early sap (see the light colour). Early maple is like this too, the later sap is darker and more maple-y.

We got just shy of 1 quart. Not bad for 4 stock pots of sap, actually. This is just the beginning of sugar season, friends. The new cold snap and deep freeze means y'all have plenty of time to order supplies and get your own syrup made this year. So easy. So very worth it.

Three trees in your yard? That can provide 2 gallons of syrup and that's enough for my whole family for a year AND sugar my coffee every morning. That's a pretty amazing thing that even an urban homesteader can do.

Still need convincing? Ok. Here:
Does your coffee sweetener have iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium and like 5+ more minerals that you might take a multivitamin to get? No?


Oh and this. Make this and dream of summer.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Walnut Syrup

Walnut sap is/was flowing. What do you do with walnut sap? Ah, good question.

Turns out, the same thing you do with maple sap.....boil it to syrup! Oh my house smells so good right now, like German Chocolate cake. Sugaring season is my favourite part of winter/spring on the farm and almost makes the cold bearable. Maybe we are all just sugar drunk on sap, though.

Some observations and questions though.
1) little gelly blobs keep forming in the sap/syrup boil. I searched online to find out what this is and only found another sugarer asking the same question. Anyone know?
2) This sap seems to take longer to boil down.
3) They are flowing earlier than the maples. This may be a way to maximise our syrup and better tell when the maples will start flowing?
4) Our walls are NOT sticky. Not even a little bit. Nor is the underside of the shelf above the boil or the back of the stove.  Our windows are not even fogging up.
5) If you use bags instead of buckets, remember to collect before nightfall and don't let it freeze in the bags. Destruction happens.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nesting At Home

From the moment my bags hit the floor at Grampa's and the kids jumped off the stairs into my arms, they have been randomly hugging me and cooing, "Aw, Mama...." It is especially endearing when Isaac says this. He then kisses me and says, "I you love, Mama."

Of course the minute I got home they also, all three, burst into fevers. Four, if you count Chad. They have all been a sweet, sorry lot this weekend.

So, I brought out the pot and made soup with a whole head of garlic, stocked up on cranberry juice and tea, and cancelled all outings for the week. I feel a slight pressure in my head too, but I am taking elderberry and trying to keep it at tickle level instead of full blown plague.

All three kids are really into legos. We have to get more regular blocks. Imaginative building is so much fun!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Getting Home Again

I have not yet shared the details of my bus ride and night spent in Memphis, in part because I was trying to freak myself out into a panic attack at the thought of returning home the same way. The trip home also had a 3 hour layover in Memphis at midnight. The biggest problem I experienced with the Megabus was that the long layover and bus stops were not marked, just random street corners, and not in a populated place with eateries. Memphis was the worst. Only a liquor store, three blocks away. I was terrified that I would not make it back to the unmarked loading point, either from being mugged or forgetting my way back.

There's more, I will share later, but suffice it to say, that one night a few of us writers at the retreat were up late and working hard, sharing stories, and it came up again how I had taken a three day bus ride to get to the island, I confessed that I had never really had so much contact with the homeless and that I knew better how I was going to navigate the trip home, though it was still making me anxious. I even did an impersonation at one point of the redheaded polygamist's daughter, Jazz, that was helping her felonious husband flee to Mexico. She had a very distinct accent.

Then, one of the writers, asked if flying out of Savannah would work for me, Friday morning.


He bought me a plane ticket home. A plane ticket. This meant instead of 36 hours of cross country starvation on a crowded bus, in possibly another blizzard/ice storm, I would travel for 4 hours and be home by lunch on Friday.

Oh, yes. I cried. I held myself together until I got to my room and then I sobbed like a little baby. I had not realised how homesick I was until that point either, but I imagined my babies jumping into my arms as I set my bags down at the front door and I just cried. I tried to text Chad to tell him, but Isaac was having a nightmare and he couldn't talk or text. I tried calling again the next morning, but he didn't answer.

When I did tell him, I could hear relief in his voice. He knew I could handle the bus again, but getting me home early was so, so welcomed.

Dr. Baxter, your generosity is deeply, deeply felt by my whole family.

*As a funny side note: I have not flown for many years and not since the TSA security thing was developed. So of course I set off all the alarms and had to be searched 3 times, in almost all possible ways, and have my hands chemically analysed. Of course. Why? Forgotten lip balm in my pocket. I had to unpack all my bags and explain it all. Then they stuck their hands in my pants pockets. IN. MY. POCKETS. You know, Megabus didn't even check my id, let alone violate my person.

Still, totally worth it to fly. Totally. Worth. It.

Day Five, Off the Island, the Ghosts of Savannah

As we ate, my sweet tea disappeared.  J.J.'s glass kept getting lipstick prints on it even though she wasn't wearing lipstick. Then the window reflection made it look like there was a 6 ft tall gorgeous drag queen standing behind me laughing and undoing her hair, letting it fall over her shoulders.

All of these things had logical explanations, but we decided it was more fun to think we were dining with the ghosts of Savannah and the ghosts are gloriously fabulous. Good company, all around!

We headed out to walk around town and visited the Telfair Museum, the Mercer House,  and a couple of shops. Mercer House was a tour of no photographs allowed, but the guide was seriously channelling a younger Morgan Freeman, and if you closed your eyes, you would seriously think you were there with a wily Jim Williams and Mr. Freeman. I am not one to talk about specific ghosts and haunting, but I swear Jim was there in the purple room grinning at the whole ordeal. Jen said maybe I was picking up on her mental assessment of how the museum artifacts are being displayed and cared for, which is not up to standards (cabinet holding books, was bowing from the weight of the books among many things).

Jen drove us to Tybee Island for a tromp on the beach. The fog settled in fast. It was suddenly cold!

It was surreal to walk in the fog with the tide rushing in on a near empty, possibly radioactive beach.

So then we headed to find a hotel, sadly, nothing was available. We were left to walk the streets of Savannah when the good and evil may waltz and play together. It was fun! We even found the exact make and model of my first car. A 1953 Chevy, automatic transmission, 4 door, black and chrome.

And of course crossed paths with a ghost tour.

Then exhausted we headed back to the car, no hotel rooms nearer the airport either. We parked in the car and talked until about 3 am, then ate breakfast at the Waffle House.

Oh, did I mention airport? To be continued......

Day Five on the Island, Saying Goodbye


Saying goodbye was hard. There was a lot of hugging. Southerners hug a lot. There were tears. It was surreal leaving, loading bags on the boat, perfect weather. I even got a sunburn from the boat ride. The air was sweet and salty, like caramel.

Tucked away in my bag, a pirate's map to unlocking my own sabotages. So grateful for this time and place, like a rift, splitting open my own guts and revealing the landscape of my inner workings.

And so the journey home began.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Ossabaw Island, Day 4 Pictures

Ossabaw Island, Day 4, Sunrise

Today, I jumped out of the bunk beds, barefoot down the ancient wood floors, and quietly headed out to the docks. Every morning before, I was up and out here too late and other folks had already seen the pigs, scared them back into the marshes. Today, I was set.

Quietly, I put my footsteps in the soft part of the sand in the path, avoiding the crinkly fallen Palmetto leaves. I found fresh tracks, steaming pig dung, and I even heard some soft snorting the in grass. Alas, though, I did not lay my eyes on the elusive wild Ossabaw pig. Today is the last day of the workshop, tomorrow morning we load the boats and head back to shore and our families.

I, sad that I nearly caught my glimpse yet failed, sat on the dock and watched the sunrise. Sometimes, even when you do not get what you worked for, God lands another gift in your hands. The sunrise this morning, before the others stirred and the coffee started brewing, before the trade ships start yelling at each other in the passage waters, rumbling like thunder, this moment of peaceful quiet that even the wildlife pauses....this was my moment of prayer for the day. This is Ossabaw's cathedral.

Oh my heart aches for home and my babies. I am torn between this magical place and home, hoping to take a wee bit of the magic here home. That is what I asked for, to leave the regret I have carried in my jeans pocket for nearly two decades and bring home instead seashells and island talisman.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Ossabaw Day 3, More Thoughts

I know I already posted this picture, but I wanted to highlight it. Taking a black and white of trees is so terribly hard. All the greens just melt together! Today though the island was overcast, so I headed out. My computer needs to charge after workshop, so I plug it in and tell everyone I am going to charge me back up in the woods. We have to say where we are going in case we get eaten by alligators or some such.

Taking this picture wasn't hard, it was knowing what kind of lighting I needed and taking the opportunity. Getting out there in the woods, climbing the the forest walls, and taking it.

Poetry is like that too. You have to know the craft, get out there and take risks, and then just when the time is right.....reach out there and grab it. What is it they say? 99% of good fortune is being ready and working hard, the 1% is luck/timing? Yes. That's exactly right.

Today was a good day. I am having a very hard time settling down for sleeping. It is like I am at a summer camp run by immortals, the great writers of our time. I am in awe at the craft sessions, taking notes furiously. This is odd, even in college I doodled instead of notes. This time, this time I have something and I am working to find my way in the woods to happen upon the perfect light.