The other day I stumbled across a web site showing how to build a “rocket stove” which is two pipes that meet at a 90 degree angle – one vertical, and one horizontal. These pipes are then set inside a metal bucket, and the space between the bucket and the pipes is filled with sand. Fuel and air are fed into the fire though the horizontal pipe, and the flames, heat, and smoke go through the vertical one. The sand holds in the heat to make it very hot.

When I saw it, it reminded me of a Dakota fire. This is made by digging a hole straight down in the ground, and then digging a smaller diameter hole angling down so that they both meet at the bottom. Fuel and air are fed through the diagonal hole, and the heat and smoke go out the vertical one.

Since I have about five gallons of sap to boil down into syrup, and lacking a large metal bucket, I thought I’d give the Dakota fire a shot at it. Not that anyone uses a rocket stove to boil sap.

We have about a foot of snow in the backyard, so I shoveled out a spot to work and chiseled through the frozen ground (it was only frozen for an inch or two). Then I dug the Dakota hole, lit a fire in it, and set a big pot over the flame. Va gave me a pot. She doesn’t care if I make it suety, so I’m in the clear there.

Dakota Fire

Dakota Fire

I didn’t have the lid on the pot for very long, but it was on there when I took the photo. It would be hard to evaporate sap with a lid in the way holding all the steam in.

The fire did burn pretty hot, and I spent the whole afternoon feeding it sticks. But by the time it got dark, the sap had not been reduced by more than an inch or so. I took the kettle off the boil, let the fire die down, and went in the house for the night.

Since it took all afternoon to get it to go down one inch, I decided to just do it inside. I used a different pot since I didn’t want to get the stovetop all suety. I reduced the sap by another three inches or so, but I noticed that instead of smelling like syrup, it smelled like smoke. Since smoke is largely solid particulate matter, and since solid particulate matter does not evaporate, I reasoned that the smoke in the sap would just get more and more concentrated. Which is something I did not want. So I dumped it out.

The trees are making plenty of sap though, so five gallons is not a major loss. And I learned something.

Don’t use a Dakota fire to reduce sap unless you can rig up a chimney somehow.

Yesterday morning I noticed that our water was a lot hotter than it normally is. I really like to take long, hot showers, so I popped in and indulged myself. I could take them all the time, but I don’t want to waste the energy keeping our water that hot, so I keep it turned it down to something more reasonable. I made a mental note to look into this extra-hot water though.

Today I noticed that the water was hardly hot at all. I went down to the basement and opened up the water heater (don’t ever call it a “hot” water heater in front of my Dad – that’s one of his pet peeves). I took a photo of the upper thermostat so I could read the number on it.

Water heater thermostat.

Water heater thermostat.

I also pressed that red button (it’s a circuit breaker), and it went “click!” so I knew that it had experienced some over-current. I figured I should replace the heating elements too, because there’s nothing else in the circuit other than heating elements and a thermostat.

After two trips to Tilton to Bryant & Lawrence Hardware (one of my favorite stores anywhere), I had the parts I needed (a lower thermostat and a heating element). To make a long story shorter… we now have “normal” hot water again.

On to another topic.

Last week Va asked me what we should do with a couple of left-over packages of candy canes. I hate to throw that kind of thing out, even though they are very inexpensive. So I told her I would find a use for them. My first stab was to Google “leftover candy canes,” which garners 130,000 hits. I didn’t read them all, but I read enough of them to know I wasn’t going to try any of those things. Valentine hearts with candy canes? Really?

David pointed out that getting 130,000 hits on that phrase was an indictment of candy canes. Outside of the Christmas season, they are just not very popular, and there’s a reason for that. They are more for decoration than for eating.
You never hear people ask what they should do with leftover “good” candy, like Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups. That’s because there’s never any of that left over.

I came up with my own idea for the candy canes. I got all my blackberries out of the freezer to try a new invention – Blackberry Candy Cane Jam. Hopefully this will go better than the chocolate soup experiment. Candy canes are little more than sugar and flavoring. You already need sugar to make jam, and I thought peppermint might make an interesting addition to the blackberry flavor.

But there was also an important thing I wanted to subtract – blackberry seeds! I had read you could use a jelly bag to filter them out, but I don’t have one of those, and I have never used one or even seen one being used. But I figured… how hard could that be? Famous last words.

Novice at work

Novice at work

I squished the blackberries through my chinois, and then bundled them into a piece of cloth, twisted the top together, and then began squeezing the juice through the cloth. It didn’t want to come out, so I upped the pressure. That’s when the pressure in the improvised jelly bag exceeded the pressure asserted by my grip on the top of the bag. A nice little spout opened up, and you can see the results.

And just so you know, blackberries do stain painted drywall.

Sigh. I cleaned that off the wall as best I could and continued my efforts. I finally got 90% of the seeds (and probably 50% of the juice and pulp) removed. Then I broke up the candy canes, added some sugar & pectin, and boiled it for… I don’t know how long. It was long enough to dissolve the candy canes.

Don't look at the trivet!

Don’t look at the trivet!

Just try to remember that I don’t really know what I’m doing. They say to boil jam until it runs off the spoon “in sheets”. I don’t think I ever got it to that stage, even after an hour of boiling. Maybe I needed more sugar. Maybe I should have measured the blackberries and the sugar (I think you need equal amounts). But it looked like it was getting close to “sheets” so I called it good enough and poured it into some jars. I got two and a half pints. I cleaned my big pot (to some extent) with a slice of bread. I can say that it tasted pretty interesting, and not at all bad.

And now I have a big mess to clean up. Turns out bread doesn’t do a great job on a big jam-covered pot.

When astronomers assemble a new telescope and aim it at the sky for the first time, they call that “first light.” Well, my new Canon SX150IS came in today to replace my broken SX110IS. I must confess that “first light” for it was a bottle cap lying on a table. And so was second light. I deleted those before downloading them, but I’ll share third-fifth light with you.

Chickens on the loose!

Chickens on the loose!

This one came about after my Mom was talking about how she needed her chicken coop moved to a new spot. The temperature is supposed to hit 107 here tomorrow, so getting them into a shadier spot was kind of important. I offered to do the deed with David’s help.

Well, her chicken coop was a lot heavier than it seemed. We lifted it up on one side and started dragging it across the grass, and that’s when all 12 chickens flew the coop so to speak. We spent the next 15 or 20 minutes herding them back into the coop. Penny – a herding dog – was absolutely worthless at this. But of course, she had never even seen a chicken before yesterday, and she has exactly zero training when it comes to herding actual animals. Still.

Before it was all said and done, I watched Dad try to catch one of the roosters. It got away, but I could see how he was trying to do it. I emulated his technique and that was met with some success. Basically, Dad was moving in low and slow, and then snatched at the hen’s legs. When I tried it, I caught one leg, but with the chicken thusly restrained, getting hold of the second leg was somewhat trivial. I popped her into the coop. The rest of them were lured in with bread.

Sorry for wrecking havoc on your chickens, Mom. 😦

After that we had some supper and then went back to the hotel. I took Penny out for some stick throwing (I would have taken her out for some herding lessons, but alas! Penny knows more about that than I do). Also, I wanted to take some macros with the new gear. Here’s fourth light:

Unidentified, cultivated flower/bush

Unidentified, cultivated flower/bush

I have no idea what this is, but it did make for a nice macro. But I do know what fifth light is: Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

This lens isn’t quite as fast as the SX110’s, but I guess that’s OK. It has more zoom power and lots more pixels to make up for that. It goes down to an f-stop of 3.4 vs 2.8 for the SX110. So far, I am very pleased with it.

Today we took the Pathfinders to the pool to work on their swimming honors. One of the kids needed a ride, so we swung by her house and picker her up. Then we set out for the pool. I passed a parked police car, and checked my speed – good! But the next thing I knew, she was right behind me with the blue lights going.

My registration had expired.

When we lived in VA, they would send us a notice in the mail, so we never ever forgot to register. But NH does not do that. They rely on you to remember all by your own self, and I have forgotten twice now in seven years. The first time I got a warning. This time, I got a $103.33 ticket. :-/

The officer told me that technically, I was not to operate the vehicle until it was registered, but that she would drive down the road and not notice if I did. So what was I supposed to do? Call a cab and abandon my car until I could get down to the town clerk’s office? “Luckily,” she drove down the road, and I scooted out. But I was paranoid the whole time, just waiting to be pulled over again for the same offense.

We got to the pool and got busy. David stayed on the sidelines to take record of who completed what requirements. I gave him my camera, and he got several shots.
Beth in the pool
Beth earned her Beginner’s Swimming honor.

We worked on the honors for two hours, and then it was time to get out. The boys were out of the dressing rooms in 15 minutes or less. Then we waited another 20 minutes for the girls (and nearly all of the kids are girls). Apparently, they had to dry their hair.

Then we drove (some of us illegally) to the church for our regular meeting. I stopped at Taco Bell and got some lunch (as did several of the other kids).

Beth’s class had our worship service, and they presented the story found in John chapter 9, wherein Jesus healed a man born blind by putting mud over his eyes. Melissa (Beth’s counselor) concocted some mud with chocolate pudding and crushed Oreos. The kid playing Jesus smeared it on our “blind man’s” eyes:

Jesus heals a blind man

Jesus heals a blind man

The kids loved that – especially the one playing the blind man, because as she wiped this stuff off her face, she got to eat it!

We also had our Adventist Community Services director stop by and tell us how she operated our food closet. There was a lot there that I didn’t know. As soon as we read an article on world hunger, we will have met every requirement for the Food Ministries honor (which is a new one). The can collecting and sandwich making we did in October and November also counted towards this one, and we had already done those things when I found this new honor.

Now I’m pretty tired after breaking the law all day, swimming for two hours, and running a Pathfinder meeting. Time to relax!

The Pathfinders had our annual club campout this weekend. The verdict is in – it was very mixed! I am reminded of Roald Amundsen’s statement that “Adventure is just bad planning,” and I have to confess that a great deal of our problems were self-inflicted. Mostly by me I guess.

When we got there and were setting up, Ken (on whose farm we were camping) pulled me aside and told me we might want to stay clear of the barn on Saturday. One of his cows had broken a hip. They were planning to butcher her after she had weaned her calf, but she moved those plans up a bit by falling on her calf and killing it. Normally, they have their butchering done elsewhere, but since they had an immobile cow, that was not possible. OK – we’ll stay down in the woods on Saturday, no problem.
With that, our campout saga begins.

One of our staff members was planning to join us Saturday morning, so she wasn’t there when we pitched camp Friday evening. Last fall, she had taken the griddle for our propane stove home with her to give it a good scrubbing, so we were without that. That in itself is not a catastrophe, but it goes a little deeper than that. The griddle is stored in a canvas bag along with the propane regulator. Without the regulator the stove is pretty much useless.

The plan was that we would have grilled cheese sandwiches for supper on Friday evening, and a “feast in a foil” Saturday evening. Since the feast in a foil is prepared over a camp fire and grilled cheese is grilled on the griddle, we decided to switch the two around. That was a good decision.

The menu and shopping list was planned by our Ranger unit (13 year-olds). David (who is in the Guide unit), guided them through this. I provided them with a spreadsheet into which they could enter ingredients for each meal they planned as well as the number of people who would be dining with us. It figures out how much food to buy based on that. They copied the ingredients from the spreadsheet to paper, but not the amounts! Then their grandfather (Mr Stokes, another of our staff members) took them to buy it, but none of them knew how much of anything to get. And their guesses were not exactly “spot on.” So we were a bit short in the food department. I have to take the blame for this though, as I did not review the shopping list. I did see the menu, which looked pretty good, but clearly I need to look over the list from now on. My bad.

After any meal we need to wash dishes, and not having a tap with hot running water, the way we handle that is to heat some water and put it into three plastic tubs (pre-rinse, wash, and final rinse). Not having a stove meant we needed to heat the water over the campfire. So I put the kettle on the fire for a bit. When I went to take it off, I donned some heavy, padded leather gloves, which unfortunately proved to be insufficient for the task. I ended up with a blister on two fingers. Ouch! My bad again!

I sent the pre-teens to bed around 10:30 or so, and the older kids and I turned in about an hour later. The plan for Saturday’s breakfast was French toast, but since our griddle and regulator were still missing in action, we opted for oatmeal and cold cereal instead. Again, we adapted.

After breakfast, we started our Sabbath School and church activities. The Rangers were working on the Camping Skills IV honor, and for that, they needed to prepare a one-hour Sabbath activity. They thing that they came up with took all of five minutes, so I sent them back to the drawing board. It wasn’t a bad activity – it just didn’t take as long as they projected it would.

I presented a few worship thoughts for the kids to take up the extra 55 minutes, including how the furnishings in the wilderness sanctuary are arranged in the shape of the cross. To illustrate this, I had a kid stand where each item of furniture was located. When I asked what shape it made, they could easily see it. One even noted that the altar of sacrifice where the Israelites confessed their sins was right at the foot of the cross.

After church was over I got a call from Va. She shared some tragic news with us. One of my former Pathfinders had lost her baby after an 8-month pregnancy, and she was at that moment struggling for her own life. A lot of the kids in our club knew her, so this news hit kind of hard. We (and many others) prayed for her of course, and I am very happy to say that she has now turned the corner. She may be released tomorrow.

Lunch was our first uneventful meal – haystacks. There was plenty of food for everyone, and everyone was hungry. When we finished that, we headed off for an afternoon hike to see a massive beaver dam. When we got to the pond (but before we got to the dam) we took a short break. Mr Stokes and his granddaughter were sitting at the edge of the pond when Mr Stokes thought he’d grab her suddenly as if he were going to push her in. But instead of grabbing her as if he were going to push her in, he accidentally did push her in! She only got one leg of her pants wet though, and it was really funny. Mr Stokes was somewhat embarrassed about that (which is why I’m posting it here?) I had my camera in hand when this happened, so I now have the opportunity to deepen that embarrassment:

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

While we were there, I found my first fully blossomed trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). I promised here a little while back that as soon as I saw some, I’d pop one into my mouth and report back to my readers. And today, I am fulfilling that promise. It tasted… meh! But not bad at all. I will not likely make eating TA blooms a habit any time soon.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Out in the middle of this beaver pond are several dead snags, and one of them sports a blue heron nest. We were lucky in that the blue heron came by and stayed long enough for me to get several shots of it. My little Canon does not excel at telephoto-ops, so this image isn’t really the greatest, but I will share it with you anyhow:

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

After our short break, we had to bushwhack a little more to get to the beaver dam. Here it is from the top:

Massive beaver dam

Massive beaver dam

This dam was about six feet high in the middle, and at least 200 feet long.You can see a satellite image courtesy of Google Maps here.

Trailing arbutus was not the only flower in bloom, but you had to look up to see the others.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

These are red maple blooms. The chronology I am noting this year is that the silvers bloom first, followed by the reds. I haven’t seen any sugar maples in bloom yet, but I’m sure they will be coming along very soon.

We got back from our hike without further incident and worked more on the Stars honor (which we had started Friday night). I had the kids stand in for celestial bodies this time. My favorite thing to do with this is to have them re-enact the motion of the earth, moon, and sun. I start by having the moon orbit the earth, being sure the kid playing the moon is always facing the kid playing the earth. Then I set the earth into spin about its axis. Finally, I instruct the earth to orbit the sun while the moon tries to keep up. That’s always a lot of fun, and the kids like it every time.

We finished off the day with a new “one-hour” activity that the Rangers planned during our hike. It didn’t quite last a full hour, but I’m going to give them a pass. At any rate, this exercise should give them a pretty good understanding of how carefully the staff plan their activities.

We had our grilled cheese for dinner.

Around 8:00pm Saturday evening we had a bit of rain mixed with sleet. I think I can now say with certainty that my least favorite camping weather is raining and 35 degrees. Not a good combination. But with the sleet came warmer temperatures, and the sleet turned into a downpour. I was pretty exhausted by then, so I sent the pre-teens to bed around 8:30. The teens and I hung out in the kitchen shelter until 9:30 or so when I found myself continually waking up in my camp chair. They were pretty tired too, so we all went to bed before 10:00.

It poured all night.

When I got up at 7:00, this is what our kitchen looked like:

Deluged Kitchen

Deluged Kitchen

The water in our kitchen was two inches deep in most places. Deeper than that in other spots. Two inches doesn’t really sound that bad until you stop to consider that it’s a bit deeper than the top of your shoes. Then it seems really deep. We considered relocating the kitchen, but there was no way it was going to move more than six feet in any direction without disassembling and reassembling it. Also, there was not an abundance of dry places nearby. So I decided we should try to drain it. Since this property belongs to my good friend Ken, and two of his kids were camping with us, I knew that he would not mind at all if we did a little excavation. So we dug a small ditch and raked leaves out of the path of the water. The kitchen was drained by about 9:00 (well… kinda), and we were finally able to begin cooking breakfast. Pancakes! The first order of business was to heat some water so the dishes could be done afterwards. Then we mixed up some pancake batter (oops! Our shoppers bought pancake mix that called for eggs & milk, and not our usual “complete” pancake mix!). Then the kids went to light the burners for the griddle (which had rejoined our party), but they were having an awful time of that – because we were out of propane. My. Bad. Again.

By then, our dish water was nice and hot, but I decided we could put it to better use in making oatmeal. I heated a little more water for the dishes over the fire, which was lit by our Ranger unit – in spite of the previous evening’s deluge. I was rather proud of them for that, and grateful that we were able to wash the dishes in hot water.

Sometime during the morning, one of my Pathfinders came to me with a tick embedded in his abdomen. Out of all the kids in my club to get a tick, and indeed, out of all the kids I have ever known in my life, I could not have selected a worse one to suffer that fate. This kid has an irrational fear of ticks. He is terrified of them. I washed my filthy, kitchen-draining hands, went to the first aid kit, and got some tweezers. I was intent on pulling this parasite out firmly and slowly (like you’re supposed to), and he was screaming the whole time. He was also pushing my hand away. I don’t think I can justly blame his panic on what happened next, but the tick’s body came loose from his head, which is exactly what the firm-but-gentle pull is supposed to prevent. My panicked Pathfinder went into an even greater panic, which I did not think was even possible. I worked on him for another ten minutes, but I was not able to get the tick head out of his tummy. His mom managed to do that when he got home, and I have nothing but admiration for her for that.

We spent the rest of the morning working on the Camping Skills I-IV honors, with my older Pathfinders teaching the younger ones. That really went pretty well. Around 11:00 or so, one of my staff members (Ken’s wife) offered to make PB&J sandwiches up at the house instead of having us suffer through doing that in our flooded kitchen. I did not hesitate to accept her gracious offer.

While she was up making lunch, Warran, Mr Stokes, and I took the kids back into the woods to construct a rope bridge over one of the many puddles in our camp site. This was so we could finish off the Pioneering honor. The kids absolutely loved doing this. They had a blast. I don’t like to show pictures depicting the faces of other people’s kids on the Internet, so instead, I will show one of myself (Warran used my camera to take this shot of me):

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

When we were finished with this, we headed up to the house to have lunch (outside!) Afterwards, I began herding the kids back down to the camp site. As I was doing this, Ken called out to me. One of his cows was calving! Did the kids want to see that? I figured. “why not?” Three of the girls in my Friend unit (10 year-olds) were very interested, so we detoured into the barn. The calf had already been born, and mama was standing there cleaning it off, with all the attendant grossness hanging out of her back-end. Eeewwww! The girls didn’t seem to mind though. That’s when Ken’s youngest son asked them if they wanted to see two other newborn calves (one of which was his own). Why not? So ff we went to a second barn. The first calf was standing, and it’s mother was licking the kids’ hands. Then we moved to the next stall where the other calf was. But not its mother.
The calf was sleeping? Nope. No breathing action there. Turns out this is the calf that had been crushed by its mother. Ken hadn’t yet had a chance to take care of it, and his son didn’t know any of this had happened. He called out “Hey Dad! Where’s this calf’s mother?” I don’t think this affected him too much – he does live on a farm, and mortality is certainly a part of that life.

After this minor fiasco, we headed back down to the camp site to strike camp. Everything was soaking wet, but the sun had come out for a bit. We had moved the tents into the pasture to let them dry some, and some of them were actually pretty dry. Unfortunately, the field was still pretty wet, so driving back up to the house (and driveway) was something of a challenge. I thought I was going to get stuck for a few minutes, and I was also very concerned that I would tear up Ken’s pasture. I don’t think I did too bad though. Unfortunately, Mr Stokes did get stuck. We tried to push him out, but I could see all we were doing we digging him in deeper. In the hope of not making a bad situation worse, we called for Ken (who was still busy with his newly minted calf) and he came down and pulled him out with his truck.

I brought all the still-wet tents home with me, and David and I pitched them in the north yard. Of course it’s raining again now, but as long as they’re not folded up and packed away in a trailer, they won’t mold.

I guess this post is about long enough now, so I’m going to turn it loose now. Hope you all enjoyed reading it.