Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.

Sunday in Michigan

February 28th, 2016

Adventure and exploration of new experiences have been the mainstay of my Sunday series. With that in mind, today I want you to consider my sister Tara’s rollicking “Misadventures in Maple Syrup Making.”

Have you ever seen those miniscule bottles of real maple syrup on sale for $10 and thought, “Is it really worth that much?”  Well, let me assure you, it is worth every penny.  Making maple syrup — real, from the tree, maple syrup — is a wild ride where you lose all sense of time and proportion trying to tame tree juice into liquid gold.  I say this while drinking my new nectar, maple water — the beast itself, totally addictive.

My husband and I purchased a lovely piece of acreage with some large sugar maple trees and wanted to try our hand at tapping. How hard could it be? I bought my husband the equipment for Christmas, so we would be ready to make our own syrup when the time was right.  We were maple-tapping virgins ready to try.

And try we did last weekend, when the temperature in our area spiked to a wonderfully balmy 50 degrees.  The lows at night were still freezing, making it perfect tapping weather.  The tapping itself went well. The instant the whirring drill bit pulled free from the trunk of a maple tree behind our house a splendid stream of sap began oozing. We ended up with at least 10 gallons over two days!  We read up on how to make the syrup and got started.  That is when things took a detour…

This was a joke, because it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup; one or two drops of lost liquid wouldn’t yield enough for even one flapjack serving because maple sap is mostly water.  Instructions said we needed to boil the water for many hours. If you don’t boil it soon enough the sap ferments, so you want to get to it in a timely manner.  It said it was best to leave it overnight since it would take all night and then it would be ready for the next phase.  So, we poured at least a gallon into our biggest pot, set it to boil and went to bed.  Can you see where this is going?  A few hours later, a uniquely sweet yet acrid, smoky smell woke us up.  Yep, the maple sap had boiled away to the sugar, which boiled until it charred.  I am still cleaning that pot.

Try number two…  In our infinite wisdom we decided we should try a smaller amount, with a smaller pot, to see if I could make a small batch before we spent any more time on this project.  It didn’t take too long and it boiled down to a golden nectar.  But there was so little of it, it went right past syrup and went to that “soft ball” stage.  We had a coating of maple-flavored candy too hard for syrup and too soft for caramel.  It tasted good though!

With that little success under our belts, we bought a 5-gallon stock pot for round 3.  We started early in the day, in the kitchen, with our stock pot full of sap and our minds full of syrup — I mean hope.  It boiled away all day long.  No burning or smoking this time!  Just a wonderfully humid steam rolling off while we waited.  I breathed better in the house that day than I have since moving to Michigan.  Then, that night, my husband felt a drop of water hit his head.  He looked up, and we found out why you do most of the boiling process outside.  Drops of water above the pot.  Drops of water covering the whole ceiling in the kitchen.  In the dining area.  Down the hallway.  Oh yes.  We had to mop the ceiling with a towel. 

We turned on some ceiling fans and went back to boiling.  It reduced to a golden color and I put the candy thermometer in.  You have to reach 219 degrees, according to everything I have read.  If you’ve ever made candy, you know how frustrating it can be to wait while the temperature hovers a few degrees below where you need it to be, seemingly forever.  Then, it will suddenly spike and you have to make sure it doesn’t go over, because sugar changes consistency fast over small degrees.  I got it off at what appeared to be 219 degrees and we bottled a whole pint of syrup.  Whew.  What a lot of work! But we had it.

We checked it later and found that it had gone past syrup stage after all and become caramel-like again.  But, by then, we weren’t letting that stand.  It was war and we were going to win at this syrup thing! “Must beat the sap!”  I found out that you can add distilled water to syrup if it goes past the right stage and re-boil it up to the correct one.  I did that, but took it off a little below the mark.  And, finally, we had our very own, hard won, natural maple syrup!

So next time you see that price tag on those little bottles, remember this story.  WORTH.  EVERY.  PENNY.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.  I heard a story today about a couple who also tried to make maple syrup themselves.  They didn’t know to use screens over the pots when boiling over an open fire and ended up with ash in the syrup AND burned it. They wrote it tasted like sweet ashes — and still made their kids try it on their pancakes.  Kid you not. You can’t make this stuff up.

Have a deliciously sweet weekend!

Tara's first maple syrup

Tara’s first maple syrup

Friday Funnies

February 26th, 2016

The 98 year old woman lay in bed not expected to live. Her family gathered around her bed trying to make her last days comfortable. They gave her some warm milk to drink but she refused. Then one of the grandchildren took the glass back to the kitchen. Remembering a bottle of rum used to make cake at Christmas, she opened and poured a generous amount into the warm milk. Back at her grandmother’s bed, she held the glass to her lips. The woman drank a little, then a little more and before they knew it, she had drunk the whole glass down to the last drop! “Mother,” the woman’s son said, “tell us what you would like us to do.” She raised herself up in bed and with a serious look on her face said, “Don’t sell dat cow.”

A priest is driving from the Upper Peninsula downstate to Detroit and gets stopped for speeding in Lansing. The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. He says, “Sir, have you been drinking?” “Just water,” says the priest, fingers crossed behind his back. The trooper says, “Then why do I smell wine?” The priest looks at the bottle and says, “Good Lord! He’s done it again!”

Children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray: “Take only ONE. God is watching.” Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.

Be sure to come back Sunday for a grand adventure!

Living Lent: Friendship

February 24th, 2016

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My father I have made known to you. John 15:15

Very simply, intimacy is close or confidential friendship. And God, far from making it mysterious or unobtainable, has sought that kind of relationship with us from the beginning.

It’s true. What God cares about most is that we’re his friends. Yet so often we’re caught up in what we should do, what we should believe and what we should feel that the thought of intimacy with God frustrates us. At the end of the day it’s easy to be focused on everything BUT Jesus. Even in Scripture only a handful of people seemed to have a special relationship with the Father.

A lot of us need friendly reminders that our relationship with Him must come first. He wants our hearts, not just actions, thoughts or words. During this Lenten week, focus on seeking out Jesus in friendship and everything else will fall into place. Lord, I want to go deeper with you, Amen.

going deeper

Sunday in Michigan

February 21st, 2016

This weekend I went to see the movie Risen, the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius, a powerful Roman Military Tribune, and his aide Lucius, are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.

For more than 80 years, stories of Jesus have been the topic of movies. Many featured not only Jesus, but Moses, Sampson, David, etc, but this film is quite different in that it has a more historical feel to it. Sticking to the basics of what is known from the Bible and other Jewish and Roman historical accounts of the event, Risen lacks computer graphics, as well as the pious and pretentious nature of the recent films Noah and Exodus. Although the message of the Gospel is clearly stated, it doesn’t come off as proselytizing. In many ways, the central character is an everyman because it is fairly easy to place yourself in his sandals and imagine what it must have been like to have been in charge of guarding Christ’s tomb and then having to answer for the disappearance.

Unlike other films where the focus is either directly on Jesus, the focus of this film is primarily on the delicate political landscape between the Jews and Romans and the protagonist Clavius, portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. Risen uses the indirect approach to discover why Jesus’ was so special to his followers (and it still to this day). Although this film is about the mystery surrounding the resurrection of Jesus in the background, the foreground is a personal journey thus making it more of a historic film than a “preachy Christian” one. Therefore, most anyone who enjoys Roman or Jewish history will find something of interest in this film. The relationship between the Romans and Jewish leadership is handled very well. It shows the game the Romans had to play with the Jews in order to keep peace in Jerusalem, especially because Caesar is arriving soon and Pilate needs to show him that he has the Jews under control.

The person of Jesus is also handled better than any other film I have seen. I’ve always found it weird that in most historic/Biblical films most of the characters speak with a British or European accent, not so in Risen. Cliff Curtis connects with the audience as down to earth in his appearance and mannerisms. He embodies unconditional love.

Risen is a little slow, and handles character development very well. I really appreciate the development of Clavius, but also Pilate and Lucius as well. To an extent, we also see some development in some of Jesus’ disciples as well. At the end of the movie, the characters in the story felt like real people, and that is a remarkable achievement in this movie.

The problem with most Biblical history-based movies is they fall short in at least one of the major category: writing, acting, directing or production. Remember “The Bible” mini-series? Whew! I promise Risen is very different, hitting on all cylinders.

I greatly enjoyed this film and hope you do too. It’s rated “PG-13” for some disturbing images and has a running time of 1 hour & 47 minutes. http://www.risen-movie.com/



Friday Funnies

February 19th, 2016

In preparation of Monday’s full moon this post could be titled “Full Moon Friday Funnies.” Enjoy!

A teacher asks their students “Which is more useful, the Sun or the Moon?” After a moment of silence a ten-year old student puts his hand up and answers, “I think it’s the Moon because the moon shines at night when you want the light, whereas the Sun shines during the day when you don’t need it.”

Bill and Ben were walking home from the local pub. Bill says to Ben, ‘Vat a beautiful night, look at da moon.’ Ben stops and looks at Bill, ‘You are wrong, dat’s not da moon, dat’s da sun.’ Both started arguing for a while when they come upon a real drunk walking in the other direction, so they stopped him. ‘Sir, could you please help settle our argument? Tell us vat dat ting is up in da sky dat’s shining. Is it da moon or da sun?’ The drunk looked at the sky and then looked at them, and said, ‘Sorry, I don’t live around here.’

After the Americans went to the Moon, the Soviets announced that they would be sending a man to the Sun. The engineers objected. “If you send a man to the Sun, he will burn up!”  “What do you think I am, stupid?” he replied. “We’ll send him at night!”

Two blondes in the Upper Peninsula were sitting on a bench talking. One blonde says to the other,  “Which do you think is farther away … Florida or the moon?” The other blonde turns and says “Helloooooooooo, can you see Florida …?”

Living Lent: Conversion

February 17th, 2016

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

During the time of Lent, the Church renews her appeal to repentance in the name of God. Lent’s the call to change lives. Our conversion isn’t the question of a moment or a certain time of the year, it’s an undertaking that lasts a lifetime.

Lord, you know of our efforts to change our lives. We resolve to eat healthier, to get more exercise, to relax, to read our Bibles and so on. But habits are so hard to break! We can’t change alone, we need your help. Help us to see what we need to change and then give us the desire and strength to make the changes needed to live our best life possible. With You conversion will be possible. Amen

Sunday in Michigan

February 14th, 2016

Polar plunge temperatures kept me from attending a bar stool race. Instead I rented “The Walk.” Set in 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to illegally walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Fast forward to 2015 when Robert Zemeckis directs a 3D version of the feat, titled “The Walk” which was previously told in the Oscar winning documentary “Man on a Wire” in 2008.

This movie is a straight by-the-book telling of a very simple story: Ever since he was a boy, Philippe has always been fascinated by the art of tightrope walking. After mastering the art of tightrope walking, Philippe outgrew his small time antics and set his mind on achieve the impossible. Philippe dangerously, and illegally, set his high-wire to walk the massive distance between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. This was Philippe Petit’s ultimate dream.

Right from the start, Philippe Petit’s character tells the viewer his own story, with a forced French accent, from his early days as a kid in France and up to a very detailed telling of the event itself. If you’ve seen the documentary or know the story, you won’t find any surprises. His story is benign and could be categorized as something between a comedy and a family movie.

Still, there is nothing special about this movie. I expect a lot more from a director like Robert Zemeckis, who is behind some of the most enjoyable films in history. He’s after all at the heart of “Back to the Future”, though Michael J. Fox should get plenty of credit, and Tom Hanks made “Forrest Gump”. Zemeckis also gave us “The Polar Express”, and now he’s directed one of the most uninspiring films ever made about a bored Paris street performer.

And the narrative style grew old very early on in the movie. The Walk is basically a heist movie, and the heist set up takes up 75% of the film. I could have certainly used less time “in his training” phase, and I’d rather have the actors speak plain English, rather than hearing Philippe’s constant request to speak English for practice since “I’m going to America” line.

Perhaps if I’d seen “The Walk” in 3D I would have been absorbed by the visuals and able to get past the horrible accents and poorly developed characters. “Avatar” soared, even with some of the fantastic creations who came to life, though I knew they were not real at all. I connected with the soul in beings that couldn’t be more different from us, and here I couldn’t seem to penetrate the dullness that surrounds the acting and the story of an egotist and his stunt.

All in all, my feelings on this film were summed up during a moment when Jean-Pierre, one of Philippe’s helpers, asks Annie as she’s peering through a pair of binoculars up at the Towers, “Does he even know you’re here?” Which, I suppose, is better than what I was asking myself, “Why are you still here watching?” Rent “Man on a Wire” for the real story.

Friday Funnies

February 12th, 2016

Listed below is a collection of funny dogsledding jokes for kids and children of all ages. What can I say, I was inspired by last weekends sled dog race. Enjoy!

Q: Why did the hunter name his sled dog Frost? A: Because Frost bites!

Q: How can you tell if you have a stupid sled dog? A: It chases parked snowmobiles!

Q: What did the hunter say when the polar bear ate his sled dog? A: “Well, doggone!”

Q: What is the difference between Santa Claus and a warm sled dog? A: Santa wears a whole suit – a dog just pants!

Q: What is worse than a sled dog howling at the moon? A: A whole team of sled dogs howling at the moon!

Q: What do you get if you cross a sled dog and a cheetah? A: A dog that chases snowmobiles – and catches them!

Q: What is the difference between a sled dog and a mailbox? A: You don’t know? No wonder we’re not getting any mail from the Arctic!

Q: What would you get if you crossed a puffin with a sled dog? A: A dog that lays pooched eggs!

Q: What time is it when ten sled dogs are chasing a polar bear across the ice? A: Ten after one.

Q: What does a sled dog that was an Iditarod competitor become after it is ten years old? A: Eleven years old.

Q: Where are sled dogs trained? A: In the mush-room!

Q: What do you call a litter of young dogs that have come in out of the snow? A: Slush puppies!

Jack Frost of Depression

February 10th, 2016

Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. Psalm 55:17

Better bundle up because if you’re in the Upper Peninsula because temperatures this morning are well below zero! I’m honestly pretty stressed out after driving home yesterday in whiteout conditions and wouldn’t mind if I could just stay inside by the fireplace for a few days.

Maybe you’re going through a personal “blizzard” of sorts and depression is nipping at your heels leaving you withdrawn. Just like the dark and bleak days of winter have a woeful effect on us, trials seem to frost our lives with melancholy. The problem is that when we are in the midst of a “winter”, it’s so easy to let it nip away at us.

I think depression is one of the worst effects of a “winter” because so many are affected by it. The “winter blahs” always seem to be looming and wanting to nip…nip away on the arctic cold winds of winter.

There’s no easy way out of depression but keeping our lives in tune with God can help guard against it. Regular personal devotions during Lent, and a time with God each day, can go a long way in dealing with our trials and help us endure a long, cold winter.

Sunday in Michigan

February 7th, 2016

Life in the Upper Peninsula is all about the snow. Snow boots. Snowshoes. Snow skies. Snow tubing. Snowmobiles.

As the snow accumulated at alarming rates over the past week, so did students love for all things snow at Michigan Tech’s 95th Annual Winter Carnival complete with monumental snow sculptures in Houghton.

Organized by Blue Key National Honor Society since 1934, Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival started in 1922 to celebrate the large amounts of snow they experience and has grown to become one of the largest annual winter festivals in the nation. The carnival is characterized by dozens of huge, intricate snow sculptures around campus and the community. This event also brings together students to participate in broomball, comedy skits, sleigh rides, ice bowling, human dog sled races, skiing, ice fishing, a queen coronation, and lots more winter fun.

I arrived just as students were starting a broomball game. Always intense, and a Yooper favorite, broomball is much like hockey, and yet different. In North Dakota my father played with a broom dipped in melted plastic. Today players were using duct-taped brooms, a mid-sized ball, and no skates. Players slide madly around the ice trying to put the ball past the goalie. Sounds simple if you’ve never tried it!

The ice & snow sculptures were outstanding. Some were built over the course of a month and others were only given overnight to build prior to judging. Good grief, it would have been difficult to judge them. I especially liked the USA Eagle and Alaska. I was only able to transfer the one photo, however you can click on the link to view them. They’re fantastic!: https://www.flickr.com/photos/michigantech/sets/72157659833177884/with/24189066434/ and www.mtu.edu/carnival

Yooper’s especially determined to enjoy the snow, so Carnival is a meaningful time for them. Even the sleigh horses seemed happy to be a part of the event.

MTU Winter Carnival Sleigh Rides

MTU Winter Carnival Sleigh Rides

Whatever you do this week, enjoy it in earnest.

Friday Funnies

February 5th, 2016

Winter seems to be a time of broken bones from slipping and falling on the ice. In spite of broken bones being no fun at all, it’s nice to have some humorous jokes to share with others. Laughter is the best medicine!

While walking through the rehab dining room, I overheard this conversation between two little old ladies who were sharing a table: “Have you ever broken a bone?” Betty asked. “Yes,” her friend replied. “Did it hurt?” “No.” “Really? Which bone did you break?” “My sister’s arm.” (Oh so bad!)

Tom transferred from the local hospital to our rehab with two broken feet that he got in a car accident. The nurse went into his room and told him that she has good news and bad news. Tom asks for the bad news first.  The nurse says, ”We’re going to have to remove your feet.”  Then he asked  for the bad news.  The nurse says, ”The guy beside you wants to buy your sneakers.”

Pondering on getting a good joke would HEEL your SOL. Have a great day!


Blizzards of Circumstances

February 3rd, 2016

But he knows the way that I take: when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. Job 23:10

 Winter can bring so many things along with it. Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil predicted, it’s still very much winter in Ironwood. In fact, we are waking up to blizzard conditions this morning. Drifts of blowing snow block the roads and decreases visibility making driving hazardous. Blizzards are one of the worst parts of winter, right after icy conditions. Both have the opportunity for devastating long term effects.

Likewise circumstances in our lives can be trying, like blizzards. Bills mount up. Family members get sick or even die. Workplace becomes stressful. Relationships get sour, and many other circumstances weigh down on us until we think we can’t go on. Before we know it our visibility gets low and we can’t see what’s down the road. During these times we need to remember that God sees the outcome. God knows the way and will clear the skies.

Let’s put on our spiritual armor, when we put on our coats and boots this morning, and shovel our way out of this mess!

Tamara's Journeys

Journeys as great as the destinations.