February 2021 = Maple Syrup Prep!

Tapping those trees!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, it’s the best we can do while it’s freezing cold and snow’s covering everything because… we tapped our sugar maple trees. Yep, walked around and lightly struck each tree. Maple syrup coming soon: by which I mean in a month.

Nothing moves quickly out here, which I am on board with, as everyone who has ever emailed me can attest (shout out to the readers who emailed me in August and received a reply last week… oh, I’m killing it).

If you’ve ever purchased a bottle of “Real Vermont Maple Syrup” and wondered why it cost $500, I will tell you: it takes 79 discrete steps and 24 hours of work to produce a single quart of maple syrup. I exaggerate… or do I?

The sap of sugar maple trees–what genuine syrup’s made from–only flows when it’s above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. You have to hit this temperature vector just right in order to get sap from your trees. It warmed up enough in late February to merit tapping and away we went.

To start the process, Mr. FW and Kidwoods pulled out the tap line and inserted it into the sap collection tank, then drilled small holes and hammered teensy taps into 24 of our sugar maples. Propelled by the best free labor there is—gravity—the sap flows down the blue tubes into our sap collection tank where it sits until…. we have time to pump it into a barrel, cart it over to our Vermont Evaporator Company evaporator and boil it into sweet, sweet syrup. Not pictured: Littlewoods, who was enjoying a tantrum in the sled and did NOT want to be part of tree tapping day. That is, until we walked back home and she piped up, “So we have pancakes now?”

Tubing vs. Buckets: A Maple Sap Debate

Kidwoods holding the tubing while Mr. FW strings it between the trees

Tubing is the less glamorous, less picturesque, more efficient way to collect sap. All ye olde images of sugaring include iconic metal buckets hanging ‘neath taps on trees, with a ye olde horse pulling a cart in the middle distance.

That is all very historical and lovely, but it’s also a lot more work. You have to go check your buckets daily to ensure no squirrels have fallen in and then you have to empty the buckets into your tank by hand.

Although far less ye olde and photo-worthy, tubing works well for us since we’re blessed with sugar maples on a slope. Hence, gravity does the work for us. Always a fan of making gravity pull its weight.

Now we wait for our sap collection tank to fill. We haven’t had many runs yet–technical terminology for when the sap flows–as its been too cold.

Craving more maple syrup content? Apparently I got really excited about it a few years ago and went overboard. Enjoy:

Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports. Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.

It’s Ok To Be Grumpy

Non-grumpy: Mr. FW attaching the tubing to the sap collection tank, which is buried under that mountain of snow

My days sometimes drip down between floorboards of repetition. How many times can I wipe the same countertops? How many times do I have to do the same laundry?

The pandemic lurched us into a loop of making avocado sandwiches, serving avocado sandwiches, sweeping up the crumbs, washing the avocado-soaked clothes, then buying more avocados. There are glimmers of difference in our days–like the other day when I nearly impaled myself while loosing an icicle from the barn roof to pacify my children.

There are moments of splendor–like my daily solo hike and evening cocktail with my husband. There are instances of hilarity–like when I was upstairs working the other morning and heard Kidwoods complain to Mr. FW that her sister, “hit me like I usually hit her!” It’s a wondrous, exhausting experience and I can be both things.

I can be grateful for my awesome kids, my husband who splits the wood and the household labor with me, my health, where we live. And I can also be tired and bored of the nonstop sameness that very much is parenting and very much is the isolation of a pandemic.

I refuse to be all one or the other. No one is all one or the other. We are all a nuanced mix. So let’s find the splendor in the sameness and feel the gratitude of the nonstop avocados. And also acknowledge that IT IS OK to be frustrated and grumpy and annoyed. It is all ok.

Wood Movement!

Wood on the move!

Mr. FW executed a wood reload last month. This entails loading the tractor bucket with wood from the wood shed, driving it up to the porch, and stacking it on the porch wood rack.

From the porch, this firewood–harvested and split by Mr. FW–travels into the house, where it keeps us warm. We appear on target to burn circa three cords this winter, which is our average. This has been your wood movement update.

A Good (?) Activity

If you live in a snowy climate and do not have a garage, a great activity is to have your small children try to clear snow off of your cars.

This takes a long time, shovels are involved and you might even accomplish something by the end of it.


I want you to know I’ve got self-care on lock. Here I am with one niblet snuggled into my cardigan (pro tip: buy a size too big so at least one kid can fit in there with you), while the other niblet scales the chair she and her sister have managed to pick apart over the last five years.

I’ve got self-care on lock

We considered repairing this chair, looked down at our kids and agreed, “maybe when they’re ten.” But what bliss: me on a Sunday afternoon in February, reading my book, drinking a beer, eating chips and snuggling a child. Yes, the crumb situation was dire and yes, I had to re-read the same paragraph 17 times, but let’s be honest, I did that all through grad school anyway.

My life is not a pastel-hued glamour shot. My hair hasn’t been cut in two years and when it was cut? My husband was my hairdresser. Every stick of furniture you see was either free from the side of the road or bought used off Craigslist. And to be honest? I probably should’ve gotten a larger cardigan since the other child moved in shortly after this picture was taken. Telling parents to “take time for yourself,” and “remember to relax,” and “calm down, people have been parenting forever” is some straight-up toxic positivity.

Yes, I would love to recline on a couch solo with a book. Also, bathing alone would be lovely. So no, I’m not here to tell you to “remember self care,” because you would do it if you could. Instead, I’m here with my imperfect, hole-ridden life to salute you in whatever state you find yourself.

What Was Your Best 15 Minutes?

The best 15 minutes

The best 15 minutes of my day: helping Kidwoods build this ridiculously complicated marble run, then dropping a million marbles down it all at once, which (predictably) caused it to break apart and us to fall apart giggling.

Not pictured: the little sister who earned a time-out after shredding the marble run instruction booklet.

When confronted with the booklet (which kinda looked like someone had chewed on it?) her response was, “hello!” What was your best 15 minutes today?

Solar Check

After moving here, we had solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series. This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.

In February, we generated 61 kWh, which is typical for this time of year. For context, in January 2021 our panels generated 95 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 kWh.

Woodshed with snow-covered solar panels on the barn

Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.

This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.

Want More Fotos?!

While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram (almost every day!) and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity. Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.

How was February for you?

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  1. Thank you for being so honest and authentic about the sameness, the frustration, and the toxic positivity around self-care. With a young child at home ALL THE TIME, and trying to work (which mostly consists of having to be on video calls all day), and the constant feeding that needs to happen, this is all so exhausting. I feel incredibly privileged that my family and I are able to remain at home, maintain our jobs/income, and stay safe. But man it is exhausting and frustrating and makes me very grumpy, especially when I’m told to “take a break” or “do something for yourself”! No parents are getting a break right now and yes, we will absolutely take one as soon as it’s available. Send us food and wine, that’ll help!

      1. My neighbor tells me she is unable to get anything done in the morning when her daughter is doing remote learning. The snacks alone…..

  2. Glad to see you and the family are doing well! I’m a little jealous of your maple future. 🙂

    So far as best 15 minutes for us… it finally hit 70+ degrees here in VA, warm and sunny, so Jenni and I spent yesterday biking along the river. We stopped for a quarter-hour to have a little picnic in the sun by the water. That’s a pretty big vote for the awesomeness that is financial independence!

  3. I am tired of trying to make myself feel better about surviving safely through a pandemic.

    I’m also thrilled my family unit is safe and loved and fed and employed and secure. It doesn’t change that if the 3 year old dumps one more cup of water down their shirt this week, I’m gonna lose it. Or if the 5 year old finds scissors and cuts another set of curtains, I will probably yell, then cry, then put myself in time out right next to them.

    There can be comfort in routine, but I can’t wait for the option to go interact with people outside our bubble. I’m a homebody, but sometimes the walls of an otherwise love-fueled house feel very confining.

  4. The “hit me like I usually hit her!” is priceless. Reminds me of when my daughter was about 5 and my nephew was about 4. He was notorious for being the hitter. I heard him start to cry one day, and as I walked towards the bedroom I heard my daughter tell him, “See, it hurts when somebody hits you.” I headed back to what I was doing, letting nature work itself out.

  5. I really needed your lippy remarks today… thank you! Gives me hope that my own lippy remarks will be smiled at –because that’s what I did with yours. (And Littlewoods sounds like she’s in the middle of a “stinker” pattern right now…the little dear.)

  6. My kids picked apart a leather chair too when they were little. They are now 14 and 16 so busy pushing the boundaries in different ways these days. Oh the memories…

  7. I love these annual maple syrup updates… a reminder that what we pay for maple syrup is a pittance compared to how much effort it is to actually make the delicious stuff! 🙂

  8. Yes. I feel so incredibly lucky, privileged, grateful etc. to be employed fully and able to work from home with my also fully employed husband, but our 3 children have also been home for a full year and it has been HARD. When people say “Enjoy it! It goes so fast!” I know they mean well, and I KNOW it goes fast, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all sunshine and rainbows to enjoy.

  9. Wow I remember those days when self care for me was taking a shower all by myself was such bliss. Now that my kiddo is older I have more time for self care and being left alone to watch TV or read a book on my own. It will get better. Although you may find yourself missing those days.
    Take care as well and as best as you can.

    1. Well said !! Although I am about to become a great grandmother at “only” 63.

      I was so relating to everything she was saying. I even miss those days quite often.

  10. A Masonry Fireplace will heat your home with a handful of wood all day long. It radiates heat.. Maybe this can be a summer project for you guys?
    Start a fund……we love ours, and you NEED one in VT!

  11. The ode to parenting in the pandemic and self-care advice hit me. You’ve voiced something I’m sure a lot of us have been feeling. One foot in front of the other.

  12. I have fond memories of helping our neighbours collect sap. No lines back then. We were rewarded with lots of maple syrup that was boiled down further into soft candy that we scraped onto toast. Jack wax was also another treat.

  13. I smiled at your comments about the ups and downs of a day…we don’t have kids but I was nodding as you mentioned how many times can we wipe down the same counter etc etc….some moments it seems endless and I want to get crabby but then I focus on something else. Love your blog and wit! Been reading since your Boston days 😉

  14. I thought this was a great read – and I really appreciate you sharing these tid bits of your life with your reader base 🙂
    I’ve seen more and more people put in solar panels and for many – especially for those in the sunnier areas – it actually made sense, even within 1 to 3 years of installing (they took up loans of less than 1% so they financed instead of paying off the panels).
    What I really enjoyed about this article was how you reflected back on the 15 best minutes of your day… I think that’s something I should do more often as well instead of simply jumping into the next activity. Reflecting and giving thought to the day is an excellent way of showing gratitude and being thankful for what we have.

    Thank you so much for sharing a glimpse into your life!



  15. Hello,

    Could you please suggest what was the priority of your savings/investments, did you max IRAs or paid taxes and bought RE?

  16. Repairing that chair, seriously? What condition would a chair need to be in for you to consider replacing it?

    1. Thank you for this post. I am sure we’ve cleaned the kitchen and run the dishwasher at least twice a day for the last year. 700+ kitchen cleanings. No wonder I sank into a pit of despair looking at the kitchen table with remote K exploded all over it and countertops full of dishes. But I’m snuggled in my daughters bed listening to the end of her nighttime story with her sleeping on me. And now I shall get up to clean the kitchen.

  17. Oh thank goodness! I’m normal. Thought I was turning into a grumpy old Nana. AND – your sofa pic has made me feel way better. Mine is equally chewed up – notably where I sit ( hmm), through to the stuffing! I keep saying I’ll get another – when the kids, dogs, and now grandkids have stopped bouncing on it . . . Ah well. 😂 Stay well!

  18. From an artistic perspective, it looks like your chair is covered in fried eggs. Why would someone put fried eggs on a leather chair? Who knows.

  19. OMG, i can relate to everything you have said! My best 15 min were on Sunday night – snuggling with my two boys and watching them falling asleep (horay!!!!). Such a day it was – we made pancakes, played, did crafts (coloring, painting, and playdooh), cooked dinner and I read a few books. Finely watching them falling asleep was a joy!!! Now i am back to working remotely full time, so that I have 5 days to “rest” till my next “relaxing” weekend! hahaha hahaha helpppp!

  20. Your silvery-blue photo of the wood shed and snow covered barn, with the backdrop of trees and sunlit clouds looks so Maxfield Parish. It’s stunning!

  21. Haven’t cut your hair in two years, despite Mr FW being your hairdresser? Have you decided to grow it out long again? I only ask b/c I enjoyed reading the posts about going short and all the reasons why 🙂

    1. Haha, I’m in a state of ambivalence about my hair. I have no longterm plans for it (or short-term plans for that matter) and it lives in a bun everyday… so, TBD!

  22. My best 15 minutes: buying a Costco jug of maple syrup and finding my husband had already stashed two jugs in the pantry. Happiness is an over abundance of maple syrup.

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