From Sap to Syrup

Spring is off to quite a slow start here in Massachusetts. With near record snowfall for our part of the state, we are all ready for the change of season.  Slowly but surely, the days are getting warmer.  With the nights still below freezing, it's the time of year the maple sap starts flowing.  Some friends of ours have been collecting maple sap and making syrup for a while now and this year we decided to give it a try.
 My husband is an arborist, so it wasn't hard for him to identify a few sugar maples in our small patch of woods.  We started out with one tap and bucket.
The kids have been so excited to check the bucket every day after school so we figured we might as well just tap all the trees we can.  We only have 3 sugar maples so we improvised 2 more buckets and this time bought some cheaper metal taps.  The plastic tap, bucket and lid were a bit more expensive than we were expecting.
 This container that my husband rigged up with twine works especially well since it's got a spigot at the bottom and it's clear so it's easy to check.
We boiled our first batch down most of the way over an open fire, then finished it off in the house on the stove.  We started with about 1.5 gallons of sap and ended with about 3/4 of a cup of delicious, amber, maple syrup.  The ratio of sap to syrup is about 42:1. 
It's been so much fun doing this with the kids.  We've got quite a bit more sap to boil and have been learning all sorts of fun facts along the way.  We were expecting the color to be darker, but apparently the lighter color is considered Grade A and is typically more expensive.  I've read that the color is dependent on the tree and the weather and tends to darken as the season progresses.  I'm so curious to see what our next batch looks like.  No matter what the color is, everything tastes better when it's from your own backyard.


DIY Wood Photo Background

For a while now I've been wanting some kind of a new background to use for taking photos of my baby clothing.  I really like the look of a wood backdrop, but I also wanted something lightweight and relatively inexpensive.  I've seen a few made with peel and stick flooring, but I couldn't find any good colors at my local store and overall it was more expensive than I was expecting. 
 As I was wandering around the hardware store, something I actually really love doing, I came across a package of pine wainsot.  It was $12 for the package, and the finished dimensions are approximately 3 x 3.5 feet.  Perfect!
 The pieces are tongue and groove and are meant to be nailed into place.  I just put a little wood glue on the tongue part and put it all together on the floor. 
 I decided to keep a few pieces separate.  I put the weights on so that they would dry flat (they tended to pop up).
 After the glue dried, I painted both boards white with paint I had on hand.
 To give it a bit of a weathered look, I also added a little dark stain while the white paint was still wet.  After that all dried, I put a coat of clear finish on (that ended up turning a bit yellow for some reason).
 Here are the paints I used.  All of these were sitting on a shelf in my basement.  I think anything will really work if you are looking for a weathered look. Before I found the dark stain, I was considering using my kids tempera paints.  And in this picture, you can see how I used my 2 separate pieces.  The large piece is the background and the smaller board is on the floor.
I also made some really easy and cheap reflectors using foam board and clear tape from the dollar store.  I taped the boards a little offset from each other so I could fold them up for storage.

I'm really happy with how all my new photo props turned out.  Here are some of the first pictures I took with my new gear.  This cute outfit is headed to Texas for a new little Texas Rangers fan.  And you can see, I've finally perfected my heat transfer vinyl technique.  If you missed my last post, go check it out for my heat transfer vinyl fail and what I did to get it right!


Heat Transfer Vinyl Learning Curve and Tips

 I may have mentioned that a few weeks ago, I got a Silhouette Portrait.  I've wanted something like it for a long time, but didn't realize just how much it can do.  My newest obsession is with heat transfer vinyl.
I bought a roll of the Silhouette brand smooth black vinyl, and followed the instructions.  The elephant came out well, though it took me a couple tries to get it to stick.

My second attempt came out terrible.  The plastic warped and the design essentially melted.  After doing a little searching, I concluded that the iron was too hot. The instructions say your iron should be 300F which they say is a typical cotton setting.  My iron doesn't give me temperature numbers and everything I've read says a typical cotton setting is much higher than 300F. 
I tried again with some white and got much better results.  This time, I set my iron to the wool setting.  It took some work again to get it to stick. But at least it didn't melt!

For my most recent project, I think I finally got all the variables right and it worked perfectly.  This is a special little outfit for my son's kindergarten teacher.
She's pregnant with her first child and my son begged me to make something for her.  He came home with the information that she's having a boy, her favorite color is yellow, and her favorite animal is a dog (she has a black lab).
 He even requested that the hat have ears.  So sweet.  (hat tutorial HERE)
So, here's my list of heat transfer vinyl tips:

  • use a heat setting lower than cotton - I use the wool setting
  • don't use a cloth on top, instead use the parchment paper that comes with the vinyl in between the iron and the vinyl
  • use a hard surface underneath the design -I use a small cutting board