Thursday, March 31, 2011


Because I'm middle-aged, I can't remember if I posted this photo before. Hopefully most of you are middle-aged and can't remember either!

In 1969, when I was a wee lass of five years of age, my parents decided we'd go on a vacation to Barbados. For some reason, my mother thought it would be a good time to cut off all my curly blonde hair. Something about the heat in the Caribbean, as I recall. Anyway, right after the hack job (which I suspect she did herself!) she had a professional photographer come to the house to take photos of me. And here is one of them...

I apparently adapted to the new hair without lasting psychological damage. And after we got back from the trip, she let my hair grow long again.

As for Barbados, I loved it, but as I mentioned before, I got a nasty case of sand fleas and scratched my legs raw. My parents took me to a Barbadian doctor,  and I was banned from the beach for the last week of the trip.

But for a while there, she had her own miniature Twiggy...

My mother loved Twiggy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 1,000!


Good GRIEF! Today I bring to you my THOUSANDTH blog post. Hard to believe that since starting this thing in February 2005 (back when I was living in suburban British Columbia and dreaming of my escape) I have put up 1,000 of these things. My first post was boring. My second one was about slugs. Post three involved bacon. The rest is history.

To celebrate this oh-so-momentous occasion, I'm throwing a moderately-exciting give-a-way. I have in my possession an unopened, brand new Blu-ray DVD of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and oh yes, this delight could be YOURS, all YOURS. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post, and let me know that you'd like to be entered in the draw.

Now, it occurred to me that those of you outside North America usually can't play our DVDs on your whacked-out foreign equipment (am I wrong on that?) If you are one of wonderful outside-North-America readers, and you would like to enter the draw, but don't want the disk, leave a comment to that effect and if you DO win the draw, I will send you a MYSTERY GIFT. Nothing illegal or immoral or rank-smelling! And if you live outside North America and want the DVD anyway, you can let me know that too. We got the DVD free with our new flat-screen TV, but I have already seen this epic film and I know once was enough for me. I laughed, I cried, I developed a Gollum-esque lisp. The only movies  I watch repeatedly are It's a Wonderful Life and Babe.

Here is the pristine DVD. Dog not included! You need a Blu-ray DVD player to play this Blu-ray DVD. I'm sorry, I only have the Blu-ray version. If you don't have  a Blu-ray player, you can sell the DVD on Ebay or something.

(Okay, I know he's not Gollum. Whatever.)

Next week is gonna be busy for me, so let's say I'll make the draw the week of April 11th. That gives you plenty o' time to leave a comment and tell me that you want the DVD, or if you live outside North America, that you want the mystery gift. My able bearded assistant, aka my husband Gordon, will assist me by drawing a name at random out of a hat, or a bag or something!

Thank you SO MUCH for reading my blog! I love getting your comments, and I appreciate all my followers, and I thank all of you for visiting Knatolee's World, whether you stop in just once or come back repeatedly. Here's to 1,000 more posts.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My little helper. Not. Not. Not!

I've had a pile of graphic design work to do over the past several days. Gordon swanned off to Toronto for the weekend for a conference and Mommy-visit, so I spent a lot of time working. I did manage a three-hour Scrabble break with my friend Judy yesterday. As per usual, she won two games and I won one. She is the only person I know who consistently thrashes me at Scrabble. It's great! I love a challenge. Gordon takes too damn long to figure out words. :)

Annnyway, I was still plugging away on a rack card today. What's a rack card? It one of those 4" x 9" cards you see stuck in racks in tourist bureaus and such! I'm creating one for an 1812 war re-enactment taking place this August in Williamstown, Ontario. Williamstown is a lovely little village about ten minutes from my house. It is home to the Williamstown Fair,  which I have blogged about more than once! The fair will be celebrating its 200th edition this year.

Next year of course marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. We  Canadians like to say we thrashed you Americans, but we were still Brits then, and the war was really more of a draw than a thrashing. But we did burn down the White House!  Hoo yeah, baby! Kidding... I love my American friends.

Annnnyway, there are lots of re-enactments leading up to the anniversary, including the one for which I am designing this rack card. This event will feature the Glengary Light Infantry Fencibles. (Yes, one "r" in Glengary.)

But I digress. Mainly I wanted to show you pics of my little "helper", Naomi:


Note paw of ownership draped over my arm. Makes it hard to type!

"Yes? May I help you?"

Lordy, that sweatshirt does NOT flatter my silhouette.

"Can you stop taking photos of me and get back to stroking my luxuriant velvety fur? Thank you."

A note on the tea mug: my best friend Audrey gave that to me when I was in high school, and it is at least 32 years old. It has a chip on the rim and I of course never let guests drink out of it, but I am sentimentally attached to it! And I am still friends with Aud, up to 34 years now and counting.

I have to go watch Coronation Street now. Have a happy evening!

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Sometimes, for reasons I don't completely understand, one of the hens will lay a whacky egg. The other day I found this wrinkly monstrosity:

I'd love to know who was responsible!

Inside it was just fine.

We've had an outbreak of scaly leg mite in the coop, which is upsetting but treatable. We followed the advice of Lynn at Razzberry Corners and dipped everybody's legs into an Adams Plus Pyrethrin Dip solution. The chickens were very cooperative. I think I am going to try massage Vaseline or oil into their legs as well, to improve the condition of  their skin. Fortunately they don't look too horrific at these point. An infestation of scaly leg mites can get really ugly!

As I understand it, scaly leg mites aren't life-threatening for the chickens, but they are uncomfortable and make the legs itch. We'll keep an eye on things and re-treat in a few weeks if needed. I can't change out all their bedding right now (we use the deep-litter method) so we used food-grade diatomaceous earth all over the coop, cleaned out the nest boxes, dusted the perches and put in three new bags of shavings. 

I have read that you can put a mixture of kerosene and linseed oil on the perches, but I am NOT putting a flammable substance in the coop!!

And that's your chicken news for today

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Syrup-fest concludes!

And now the conclusion to Syrup-fest 2011, at least on the blog. In real life, Eugene is still collecting sap and making syrup, or will be when the current cold snap ends and the sap starts running again. Optimal temperatures for the sap run are 5C in daytime and  -5C at night. We haven't made it much above 0C this week and it has been in the minus double-digits at night. Brrr! But warmer temps are on the way.

Here we are in the sugar shack, with the two boys goofing off while I stand watch over the evaporator.  Abby the Border Collie is standing guard at the door.

I rarely see Eugene without an orange on his person!

Abby went out, but now she wants back in!

Abby often lies with her front paws daintily crossed this way. She's a lovely dog.

She really wanted me to share my pizza lunch with her.

Back to syrup! Eugene does the final boiling-down of the sap in a large pot over a propane stove. The magic density on the hydrometer in this case is 58. I think Eugene said you might be after a different number depending on where you are in the boiling-down process.

Voilà... 58! Time to bottle the syrup.


Thing of sweet beauty!

Here Eugene pours the hot syrup into a large funnel. The funnel sits over a filter, which catches the last of the debris in the liquid, and sits over a metal coffee urn that Eugene uses as a bottling device.

Ladling hot syrup into the filter. It's smart to wear gloves when handling boiling hot syrup.

Pouring in the last of it.

 I started to worry when Eugene asked me if I'd ever burned my crotch before. Er, no. By the time I sat down to bottle the hot syrup, I was totally paranoid. Here I am, concentrating on filling my first bottle. I managed to spill some over the sides, but after the first bottle I did much better!

When we were all finished bottling, Eugene put me to work sweeping up ashes and bits of wood. Eugene always puts me to work.


"You missed a spot!"


A job well done, and really fun day. Thanks Eugene!

And a few more sugaring off memories from 1969...

 Me and my Dad admiring the work horses.

I think this log was carved out as a bucket to collect sap!

I have always loved the woods.

Read more about maple syrup on Wikipedia. This was my favourite tidbit:
"Québécois sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau ("pole syrup"), a joke referring to the syrup as having been made by tapping telephone poles."

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boiling it all down..

In yesterday's saga, we saw sap being collected from sugar maple trees. Today, it's boiling down the sap to make that nectar of the tree gods, maple syrup!

Here is our friend Eugene's wood-fired syrup evaporator:

And here's what fuels that baby:

Eugene had his wood-splitter outside the sugar shack, and nipped outside to prep some fuel:

As is always the case when Eugene and I get together, he immediately put me to work...

...while Gordon lounged about, and Abby the Border Collie kept an eye on the outside world:


Eugene's sugar shack, which doubles as a storage shed the rest of the year, has roof vents that open to let out smoke from the wood fire.

Eugene's nephew Billy kept a close eye on the thermometer!

The white tank is full of sap, which is fed into the evaporator. The black hose at the top leads to a bigger drum of sap. Eugene uses a sump pump to push the sap out of the big drum into this white tank. Gravity feeds the sap from the white tank into the evaporator.

Here's an aerial view of the evaporator:

The round thing sitting on top, on the left, is a funnel with filter that you use in the bottling process. It isn't attached to the evaporator, and you'll see it in use later.

The sap enters the evaporator on the right, then goes through a series of baffles as it boils down into syrup.

Can you see how the syrup gets darker in each section?

Eugene has a de-foaming agent he sprinkles in when the syrup gets too bubbly!

Now, I am about to introduce you to nirvana in a styrofoam cup. Have you ever had... syrup right out of the evaporator, not quite thickened to final consistency?

Oh. MY!!!!!!!!!

Eugene gave me some to try while I stood watch over the sap inflow valve. It made me very very very happy. In the end, I drank so much that I got a sugar buzz. Then I crashed from the sugar buzz and needed a nap. Luckily, Eugene's charming wife France brought us pizza at that point, which helped equalize my blood sugar.

 Right after Gordon showed me his syrup, I stole the cup and drank the rest. 

That blue drum behind him is full of sap.

Not long after this, I took off my jacket. It gets toasty warm in the sugar shack! Not to mention steamy: instant facial!

 There's Gordon...

 ...hard at work, supervising me.

And here is clear sap warming up...

...on its way to becoming maple syrup.

Getting darker!

More tomorrow, but here are some more oldies from 1969...

On the left is my Dad with me under his armpit, watching maple sap boil outside in big cauldrons over an open fire. On the right is me and my Mum.

Dad with a sap bucket, Mum with the horses.

Guess who, again? Why was I wearing a skirt to the sugar bush?

Sugar shack in the woods!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First step on the road to sweet sticky goodness!

Let us begin our maple-syrup making odyssey!

Last Sunday, we went over to our friend Eugene's place to help out with making maple syrup. To make maple syrup, you need sap from sugar maples.  It is possible to make syrup from the sap of other maple tree varieties, but sugar maples are best.We live in eastern Ontario, but Quebec (the border of which lies 15 minutes from my house) is the world's largest producer of maple syrup.

Some people even make birch syrup, which is a different taste experience, since the sap comes from birch trees. I brought back a bottle of birch syrup from Alaska when I visited in 2003 and Gordon very much enjoyed it.

To get the sap out of a sugar maple, you need to tap it with a spile, the spigot inserted into the tree trunk. Traditionally spiles were metal, but now you can them in plastic too:

Eugene scolds me if I call it a spigot instead of a spile!
The spile is pounded into the tree, a bucket is hung from a hook attached to the spile, and the sap drips out into the bucket:

Drip, drip, drip...


Various things affect sap flow, including day and night temperatures. Some years are better than others for sap flow.

You can do two-for-one deal too, with two spiles and a length of tubing!

It's also possible to hang more than one bucket per tree:

Tree with burl? No problem; slap on a bucket!

Eugene and Gordon looking like true woodsmen. Beards are a necessity!

When the sap buckets are full, it's time to empty them into larger buckets and take them back to the sugar shack. Clean laundry detergent buckets work well for this task.

Some larger maple syrup operations have "pipelines" from the trees instead of buckets, which speeds up the whole process, but makes it less quaint.

Eugene and Gordon have full buckets of sap to take back to the truck.Those suckers are heavy when full. And the buckets weigh a lot too, har har  har.

When Eugene is emptying a lot of buckets at once, he drives the tractor and wagon into the woods. This is a small sugar bush near the highway some houses; you can tap sugar maples anywhere. Around here, many people have just a few trees tapped on their property, to make maple syrup for themselves. Buckets hanging off maples are a common site around here in early spring.

Meanwhile, somebody has been busy making holes in trees. Pileated woodpecker, anyone?

All done for now!

A truckload of buckets.

And an actual conversation that took place between Gordon and Eugene when I wandered off into the woods...

Next up: turning sap into syrup!

And guess who, c. 1969? I scanned this from a crappy contact sheet. I think I must have my mother's negatives somewhere. Stay tuned.