Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vermont's Sweet Smell of Spring

One sure sign of spring here in Vermont is spotting thick white billowing clouds of steam rising up through the valleys and mountains once the daytime temperatures start creeping into the forties. It's sugaring time, and we wanted to check out some of the action during the 10th Annual Maple Open House Weekend on Saturday. Being a transplant from the south, I felt very fortunate to have experienced this ancient northern ritual on a variety of scales.

Our first stop is K & S  Ruane's  Maple Sugar Farm 

This was state of the art everything, with all kinds of extra machines to help speed up the evaporation process. The chrome was beautiful, but a little overwhelming and the process was being generated by oil.

Kevin Ruane - nice guy and owner of all that chrome

This was a fairly large scale production and not exactly the quaint, quintessential Vermont experience I was hoping for.

Next we decided to pop in unannounced on Kathy and Steve Halford and see what they were up to.  They have a really sweet (no pun intended) sugar house, totally off the grid and they were in full sugaring mode when we arrived. They were not part of the open house and were very generous to let us barge in on the action.

Steve was busy keeping the fire going in the arch. He alternates between hot, slow burning hardack wood  and quick burning pine, producing a steady heat to boil the sap.

Steve is explaining to Glenn how the house is designed too allow the steam to escape.

I can't even begin to describe the luscious smell!

Kathy keeps an eagle eye on the progress of the sap/syrup as it moves through the pan.

The process takes awhile, so we had time to visit over glasses of homemade wine and an amazing smoked cheese.

I took a walk to get a different vantage point. The sap is collected in the blue tubing and stored on the large white holding bin.

When I first moved to Vermont I was enthralled with the tubing running through parts of the woods. It still reminds me of a Christo or an Andrew Goldsworthy sometimes.

Meanwhile, back in the sugar house the sap is becoming syrup as it runs through the partitions of the evaporator.

Kathy tests the density with a hydrometer and says it's ready. Woohoo!

She then pours it through a cotton felt filter to remove any impurities.

And out it comes. Vermont Gold!!

Thanks Kathy and Steve for the fine hospitality and the delicious quart of syrup!

Next, hubby gets a hankering to tap some trees of his own. 

Alright, this shot would have been a lot more effective with an old tin bucket, but plastic will have to do.

Thumbs up! Now we just let nature take it's course.

Next day we gather the sap and have a REAL old timey sugaring experience. Six hours we boiled and four tablespoons we got. 
Oh well, it sure was a wonderful excuse to be outside soaking up some vitamin d after a long winter and next weekend we will have french toast with our own hard earned maple syrup!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Strong Wind

Adversity is like a strong wind.  It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.  ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

We are in this together. When the Great Mother speaks, it is not to one, but to us all.
Loving prayers and healing thoughts to our brothers and sisters in Japan.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Adventures in Personal Care Products

Being new to the Etsy community, not just as a seller but also a shopper, I have spend mucho hours surfing and being totally delighted at what I've found there. The art, jewelry, home decor, and fashion is just amazing - to say the least, but what has gotten me tingly recently is the wealth of personal care products. Personal care products you say? Well, this lady LOVES her lotions, creams, soaps, shampoos and sweet smelling ANYTHINGS! I'm not going to go into the Etsy perfumers in this post, but trust me, they are there and beckoning me. I'll address that at a later date - say spring, when my focus shifts away from my winter ravished skin.
I love the term "considered consumerism". Now that we all (well, most of us) have less to spend, we want our shopping to be a somewhat uplifting experience. It's kind of hard to get that "feelgood" fix when buying personal care products these days, even if you resist the big box drug stores and purchase from your local co-op. After Burts Bees was bought out by Clorox for $925 million and Tom's of Maine by Colgate-Palmolive for $100 million I started to get a tad cynical that I could ever trust those products again. I'm not going to go into the list of all the natural skin care/ hair care products I've tried - trust me, it's long. Some of them have been great and some I have found are not so safe after all. When I don't recognize an ingredient, or I want to know if a product line is safe I go to http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com and look it up. It's a great resource.
But even if a product is safe, it's never going to have the love and attention put into it at a factory that you get when you shop handmade. The ingredients are simple and few- and you know what they are. They say you are what you eat, and you might as well be eating what you are putting on your body too.
There is soul and delightful creativity in these products that give us a shopping experience that's satisfying on every level. We don't need to buy more if we just buy better.
And slathering all that good vibe from real people has gotta be a fabulous thing, right!

Below is the shave soap that started my journey into the land of Etsy personal care products. Purchased it for the hubby, and oh my goodness - I MEAN oh my goodness - it smells divine! Went out Saturday night and couldn't keep my nose out of his neck!

Sentinel Shave Soap

Pocket Lotion Bar

Sipping Rum Lip Balm

Balance Body Lotion

Patchouli Citrus Natural Deodorant

Exhilarating Rosemary Body Scrub

Hemp Fortified Silkening Shampoo

Natural Skincare Sample Combination

Four dollar Cheese n' Crackers vegan soap
 I had to add that last one cause it's just so sublime!