snow days

well we finally got a bit of snow this week after several let-downs and close-calls this winter.  a few inches early in the week, and then 4-5" last night.  we made a snowman and snow angels, pumpkin pancakes and maple hot cocoa and maple snow cones.  she did 'homework' (she regularly sees kids doing homework when she comes with me to after school art classes and so she often asks us to make some up for her), we boiled down what was possibly the last of the maple sap, we cheered as tomatoes sprouted and more and more onions showed their little heads through the soil.  there is a lot of hot tea, a lot of oatmeal with cream and butter, cinnamon and maple syrup.  a lot of sitting by the fire and watching as the wood pile really, truly reaches next-to-nothing-ness (the photo above is of stacked wood for next year- stuff that is nowhere near seasoned yet).  we decided to tea-stain bear to a soft brown so as to help him not look quite so grungy once (finally) re-stuffed and given a new life.  it's challenging to keep a white stuffed bear clean, you know.  there has been art by her, some writing by me.  seems we are both nursing chest colds.  or rather, trying to keep them from taking hold.  last night I took over her room with a warm humidifier and a slew of herbal remedies.  after taking them almost hourly all day and part of the night, I am feeling much better.  hoping she kicks it before long as well because tomorrow morning we're headed to Savannah for the weekend.  a dear friend is getting married so we get to go on a mini adventure.

I wanted to take her sledding today.  or at least I really, really wanted to want to take her sledding.  I didn't feel like it, still coughing and such this morning, but I wanted to be the mom who doesn't let her kid miss out on what is possibly the one and only chance at some real sledding for the year.  but alas, we were (um, I was) lazy about things and by the time we made it there most of the snow was melted and we took two lackluster runs down a moderate hill.  she was surprisingly not disappointed.  me too.  at least we can say we tried.  now we're hunkered back by the rekindled fire drinking tea and watching Fantasia.  fantastic.  and now to pack.


weekending :: around the house

aside from a trip to ballet class and a short playdate with friends, we stayed close to home this weekend.  kept the home fire burning, drank tea, started her pink hat with the yarn she chose all by herself, watched as the first seedlings began to valiantly break the surface of the seed starting mix (hurrah for the onions and tomatoes that are already up!).

it was very icy and cold around here last week, as it was in many parts of the country.  highs in the teens, lows anywhere from -4 to a handful of degrees, windchill well below zero…… we are used to freezing temperatures and snow around here, but wow.  we got used to bringing fresh water out for the chickens every few hours, swapping it for frozen.  we put a heat lamp in their coop.  after the second or third day of brittle intense cold, we decided to give the remaining hive a bit of love and packed some straw around and underneath it.  by the weekend, it was warming up quite a bit, and by Sunday it was in the low 50s.  a hopeful glance at the hive made my heart sink and I knew we hadn't added the extra insulation in time.  Dammit.  Yep- it would seem we lost both hives this winter.  they were just too cold.  there were enough bees, enough honey, no pest infestation….. just a large clump of cold, limp bees.  throw a week of -20 windchill in between a couple weeks of slightly balmy, and our girls just couldn't hang.  I couldn't help but feel like a half-ass steward, wondering if they'd have made it if we'd added the straw sooner….  and who knows.

so that's a big, big bummer.  I felt crabby for the rest of the day and still feel generally crappy about it.  yes, we now have two almost-full supers of honey to extract, so there is that sweet silver lining.  but oh how I'd rather have the healthy bees still hunkered down in there buzzing away to keep each other warm.  funny thing, the man we always get our bees from called me last week to let me know he'd be picking them up soon and did we need any?  he's never done that before.  but, we're not so sure.  we've had bees for four years now, and have lost at least as many hives over those years.  we'll either replace both hives, or take a year off.  and while the thought of not having those two happy white towers in the corner of the yard, not being able to just sit and watch those ladies go about their day, in and out, in and out, makes me kinda sad……. maybe a break is called for.

we'll see.

we are also looking into replacing our wood stove insert with a much more energy efficient (and environmentally friendly) freestanding stove.  we've narrowed it down to a large handful of possibilities based on the dimensions/firebox size/efficiency ratings/etc that we are looking for, but I'd love if any of you have any feedback on stoves you've used and loved (or not loved).  we are debating the merits of catalytic converter vs.  non-catalytic as well, so please chime in if you have opinions there.

weekending with Karen


sweetness and kitchen miscellany

first batch of finished syrup this go around~ we won't get close to the 4.25 gallons we made last year, but should get a bit more before all is said and done

today we woke to secret valentine's messages from papa (off to work at 6:30 this morning) on our windows and homemade construction paper cards at our places at the table.  a menu for a day-after-valentine's-day breakfast in bed he's planning for tomorrow.   she had a pile of cards to bring to buddies at ballet and afterwards we went out for hot cocoa and coffee.

home, then.  where it was a balmy 53 degrees.  heating with wood and not seeing the point of starting a fire when you wake since you'll be away and unable to tend it for a couple hours makes for a chilly homecoming a bit later on.  that, and we are ever so quickly approaching the end of our seasoned wood pile, so…….. a bit frugal with the wood around here lately.  now we've been home a few hours and I've got it up to 62 and climbing. it is supposed to be 7 or 8 degrees here tonight, cold for the week to come, and they're saying maybe snow.  oh I hope so.  a good snow where we can get out and go sledding, make a snowman, throw some snowballs…… and then spring may arrive directly.

this afternoon she is content with her pile of books and blankets.  walking around the house singing songs from The Sound of Music.  maybe there will be a couple sparkle stories and some painting.  and she just made this adorable little doll all by herself.  her name is Poppy.

for me, the rest of the day is shaping up to be kitchen time mostly.  soup, sauerkraut, granola….  I'm also hoping to get through the rest of Cold Mountain, which I am very much enjoying.  hot tea, too.  there will be lots of that.  and laundry.  I've given up trying to organize our mess in the mudroom, where a mountain of shoes battles over space with a thawing chicken waterer and miscellaneous winter attire.  and other things as well.


bitter :: sweet

on January 29th the sap started to flow and we went out and tapped the trees.  last year we tapped more and ended up making enough syrup to sell about a gallon and a half, which helped us to recoup the cost of some of the equipment (pans, extra stovepipe, a second old stove off of craigslist).  this year though, we're keeping it small(er).  it takes a lot of time to boil down sap, and a lot of wood.  there's something to be said for all that time and wood, of course.  I do enjoy it, especially on cold, clear nights.   the couple weeks a year that we spend hauling wood back to the 'sugar nook' and feeding the roaring fires and being huddled up close in there with the good sweet smells are pretty nice.

this weekend, Sunday in particular, was amazingly warm.  I think it topped out around 70 degrees.  there were barefoot picnics (it's strawberry season in Florida- woohoo!) and loads of yard work.  I got the seed-starting-mix mixed and looked through our recently received seed order.  the sap fire was tended quickly and I did not linger to absorb the warmth.

also, and here is the bitter part…..  we made the sad discovery that one of our hives did not make it.

this is their super loaded with honey

dead bees
we had noticed that one of the hives seemed less active than the other on warm days.  I didn't want to admit that maybe there really was a problem, though, and so I kept telling myself it was just fine and that maybe this or that or the other was the reason.  after all, the hive had been so strong going into winter.  well, when a 70 degree day strikes in February and the bees aren't out, there is indeed a problem.  so I opened up the hive with a bit of dread tugging at my insides.  I pulled off a super still full of honey to find next to nothing in the brood box below.  no eggs, no larvae, no honey (well, a tiny bit), and no live bees.  just a small cluster that seemed to have been trying unsuccessfully to stay warm.  our best guess is that something happened with the queen and after a while passed with no new bees being born and the numbers dwindled more and more they just weren't numerous enough to make a large enough cluster to stay warm on the colder nights we've had.  I was bummed.  and angry, even.  though at what I don't know.  you just never know with bees.

and so- we'll go into spring with one hive and fingers crossed for the best.

on Saturday, which happened to be Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthday, Claire helped Mike smoke some bacon in a homemade cold-smoker.  it seemed fitting to me that it was on Laura's birthday, because she (Claire) has been asking to 'help Pa smoke the meat' ever since we started to reread the series a month ago.  this is a bit different from hanging the meat inside a hollowed out log like Laura did with Pa, but it'll do.  we also threw in a hunk of sharp cheddar.  mmm mmm good.