Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival

You know its springtime in ontario when the Maple Syrup Festivals start springing up. We are fortunate to be in the middle of Ontario's syrup patch and every spring there are about a dozen festivals for us to choose from. The grand-daddy of all the festivals is put on by the Amish folks in Elmira, but it gets crowded and hectic, so for the past few years we have elected to stay closer to home. This year we went to the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival.

There are a few critical elements to a good maple syrup festival. One is a tour of a sugar bush. Another is clydesdale horses, and there have to be handmade craft vendors and a country feel to the whole thing. Sunderland supplied all these and more in a fun day-long outing.

We were greeted by a flea market on the main street when we arrived. Background music was provided by a band accompanied by a bunch of square-dancing folks. Everyone looked cold, but happy.

A unique feature of the Sunderland festival is its Bathtub races in which high school students get to race bathtubs down the town's main street. We arrived just after the races, next time we'll have to arrive earlier in the day.

After strolling through the outdoor vendors and past the bathtub racers, we found the craft market in the local elementary school. Lots of folks were selling everything from polished stone jewelry to paintings and braided rugs. SWMBO looked really hard at the preserves to get some ideas for next summer.

In one of the halls of the school was a booth for "Sew Many Monkeyz", a mom-preneur who makes sock-monkey based toys and sewn items. We fell in love with her beach towels, and bought a pair for the boys. We had originally planned on getting the blue one and the purple one, but by the time we came back to get them, all she had left was Purple and Pink Light Red. the boys think they're great! They were a really good price too!

Outside the school, we caught a bus to go on the sugarbush tour. Every year we go on one of these tours, and every year I seem to learn something new. The bus this year took us to Harlaine Maple Farm, about 5 minutes away.

Momma sat with Cuppa on the bus, and I got to sit with Buddy. While we were waiting for the bus ride, you'll never guess what came to the school!

These guys were pulling people around in town, while the bus was travelling out in the country. I thought it was funny that the wagon was almost an exact match for the ones we saw used as daily transportation on our recent trip to Cuba. One of the Clydesdales looked right at us while we waited.

When we arrived at the sugar bush, there was a demonstration of a native sap boil. I had never seen this before. Apparently the first nations people would hollow out a log and fill it with maple sap, then boil down the sap into syrup by adding hot rocks from a fire. Eventually the sap would be reduced and the syrup would be poured out of the log. I didn't get any pics of the process, but it was quite interesting to hear about.

After the demonstration we hiked into the woods and the farmer explained the process of extracting sap to make syrup. This year, the ground has been too cold for the sap to start its spring flow, so the farmers are selling their reserves from last year's crop and hoping that soon we will see temperatures above freezing so the sap starts flowing.

First, the maples are drilled to receive a spile, or tap, which draws sap off the natural draw of the trees. the tap is connected to a hose, which uses gravity to draw down the sap to a central trunk line.

The network of sap lines zig-zags through the forest, following the contours of the land to reach a low point. There, it joins a larger trunk line to go to a sugar shack. The green line in the picture below is a trunk line.

The original sugar shack on this property is no longer in use, but back in 'the good old days' a fire would be kept burning and the maple sugar would go into a steel pan like the one leaning against the sugar shack below. The pan would be kept almost level, and the sap would gradually be boiled down as passed from chamber to chamber through the pan. (A better photographer might have moved the coke can).

A short walk away, we entered the modern sugar shack. Today, the Harlaines still process sap from the same trees that they have been harvesting for over 50 years, but the sap is now boiled down in a climate controlled evaporator hood. The temperatures, sugar levels, and 'sugar sand' are all controlled so that they can produce a consistent medium grade syrup. The evaporator is still wood-fired, but many sugar bushes have converted to propane or natural gas evaporators.

Maple syrup comes in 5 grades from extra light (almost clear) to dark (looks like motor oil) and no one grade is any better or worse than the others. The grade produced just depends on the soil and trees on the property, and the farmer has very little control over the grade of his crop. Generally, the darker the syrup, the stronger the taste of the syrup.

We rode the bus back to town after the tour was done, and everyone was starting to get tired, so we found the Harlaine's booth in the flea market and got Maple sugar candies for everyone, and then hopped in the car to head home.

Today its back to work painting and decorating. Soon I'll be able to share more of that project, but first, I have some thrift and antique store finds to share. See you again soon!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Yurting in Algonquin Park - Part 2 of 2

This post picks up on our adventure from where I left off yesterday. Saturday night found us sleeping through the night, and sunday morning found us sleeping in late. Really late. I think it was 10:30 or so before we started waking up. Or Cuppa did. He decided to come and snuggle in my sleeping bag, and managed to squish himself in with me in the very limited space of my mummy bag. The sleeping bag really doesn't fit 2 people very well at all, but cuppa managed to squeeze himself in there, and then fall asleep. Which meant I was trapped in bed for another half an hour or so. It was nice.

When we woke up, it was too late for breakfast, and too early for lunch, so we decided to have brunch. Then we got out of bed and realized how cold it was, and that overnight the temperature had dropped into the negative teens. Rather than cook, we packed up the campsite and headed to the park visitor centre.

No new snow had fallen, so the highway was bare, and the sky was bright blue. We drove to the visitor's centre and had hot coffee and chili for breakfast. In the restaurant I ran into the Barrie camera club and talked to them about my new camera and how super-fantastic it was. They gave me some tips, and then suggested I go to the bird feeder below the museum and see if I could get some good pics down there.

I went and tried, and before long the camera club dudes came down and started clicking away too.

Now, the photos I took, I had to edit heavily before posting. Luckily, my camera can take pretty high resolution pics, so I can pick out a tiny thing and crop to make it bigger, and that is what I have had to do with these pics...

Bluejay and Yellow Grosbeak at feeder

Yellow Grosbeaks in trees

Downy Woodpecker at suet feeder.
Once I got tired of looking at the bird feeder I tried to get a few shots of scenery, but found that my artistic side is somewhat lacking.

Then as I was about to head back into the park museum, the camera club guys came down, and joined in the snap-shotting. As they arrived, so did a Pine Marten, visiting the feeders to steal a snack of suet.

After teh Marten was gone, one of the camera club guys loaned me his telephoto lens, and WOW! What difference. I present the following 3 pics unedited, and unzoomed, just as they came off the film (SD Card?)...

So obviously I now need to spend another $5,000 on a zoom lens for the camera. Honestly, the lens was amazing, but very hard to hold still to get a good shot at its full zoom length. And it was really heavy. I would need some time to get used to shooting with the better equipment.

After thanking the guys, I headed back up to the museum, where I found that the family was just wrapping things up in the gift shop. We bought a storybook and some cookies, then hit the road and headed home through some beautiful back roads and secondary highways.

I think these family getaways are a good thing. I'm looking forward to Letchworth State Park next month.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Yurting in Algonquin Park - Part 1 of 2

When folks hear the word "Yurt" they usually respond with "What?!?!" so I need to start this post with a definition, then I can get into the meat and potatoes of the post.


a tentlike dwelling of the Mongol and Turkic peoples of central Asia, consisting of a cylindrical wall of poles in a lattice arrangement   with a conical roof of poles, both covered by felt or skins. (Courtesy of

A yurt in a provincial park is not made of skins and poles. It is an aluminium frame with a heavy rubber-canvas covering. There are insulated covers on the windows, an electric heater inside, and an electric light in the ceiling. The yurt has a small table and six chairs, and a pair of bunkbeds to sleep six inside. You can plug in all manner of things if you wish, or you can travel mostly unplugged with only basic comforts. We chose the latter, but we have heard of folks bringing TV's and VCR's to use in the yurt, and why not!

Ontario's Provincial Parks began introducing yurts to their campgrounds about 5 or 10 years ago as a way to extend the camping season. The yurts are up year round and provide an alternative to tenting for out of towners who may not have luggage space for a full camping gear setup, or for campers out of season who may not be set up for year-round camping. The idea has met huge public approval, with the yurts often being booked up months in advance. Spending a weekend (or more) in a yurt in Algonquin park has become one of the required experiences for every Ontario outdoorsman, and so I was excited when I managed to book a yurt in the Mew Lake Campground before spring thaw.

Each yurt site is equipped with a very basic kitchen shelter, a picnic table and a fire pit. You can park a car on the site, and most are very convenient to pit toilets and a short walk to a comfort station with showers and flush toilets. In the past I have only winter camped in quinzees, so having a yurt and pit toilets was a luxury to me. Flush toilets were a necessity to the girls.

We left Toronto at about 5:00 PM on Friday night, and after a detour to drop off the dog at her Puppy Camp for the weekend, made our way north via Highway 11 and 60 Algonquin. After taking into account stops and detours for puppy camp, fuel, milk, pee breaks, etc. we chugged into the park at close to 8:00 PM. The park office was closed when we arrived, so we continued past teh west gate, and through the highway 60 corridor. Momma and I took bets on where the gates to the Mew Lake campground would be, and ticked off the kilometers until we arrived. Momma won, with the camp being exactly at kilometer 30.

We wove through the campsite until we found our site (#54) and then backed up to the yurt in the dark, emptied the car and then crashed, wondering what we would wake up to in the morning. Everyone was tired, and the drive had wore on longer than expected.

Inside the yurt it was very dark with the windows closed, so everyone slept late. We finally emerged close to 10:00 AM on Saturday morning. It had snowed overnight, and the world was that magical Algonquin mix of pine trees, snow, jays, and fresh air that seems to come out of a movie.

I made breakfast while everyone scrambled to get out of bed, and then while we ate we talked about what to do. In the park in the winter there is so much to do, and so few people, that it really is the best time to be there. Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, dogsledding, ice skating, photo safaris, and so on and so on. there were people in the park doing all these things, and yet the park was mostly empty.

We finished breakfast and did dishes, then played around the camp for a while before heading out. I made a small quinzee for the boys to play in by building up a snowbank, then hollowing it out with my avalanche shovel. I had brought it specifically to make a quinzee - there is no chance of an avalanche in Algonquin.

If you ever have the chance to spend a night in a quinzee, go for it. With the door covered and a small ventilation hole in the roof, you can heat it to about 10° - 15°C with just a small candle, and they can be very comfortable to spend a night in. our boys just played in the one I made, and that was good enough for me.

Once everyone was finished playing in the quinzee, we tried feeding the birds. In the Mew Lake campground the birds are very tame, and they will eat out of your hands. If you are patient. And your 3 year old will stay still. Since we were neither, we spread birdseed on the table and the birds came to us that way. We only got bluejays, but we saw nuthatches and chickadees in the trees, and a murder of crows gathered to keep an eye on things.

Feeding the birds was fun, but the boys grew restless, so we grabbed our skates and walked over to the skating rink by the comfort station. The rink was an old-school outdoor rink without boards or lines, but it had good ice and picnic tables and benches for putting on our skates. We had to shovel a skim of snow off, and the ice would be good to go.

We strapped on skates, and everyone was geared up and ready to go!!

Stuck in the snowbank beside the rink, there were a dozen hockey sticks, and at the other end of the ice there was a net. It didn't take long and everyone was on the ice. Chuck was showing her grace and style...

And Buddy was working up to his NHL debut (Go Habs Go!!)

But Cuppa, well, he started out by skating on his knees...

And then he tried skating with a helper...

And then he decided it was more fun to sit on the bench and watch us skate instead of actually skating himself. Pretty soon another Dad came with his boys, and we all played and played. Buddy was the referee, and did the face offs, Dads took turns being goalies and coaches, we played until the sun warmed the ice and it got to soft to skate on, and then we found the hard spots in the shadows and skated there instead. We skated and played hockey all afternoon until our feet had blisters and our hands were frozen. It was just like back when we were kids and every school had a rink behind it.

Buddy was very proud to be the last one to take off his skates, and we were all impressed with how well he did skating this year. He's really improved! After we had all had enough skating and hockey, we headed back to our yurt and made hot chocolate and smores.

After the smores and hot chocolate, it was time for dinner (Sausages, scalloped potatoes and salad) and then it got dark, so we stayed in and played cards until everyone was too sleepy, then it was off to bed until tomorrow.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Colour Choices and going 'Unplugged'

The last few days have been crazy busy around the FrostHaus, but its been the sort of business that you have nothing to show for. I mean, food is still reaching the table, and the laundry is (mostly) caught up, but between swimming lessons and trampoline gymnastics (something Buddy has just taken a liking to) and work creeping into home time, there just isn't much time left for projects at the end of the day. Sure painting the bedroom has eaten up some time too, but there is so much other stuff going on that taking a pause to breathe is deeply needed.

Which is why this will be an 'unplugged weekend' and I think we're all looking forward to it.

In my next post I'll update our unplugged exploits and share some stories, but for now, I am looking forward to a weekend away from busy-ness - or at least the normal day-to-day busy-ness. I'm planning on feeding birds. Thats it. Nothing else. Maybe go skating.

In other news, the debate over colour for our bedroom has been resolved. You may have seen this photo in my last post:

You may have had an opinion on colour too. Gretchen, my faithful commenter (I need to send her a prize) submitted the only vote in response to my last post. She voted for the darker blue without even knowing it was her paint of choice, and I originally agreed with her, but after seeing the swatches on the wall for the past few days, well, sorry Gretchen (I need to send you a prize for all those comments though).

The colours are "Nantucket Fog", (Dark Blue), "Down Duvet" (Off white ceiling paint), and Yarmouth Blue (Light Blue) all by Benjamin Moore. I got the tester of Nantucket Fog because Gretchen, my faithful commenter (I need to send her a prize) has raved about it so much on her blog. I really like the colour, but since our bedroom has a western exposure (low light) and an awning on the window (lower light) and a huge tree out the window (even lower light) the darker blue would just make the room too gloomy. (I think I set a record for the most parenthesis in a paragraph here). ( ) <--- Just in case I needed one more set to break the record.

The funny thing about these colours is that although they are both in Maritime heritage collections - or something like that, Nantucket fog is in an American Collection, while Yarmouth Blue is a Canadian colour. Apparently you can't get chips from the American collection in Canada. They guy at the paint store explained to me that the US colours are copyrighted or some such thing, so he couldn't produce 'Nantucket Fog' in Canada. Then he pulled out a colour wheel, with an American flag sticker on it and said, but I can make the same colour and label it by its colour code as long as we don't call it Nantucket Fog. So this paint is NOT Nantucket Fog. It's Dark Blue, colour code AC-22, which can be mixed here. Some things are just silly.

In any case, since we chose Yarmoutn Blue, which IS a Canadian Heritage colour, we are legit, and the colour police won't be bursting into my room late at night to bust my sorry ass for painting the walls in bootlegged blue.

See you Monday. I'll be unplugged until then!

(Read about our unplugged weekend in Algonquin Park!)

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Master Bedroom Repaint

For a very long time, we have had the master bedroom paint job blues. Well, browns actually. When we bought the house, everyone agreed that the colour of the master bedroom was depressing and had to go.

Then we painted Chuck's room. And the boys' room. And the living room. And the master en-suite bathroom. And the whole time we were doing all this we kept telling ourselves that the master bedroom was next.

We kept procrastinating on the master because of the wallpaper border at the ceiling. If you have ever removed wallpaper you know what a horror it can be.

Well, in a fit of 'damn-the-torpedoes, I'm going in" SWMBO and I pulled out sponges and scrapers and had at the wallpaper border. In a few hours, the room was denuded. It was almost anti-climactic. Nothing untoward had happened in the whole process. We tidied up the paper, spackled the holes, sanded out the rough spots and then started talking colour.

These talks are often interesting and can continue for months, but SWMBO and I were both thinking a light blue would be nice in the room, so we set straight to work at priming the walls.

Our goal in priming was to do one wall after breakfast, one after lunch, and one after dinner. The fourth wall, we'd get to once we had energy to move the bed. Not being good at restraint, we painted the whole room before dinner, including relocating the bed and its support system. After dinner we did a second coat and touch-ups.

Sometime between cutting in the first wall and rolling on the last of the primer, we realized that our ceiling was brown. We have nothing against painted ceilings, but this is a pop-corn textured ceiling that is most emphatically burnt. We picked up a can of "Down Duvet" coloured ceiling paint from Benjamin Moore today.

Yay Ceiling Paint! Ignore the splotches on the walls and the blue test paint!

I also picked up tester cans of two shades of blue, which as you could predict, SWMBO and I have differing opinions of. I need votes... Dark blue, or light blue. I could tell you their fancy names, but that would take the fun out of this. Lets just say they are both from 'heritage' collections.

What is your preference?