This Month On The Homestead: A Patch of Grass, A Gallon of Maple Syrup and Some Lambs

March 2021

Grass! Grass! In March, we found a patch of grass and stomped around on it for five hours straight. It snowed again a few days later and stole away our grass patch, but we were warmed by the memory of our early spring reverie.

Join Me on Zoom on April 28th

Littlewoods dancing on the one patch of grass we found!

Ok this is not related to homestead life, but I’m going to be LIVE at the Bigelow Library in April! Actually over Zoom, so that means anyone, anywhere in the world can attend, which means YOU if you have nothing better to do.

Join me for a conversation about money, life, homesteading and a lot of Q&A. Seriously, please bring your Q’s and I’ll do my best with the A’s:

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.

Maple Sugaring

March was maple month: we had our first runs (of sap) and our first boils (of sap into syrup)! The first step to making maple syrup is sugar maple trees producing sap. And to produce sap, they have to be warm, by which I mean above freezing. Very specifically, the temperature has to dip below freezing at night and above freezing during the day–that’s when the sap flows.

Mr. FW & Kidwoods monitoring the evaporator

As outlined last month, we use tubing to gather our maple sap and it flows down the hill through these blue tubes into our sap collection tank. From the tank, we pump the sap into a barrel. We then load the barrel onto the tractor and drive it over to the evaporator, where it gets boiled down into syrup.

Mr. FW fired up our Vermont Evaporator Company evaporator, poured sap into the warming pan, loaded it with wood he harvested last summer and began to boil that sap down to sweet, sweet syrup. And when I say boil down, I mean WAY down. It takes roughly 40 gallons of maple sap to make ONE gallon of syrup. You don’t add anything to the sap, you just have to evaporate out the water to concentrate it into syrup.

For whatever reason, this year’s sap has a lower sugar content than normal, which means we have to boil even more sap to make syrup. Plus, the weather’s been fluctuating all over the place, freezing then in the 60s, then snowing, then freezing, which means our sap runs have been irregular. At this point, we are way behind on syrup production and it looks like it’s going to be a pretty bad crop this year. Thankfully, we don’t sell syrup for a living and we have a bunch leftover from last year’s prolific season. I really feel for the folks who do make a living from sugaring–this is going to be a really tough year for them financially.

If you eat, bake or cook with maple syrup, please considering buying real Vermont maple syrup from small farmers who produce it for a living.

Here are a few of my friends and neighbors who sell their syrup online:

Socially Distant Sugaring Soirees

Mud season!

Many thanks to all the friends and neighbors who came to stand around a small, not-very-warm fire with us in single digit temps to celebrate the first sign of “spring”: boiling sap. Listen its Vermont, this kind of subpar hospitality is expected. Or at least tolerated.

I also have to share how proud I am of Kidwoods, who is really getting the hang of being a homestead kid. She is our official sugaring assistant and could be seen galloping from wood shed to evaporator to house, ferrying crucial supplies including, at one point, the chocolate chip cookie bars I made for the socially distant sugaring soiree.

That kid stacks the wood used to burn in the evaporator, hands wood to Mr. FW for the fire, then dashes off to run laps up and down the driveway.

LAMBS, OMG Lambs

In March, we held lambs. Thanks to our very good friend, thanks to living in Vermont, thanks to the farm goddesses: we met some lambs. Kidwoods could not have been happier. Focused, devoted and thrilled, she scooped and cuddled every lamb she could. My other child? Climbed up my body in an attempt to avoid the possibility of so much as brushing the mere wool of a lamb.

My Birthday

I turned 37 in March and I am content. I am where I want to be, with the people I want to be with. I am not so much of a striver or goal-seeker these days. I’m more of a wanting-to-enjoy-every-day-with-minimal-stress person. And a person who hopes there are desserts and friends and wine every day. Thank you to my husband for creating a lovely birthday dinner for me of delicious homemade foods and (thankfully) store-bought wines. Wine-making: maybe next year on the homestead????

In the Woods with the Toddler Ennui, by: Kidwoods, age 5 and Littlewoods, age 3

Hello and yes, welcome to the Toddler Ennui’s early spring jaunt through melting snow. We coaxed mama to sled down the ice-coated big hill in our backyard and only cried for four minutes when we caught air and the little one flew straight up. Admittedly, given our tenuous grasp on gravity vis-a-vis sledding on ice, we did not envision that particular outcome.

Toddler Ennui, reporting in

After this, we identified turkey tracks leading into a thicket of woods. Knowing as we do that turkeys are intelligent animals renowned for their trail-making abilities (and not the same birds we’ve seen fly INTO tree trunks… ), we insisted on following them.

We plunged into the wilderness, floating atop the snow crust with our sprite-like steps. Mama, we are sorry that you broke through the ice with every other step and had to crawl out of your knee-deep, boot-shaped holes. Repeatedly. How embarrassing for you and inconvenient for us.

We then followed a frozen creek to the pond where we cried, in unison, when you wouldn’t let us walk across the melting pond ice. Relegated to the bank, we circumnavigated the pond and RAN up an icy slope.

We did notice you, Mama, ensnared in tree branches as you scrabbled your way up. Following several more sledding events resulting in: plowing into a tree, running into a sister and sliding down a (small) ravine, we announced we were exhausted. At this point, mama, you notified us that we had to walk back to the house.

This return trip had not been factored into our energy expended (see previous running up hills) and we whined while flopping into snowbanks for the duration of our trek home. Once indoors, we ran around while wearing the play tent, which we used to knock each other over. Sigh, what a glorious spring day!

In the Mud with the Toddler Ennui, by: Kidwoods, age 5 and Littlewoods, age 3

Mud Toddler

Toddler Ennui, reporting in on Mud Season. We are featured here demonstrating our ability to saturate our entire selves with watery dirt.

We have clearly never had to do our own laundry or bathe ourselves. Like piglets we relish this soft, sweet mud. There are no apologies to the parents who had to:

  1. Wash us and then the tub we were in.
  2. Rinse these mud-caked garments–and boots–underneath the outdoor spigot in 38-degree water prior to washing them.
  3. Launder these garments. Multiple times.
  4. We do not understand why everyone doesn’t roll in this ball pit of nature.

Day 358 of a Pandemic

It took until day 358 of lockdown for me to bust out our rainbow-colored play rice and it may take another 358 days before it makes a reappearance. Following this rice-relishing activity, I bathed both children, washed their hair twice, combed it out and Mr. FW still found a grain of green rice in Littlewoods’ hair at bedtime. I now understand why I “scored” this play rice for free… But I gotta say, they had a blast and I now have rice underneath my stove, refrigerator, dishwasher AND cabinets, so if there’s another pandemic, you know where I’ll be looking for food.

Big Helpers, Real Jobs

The play rice escapade: they loved it

The Toddler Ennui continue their assistance with many real jobs around the property and both burst with pride when asked to do something big. The other day Littlewoods informed me, “Mama, you’re a helper, but I’m a BIG helper.”

These girls stack wood, fill the woodbox, help clean the bathrooms, load the dishwasher, wipe down the table, sweep (REAL bad at that one), put away their laundry, and more. And never has a cutting board been so clean. Ever. Littlewoods proved that a three-year-old can, and will, spend close to thirty minutes scrubbing both sides of a cutting board. Upside: my cutting board’s never been cleaner. Downside: my floor’s never been wetter.

My hope is that the confidence my kids gain will encourage them to chip in when they’re older and their labor will actually be useful… listen, I have goals, ok?

Hiking: a few thoughts

Kidwoods and me hiking the “real adult” trail

Kidwoods hiked the “real adult trail” with me in March. I warned her it would be tough and long and that she would sweat. She said, “no problem.” She settled into a routine of running up the hill then climbing atop the nearest log to wait for me and—in her words—catch her breath.

I so want my girls to know the confidence and glory of solo hiking and I hope that someday they will. Right now, I just try to keep them in my sights… the neon snowsuits really help with this.

My mom asked if I get bored hiking the same trails every day and I was shocked because to me, they’re never the same. There are new animal tracks (or, as the kids point out, animal poop), there are freshly fallen trees, there’s mist, there’s wind, there are turkeys derping along, there was a dead vole the other day. Once I smelled a bear. Really, it’s the stuff of legends out here.

New Year’s Resolutions Check-In

This is more for me than for you, buuuuuttttt, as I shared in this post, I made two straightforward New Year’s intentions/resolutions/goals for The Year of Our Covid, 2021:

  1. I will hike every single day.
  2. I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.

Outdoor chores: loading the woodbox while yelling, “I’M A BIG HELPER!!!!!”

Here’s how we did in March:

  • Hiking: I hiked every day, except for one
  • Hours Outside: whoops, just now realizing I didn’t note on my tracker when February ended and March started… better luck next month!

Year to Date (as of March 31, 2021):

  • Days hiked: 89, Days missed: 1
  • Hours outside: 134

I’m not sharing this to self-flagellate or self-congratulate or say that you too should have these goals or to prove that I’m awesome (we know that already).

I’m sharing it to keep myself accountable and because it’s fun to have goals that are the end result in and of themselves.

I’m not hoping to become a different person or lose weight or look better in my overalls, I just want to hike and be outside as much as possible.

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.

Soaking up that solar

In March, we generated 585 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.

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. If you’d like to receive an email every time I publish a new post here on Frugalwoods, you can sign-up with your email address in the box below. No spam, just emails from me.

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60 Responses

  1. Pawpaw says:

    As always, I really appreciate your posts. From the perspective of a sheep raising family, I am glad that you respected the privacy of your farm neighbors. Much of general public does not understand the lambing season. There are many reasons why the birthing season is not suitable as a farm petting zoo event and a travel destination. One huge worry is unleashed dogs. Another concern is difficult births where a gawking audience can stress the ewe and endanger the lives of newborn lambs. Wishing you well in all your upcoming family adventures. I look forward to your next post.

  2. Shannon says:

    Thank you for the maple syrup links! I go through about 32oz of maple syrup every 3-4 weeks (no other sugars allowed on my current diet). I would love to support the farmers directly.

  3. Turia says:

    Maybe you’ve read this already: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/03/05/974069925/are-we-raising-unhelpful-bossy-kids-heres-the-fix

    TLDR: “But in cultures that raise helpful children, parents welcome young children and toddlers into family chores and work — even if the child will make a bit of a mess or slow down the work.”

    “Instead of waiting for a child to choose their own method of helping, which may not be appropriate with their skill level, parents in many cultures proactively enlist help from a nearby child on a regular basis. When a mom or dad is cleaning, cooking, gardening or taking care of another child, they ask for the child’s help…These requests are tiny subtasks of things you’re already doing. They’re designed to teach children to take action when others need help as part of being a good family member.”

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yep! That’s exactly what we aim to do, loosely in the spirit of the Montessori method of giving kids real jobs.

  4. Randall says:

    Happy Birthday Belated. I always enjoy your posts. As a frugal minimalist urban dweller my needs are different but very similar if that makes sense. I also understand why. Apple syrup is $6.00 a jar.

  5. Emma says:

    Just wanted to say that I love reading your blog posts. Your kids are really getting an amazing gift being raised the way they are— I am always impressed with all the things they’re doing. Cheers!

  6. Happy Belated Birthday! I think it’s amazing how much you’ve achieved so far in your life and how you are able to enjoy every moment with your family. I’ve learned that life is truly short and you cannot take the people you love for granted. Since the first quarter just finished, I think it’s a great idea to check back in on those New Year’s goals.

    I’ve created a Vision Board that is in my office and occupies about half of my wallspace. Every day, I am reminded of my goals for the year. I try to quantify my goals as much as possible so that I can see real progress (and so far, I’m on track to meeting my goals – apart from traveling).

    Keep up the fantastic work!

    Fiona

  7. Krysten says:

    One word on the rainbow rice – friend you need a tarp. Any sensory play = big tarp. Bonus points for painters taping the edges to the cabinetry. 🙂

    • Katharine says:

      HAHAHAHAHAHA! So true! …or a tablecloth. My kids’ lives were lived on a huge plastic tablecloth, and we still pull it out for intensive painting/ gluing projects… just in case. I learned that after one session of sensory bean bins!!

      • Anne says:

        Or you can make those “outdoor activities”. I only like my kids to use their play sand outside or on our balcony, so there is less mess

  8. Pat Davis says:

    TheApril 28th event is “full.” I didn’t think that was possible?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It filled up really quickly–I’m sorry about that. You can register to be added to the waitlist if you’d like.

  9. Annonymous says:

    This was posted just 3 hours ago. But registration to the Zoom event is already full! Please let us know if we can register later.

    • kristy elliott says:

      Will there be another zoom session? By the time I got the email it was already full 🙁

      • Dianne says:

        Me, too. I’m so disappointed! I have so much respect for this Mom of 2. I would love to hear her speak regarding frugalness and life in general! She must of really blown it away as I have been on Zoom with 1400 in attendance. Which, I am sure, is nothing compared to what Liz would bring in.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          I guess I’ll have to do another one–I didn’t realize it would fill up so quickly. Thank you for letting me know you’re interested :)!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It filled up almost immediately–apologies for that! You can register to be added to the waitlist if you’d like. I guess I’ll have to do another one!

  10. Jim Wang says:

    After a year of the pandemic, I’m with you on the “I’m more of a wanting-to-enjoy-every-day-with-minimal-stress person.” Stress is like a chronic disease that just eats away at you and it’s taken a pandemic for me to learn that lesson!

  11. Katharine says:

    We are in the process of our own move to our own homestead (also in Vermont!) and my boys were excited to see the mud season photos. I have been telling them about mud season and sugaring and everything as we get ready to transition, but since we visited our future land/ home in the winter, they are convinced it’s all snow, all the time. These pictures got them thinking about the other seasons. I can’t wait to get them there and out in ALL the grand Vermont weather! In fact, we may have to have a “days/ hours spent outside” goal. I like it!

  12. B says:

    I’d use a plastic kiddie pool for the rice and have the wet/dry vac at the ready. Good for you for trying it out. It makes me sad as a preschool teacher when I have students not want to try things for fear of making a mess.

  13. Juliana says:

    Wow,,,!!! I just tried to register for your Zoom event and it is already full!! Please advise if there may be another opportunity. Congratulations on your success!!!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It filled up very quickly, apologies for that. You can register to be added to the waitlist if you’d like. I guess I’ll have to do another one–didn’t realize there’d be so much interest 🙂

      • Debra says:

        I would love for you to do another one. Like others were saying, it was full by the time I got my email. You are popular!!!!

  14. Pamela Cook says:

    Just received notification of this post and event already shows as “full”. Is that an error? Or, did it really fill up in a couple hours? Thanks!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It filled up very quickly, apologies for that. You can register to be added to the waitlist if you’d like.

  15. Kristin Jacobs says:

    Maybe encourage a toddler floor mopping session right after the dishwashing session? Floor is already wet and soapy. Have Mr. Frugalwoods jerry-rig some sort of mop-shoe or towel-shoe for each little foot and let them loose.

  16. Strugar says:

    It seems I’m not the only one who didn’t manage to get to your Zoom session. That library needs to get better Zoom package, so more people can attend – it’s not a physical room with solid walls, it’s cloud, why they cannot allow more people, at least to watch if not to go interactive?!

    • Rebs says:

      Hi Strugar! I know you’re aware that libraries have limited budgets, and that the small Bigelow Library of the town of Clinton, MA, isn’t expecting to host thousands of Frugalwoods fans, mainly their own local folks. It costs $1,000 in Zoom for the Large Meetings add-on (hosting meetings up to 1k). While the Friends of the Library doesn’t have an online donation, I did find their mailing info if you would like to mail a donation and have it specified for increasing virtual event capacity. Hope that helps!

      The Friends of the Bigelow Free Public Library
      Attn: Dorothy Grady, Membership Chair
      54 Walnut Street Clinton, MA 01510

  17. Dale says:

    Thank you for the links to the Maple Syrup sites. I ordered a bottle from the Poor Farm Maple Syrup company and can’t wait to try. Thank you for the mudding pics and thoughts of snow. It’s 85 degrees in Central FL today.

  18. Paul says:

    Wow! Overbooked Zoom presentation. Outstanding!!

  19. Dianne Labadie says:

    OMG – it’s full already! Boo-hoo, hoo, hoo. Can you do another

  20. Katharina says:

    Lovely to hear about your live on the homestead from Los Angeles. I always enjoy reading about your life, and like your writing style.

    Zoom has some limitations around meetings with a large number of participants. I think there are plans up to 1000, and anything above that is an extra effort, but possible. There is a lot of tech magic going on in the background that makes it look so easy. Imagine if there hadn’t been a zoom, or similar in the past year! It would have been even more isolating. Good luck with any tech challenges.

  21. Pauline says:

    How fun! Those energetic kids are awesome!

  22. Lindsey says:

    Ordered two bottles from Poor Farm. Thanks for the link.

    We lived on a sheep farm in Scotland and the dwelling had huge windows onto the area where the lambs were born. It was during daffodil season and some mornings I wake up to see lambs gamboling about, through the daffodils. We kept a few miniature Babydoll sheep when we returned to Alaska, but it was too hard to protect them from the cold on just a hobby farm. What a great experience for your animal loving child.

  23. Sandra Hill says:

    I also tried to register for the zoom but no luck.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      It filled up very quickly, apologies for that. You can register to be added to the waitlist if you’d like.

  24. Sue Hopkins says:

    Your kids look so healthy.
    Love reading your posts. Thanks for continuing over the years. I have been reading them since you lived in the city and were searching for a property. You feel like family.
    I am a retired Canadian CFP and find your American tax advice interesting.
    Cheers!

  25. Sandra, Italy says:

    “Zoom event full” hey, that’s great!! 😊

  26. Stacey M says:

    Any chance the zoom session will be recorded? Or you will do another one? Would love to have gone but already full. Thanks for all your frugal tips and tricks. I love them.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I guess I should do another one–I didn’t realize it would be so popular and fill up so quickly!

  27. Kj says:

    Have you considered one of those small, molded swimming pools for the kids to play in when they’re playing with messiness like rice? It’s all about containment. 😉

  28. from the desert says:

    “…..derping along?” i know that feeling, HA! Happy Birthday

  29. Lisa M. says:

    You reference signing up for a wait list for the Zoom event but the site simply says “Registration for this event is full”. If a wait list is available, could you provide a way to access it? Thank you.

  30. KnoxPatch says:

    I wonder if the library zoom event could be recorded and then posted off of your site?

  31. Jess says:

    Another very local sugaring operation. The maple sugar is delicious!

    https://www.loefflerhomestead.com/

  32. Adam Rosen says:

    Looks like you’re having fun up there! Guess we won’t be getting any syrup from you this year (understandably so). I’m gonna order from one of those links you posted.

    The kids are so big. Hope to see you soon-ish!

  33. Meg B says:

    Out of a whole post, with so much to love, this was my favourite: “or to prove that I’m awesome (we know that already).” I admire that self-assurance.

  34. Kathleen says:

    Not surprisingly, your Zoom presentation is fully booked! I want to ask if you can provide a general overview of your days with your family (weekdays and weekends). I’m a mother of one, soon to be two, and I’d love to see “under the hood” of how another family manages two parents working from home (we are one full-time M-F, one part-time with no fixed schedule) while prioritizing the outdoors, DIY projects, and family time. And I’d especially love to know how you carve out your solo hike time!

  35. Hannah says:

    Just wanted to leave a note to say thank you for your beautiful posts and work! You are a gifted writer and help transform me from my urban, European apartment to the adventures of a homestead in the US! I totally relate to the antics with young kids (I also have 2 little ones), and sounds like your are amazingly patient with them. Lucky girls to be growing up so close to nature and with such a lovely mama! ☺️

  36. Jessica Freese says:

    Gotta put a drop cloth under that rice box! Works with legos, too. Enjoyed the write up as always!

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