Some Assembly Required

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Here is but one shot of some of the beautifully knitted and downright gorgeous squares created by the two fifth grade classes of the Plainfield school. Their squares are piling up as the fifth graders continue to knit every spare moment. Already we have enough squares for at least three or four afghans with more in the works. I am so impressed by the quality and quantity of squares knitted by these hard working fifth graders.

As you may recall from an earlier blog, the fifth graders read a book about a girl their age struggling to survive in modern day Afghanistan. When they heard about a project called “Afghans for Afghans” in which hand knit wool blankets are sent to families in Afghanistan, they ALL learned to knit and began to amass an enormous collection of hand knit squares for afghan families.

The last couple of afternoons Heather Gallagher, their teacher, and I have begun to piece all the squares together.
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First we take similar sized squares and knit them together into one long strip and then we knit the strips together into one big blanket. We hope to knit an edge on each afghan to finish them off, but so far we are just piecing the squares together.
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Here is the first assembled afghan with loose ends not knit into the blanket yet and seam side up.
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Fortunately Mrs. Gallagher has the toes for this work. And to keep it fresh, yesterday I dragged her out to collect sap in between sections of afghans.
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Here Heather is checking the buckets on one of the grandmother maples we tap while Lizzy empties a bucket of sap into our 125 gallon holding tank. Yesterday was our first boil. Usually we are a third if not a half done our syruping season by now, but since we had the warmest December on record followed by the warmest January on record followed by the coldest February on record followed by the coldest March days on record, is it any wonder the trees are reluctant to get started?
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Yesterday was suddenly in the fifties. We found ourselves full tilt into mud season, with the snow piles receding like fast action photography, the roads a wild mess of muddy ruts, and the birds and people singing about spring.
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Before Ben left on a two week school trip to Costa Rica, he brought us an upgrade on our extremely low tech boiling pan. “Your going to love it” he called out to us as off loaded the new pan and jetted off to Yessenia’s hometown with nothing but flip flops, a few pairs of shorts, and a grin on his face.
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Here is the new set up in action, after a couple days of effort to get it on line. The new set up is a pan divided into three long channels with a sap pre-heating pan on top. The pre warmed sap drips into one side of the boiling pan without affecting the temperature on the other side because the sap must go up and down and up the pan through these channels to get to the other side. The pan is set on a barrel cut especially to hold the pan with the firebox inside this barrel. Our former system was a big open pan set on cinderblocks with a fire on the ground underneath. A lot of the heat got lost on its way to the bottom of the old pan and sap coming into the pan cooled the whole pan down.

PLEASE ADMIRE COPPER VALVE ON RIGHT SIDE OF PAN ABOVE AND ON LEFT SIDE OF WARMING PAN BELOW
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As Ben departed for Costa Rica, only Jim focused on Ben’s comment there was “some assembly required.” Before use, the pre warming pan and the main pan both needed to have valves plumbed onto them so that we could regulate adding sap to the boiling pans and regulate pouring off nearly finished sap from the big pan. The stovepipe hole in the barrel proved not to be the right size for the piping so that also proved a bit of a fiddle.

I knit but I do not plumb, so this work had to be done by Jim. In a now famous Sheehan family dynamic, the ideas person ( usually me, but in this case Ben) wildly underestimates how long it will take to translate “Let’s put in an orchard” into actual fruit bearing trees or “Let’s get a new syrup pan online” into actual finished syrup. I consistently underestimate how long things will take as opposed to Jim who usually can predict so accurately that it is postively scary. Nowadays, if someone ( me, Ben, or Jim’s brother) suggest we need a new storage shed, someone else immediately riffs ” We should be able to slap that puppy up this afternoon.” And then of course, when the laughter has slowed, Jim gives us the accurate timeframe for our project, an assessment which usually snaps us out of our delusions of grandeur.

However this time, the sap was running and that puppy HAD to be slapped up that afternoon……. So long suffering Jim spent most of Sunday bringing the new boiling pan online. What with two trips to the hardware store, a crappy new butane torch, and an expedition to the town sheds to get sand to fill the bottom of the barrel because we had no fire bricks, it took, well, as long as Jim thought it would take.

Fortunately Ben was in mid flight over Mexico so it was not wearing heavily on him. And me, the underwriter of this whole venture? I was thinking how to say thanks. I came up with a plan, a simple plan, one that I can actually implement myself.

Jim will need, no he will DESERVE the season’s first syrup, maybe on a nice stack of pancakes. And if I boil all day today, a pitcher of nice hot syrup for his pancakes should be a realistic goal, and that’s not just the ideas person in me talking!

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