Sunday, March 23, 2008

 
I’ve been swamped and become a bad blogger. I had no intention to be away so long but the general contractor has been in a very welcome push-to-the-finish mode. It climaxed on Friday with a long day’s involvement by the electricians, the plumber and finish carpenter.

In the process, we’ve been very busy buying things, checking on the work constantly, making lists of things that need to be finished, redone or fixed in some way. Today we’re going to finish painting the exercise room because its floor—the last remaining floor in the house to be laid—is going down on Tuesday so we have to finish the room today so that the concrete floor can be scraped and thoroughly cleaned in preparation.

The floor that’s going in is called ReTire, made from recycled car and truck tires. We’ve picked a 6mm thick version that’s deep enough to make a nice, resilient floor to exercise on but also thin enough to allow the warmth from the in-slab radiant heating to operate properly.

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In the middle of all this, Fritz was hit on the forehead by a big television set on the top of a tall audio-visual cart. He was beginning to pull the cart forward when the TV rocked forward, hit his head and pushed his head backward. There was some swelling and discomfort that he iced at intervals but eventually concern from his office manager and me lead to a trip into the doctor, an x-ray, and the good news that there were no fractured vertebrae or displaced discs, although a small bone spur had separated—which isn’t considered a problem. He’s in a soft cervical collar but otherwise OK and in good spirits.

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Well, I underestimated—our first boiling of maple syrup yielded a full three gallons that are now stored in a variety of quart, pint and pint and a half mason jars. The second and final boiling is going on now. We took the final 24 gallons of sap from the trees yesterday, then fritz went from tree to tree, pulled the metal taps and plugged the holes with pegs cut from thin branches. As of this morning, only 16 gallons of sap remain to be added to the evaporator, which I got going for the day about 8 AM. With luck, we’ll have all 16 added into the evaporator and the final result reduced to half its capacity.

The process then is to drain the evaporator into two big pots, boil it down further to its final thickness on the home stove, then filter and jar it. We make what I call a “country syrup,” one that’s free of debris and most fibrous residue, but not filtered through felt like commercial maple syrup--which is NOT, by the way, Vermont Maid or Mrs. Butterworth’s. They’re corn syrup flavored artificially or with the sludge left over from production of the real stuff. Real maple syrup has a very different taste and consistency.

Right now it looks like we’ll get another three gallons put up tomorrow. We could do more because the trees are flowing freely, but we don’t have any more canning jars or time. Richard (for Tornwordo) left a comment calling into question jusgt how labor-intensive sugaring is. Well, there’s constant gathering of the buckets and bringing them down to the boiler. There’s gathering a small mountain of wood from the forest and cutting it into stove length.

The boiler has to be kept going as long as possible each day from early morning to very late night. If it is, we can boil off 25 to 30 gallons a day (we collected approximately 285 gallons this year). The boiling sap has to be skimmed regularly to remove the thick, spongy foam that forms on it like an insulating blanket and prevents the water from going off as steam. The fire has to be fed every hour to hour and a half at the most, and the whole operation needs to be watched carefully as the syrup begins to thicken to prevent the moment when it suddenly takes off and boils over. If that happens, you lose up to a whole week if time and labor.

There’s a reason the [real] stuff costs up to $20 for a relatively small bottle in the store.

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Last Friday night, we connected with the small theater scene here in southern New Hampshire. Our point of entry was a production of Edward Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?: notes toward a definition of tragedy. It’s one of the wonderful plays (Tony Award for Best Play, 2003) that have come from the highly productive Indian Summer of Albee’s career. The production was in Portsmouth by The Generic Theater, in collaboration with The Player’s Ring that produces its own material (predominantly new scripts by regional playwrights) and provides a venue for other companies.

Player’s Ring operates out of a simple old New England brick building (we estimate it’s first quarter for the 19th century) by the waterfront park just opposite the entrance to Strawbery Banke, the old (17th, 18th century) historic district of Portsmouth. The theater seats 66 people on simple stage carpenter-built risers around three sides of the acting area. The atmosphere is casual—the theater sells cookies, coffee and tea that the audience is encouraged to bring into the theater during the performance.

The Goat is a fascinating, demanding piece of material, one and a half hours without intermission and a contemporary version of the oldest surviving theatrical form—Greek tragedy. The title links the play to the Satyr plays (tragedy comes from the Greek “goat song.” Albee deconstructs love, desire and relationships in a play that is both tragic and wildly funny, building from the premise that a seemingly secure, wildly successful architect with a "perfect" marriage falls in love--and has sex with--a female goat named Sylvia.

The Generic’s four actors varied somewhat in skill but not in strong commitment and thoroughly professional performances. We’re interested now in seeing Equus, by Rolling Die Productions (a company with a lengthy and interesting history, including two films that were well received at indie film festivals), in late April, early May. I’ve investigated other companies allied with Player’s Ring and get the impression that the small theater scene here is both lively and worth getting to know.

*****


Comments:
>Commercial maple syrup--which is NOT, by the way, Vermont Maid or Mrs. Butterworth’s. They’re corn syrup flavored artificially or with the sludge left over from production of the real stuff.

Actually, they are a crime against nature. I was raised on Vermont Maid. Then while I was in junior high a friend of my dad's gave him a gallon of the real stuff to thank him for a favor. There was no looking back.
 
I'm glad Fritz wasn't seriously hurt! Hope he's feeling better!
 
The last time I went to a sugar shack, they had hoses hooked up to all the taps that led to a tank. That seemed to cut down a lot of the labor of hauling around the buckets. So are you stopping because you've got enough or because the trees can't take it anymore?
 
I’ve been swamped and become a bad blogger. I had no intention to be away so long but the general contractor has been in a very welcome push-to-the-finish mode. It climaxed on Friday with a long day’s involvement by the electricians, the plumber and finish carpenter.

Push-to-the-finish? Climaxed? Long day's involvement? Dude. Nobody expects you to take time out from your all-day contractor/construction worker orgy to write a blog post. Oh, and if I had an orgy-related near concussion, I'd probably say I got hit by a TV, too.

I saw The Goat in DC a year or so ago. It was mesmerizing. Unfortunately, a friend who'd seen the original production in New York had e-mailed me about it right after he'd seen it, so I knew what was coming at the end, and I didn't get the same shock that everyone else got. But it was terrific nonetheless. I'm hoping to convince the partner that we need to see the production of The Sandbox and The American Dream that are running in New York in April.
 
Doug--No going back indeed--I sometimes have to use that stuff in a restaurant, but as little as possible, It's truly empty calories and plastic processed food product.

Jess--He's fine, thanks. I was worried but things could have been much worse.

Richard--Fritz has plastic tube from the taps into 5 gallon buckets but we still have to haul them from the trees tot he boiler. Some kind of hose system from the trees to our 30 gallon storage barrels might or might not be possible but would have to be routed around the Center's main parking lot, etc. Given the technology we have at our disposal, the whole system could freeze up hard at night and that could be problematic.

Ted--Have I mentioned recently how much I like your fevered imagination? That said, there have been a delightfully large number of guys working on the house who were extremely attractive.
 
hmm. that maple syrup sounds delicious!

do you want to sell some of it?

;o
not kidding...
 
dear me!
I too am glad Fritz is not too bad off.
We saw Mr. Albee's play here but the audience did not know what to do with it; so they mostly laughed at it; nervous?
 
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