Monday, February 23, 2015

Season Update

Sorry for the delay on posting. The past two weeks I’ve been in
festival mode and I haven’t had a lot of spare time (imagine that).
Everything continues to be going smoothly, minus the weather, snow,
frigid temperatures, and ice. We had record low temperatures the week
of February 16th. One weather station said that it was the coldest
weather on record since 1936. The other station said 1996 so I’m not
sure who is correct.
This was taken Thursday, the 19th.

Between two snow storms, we have about 4-6” of snow at the farm. Fear
not, my wonderful hubby got the tractor out and spent the weekend
scraping, scooping, and pushing a majority of the snow off the
festival area. Yes, there is still snow on the ground, but hopefully
the little that is left will melt before this weekend. The roads to
the farm were 90% clear on Sunday afternoon, so I would say it’s safe
to conclude that they will be totally clear by the weekend. The
parking fields are still snow covered and frozen, but the guys have a
game plan, several tractors, a gator, straw, gravel, and a lot of
strong guys to try to make parking go as smoothly as possible. I know
the parking area is our downside of attending the festival. We really
try to do everything we can to make the parking less muddy. However,
we cannot control the weather and putting gravel down on our entire
parking area just isn’t an option. The muddy fields you see in the
winter are our hay fields in the summer!!

The store is getting there. Jenny and Nic spent the weekend bottling
syrup for the store and it is beginning to look like a store instead
of an empty cabin. I spent all weekend cleaning, organizing, and
setting up everything. We have moved, removed, or rebuilt so many
things in the store this year. I can’t wait for people to see it. I
think our customers are going to be very happy with our improvements!!
We unexpectedly decided to upgrade our credit card machines and
registers onto tablets this year. We will still have the regular cash
registers for back-up in case the tablets don’t work out for any
reason. I’m pretty excited about it. We will be able to track
inventory more efficiently which will make re-ordering supplies and
tracking our syrup sales so much easier.

I’m taking off work on Wednesday (maybe a half day), Thursday and
Friday this week to finish up all of the last minute things. I feel
like I’m in good shape now, but I’m sure I’ll be having a panic attack
later in the week. Everything really is going so well this year. We
still have to map out our vendor area and make some last minute
changes, but we are getting there!!

I do have to say that I got a call from a customer last week and she
asked if I was one of the people in the blog. I was like OMG – SOMEONE
READS IT!!! I felt famous and I was so excited. I know a lot of people
read the blog (I can see the number of views through my blogger
account) but I was super excited that someone asked me about it.

Hope to see you this weekend. Brave the cold and come enjoy the farm.
Dress warmly and wear boots. Drive a truck or SUV. This is a farm, so
please don’t drive a smart car or a super fancy car. Come see me in
the store and say hi to Robert at the evaporator. Take a tour and say
hi to Jenny. Check out all of our super awesome vendors. IT’S FESTIVAL

Sunday, February 15, 2015


It's cold!! Extreme cold means no sap, so we are taking a little break. Robert and I stayed home all day today. We think it was the first day we spent at home since before Thanksgiving. 

Even though we were home, the Festival work wasn't put on hold. I started working on making the hang tags for our glass syrup containers.

12 dozen finished....58 dozen to go...

Jenny is working on bagging the maple cream cookies (1400 cookies) and bagging the maple coated nuts and treats (I think around 160 pounds). Very time consuming!!

Jen and Nic have the day off tomorrow for Presidents Day. We have a snow storm headed this way with 8+ inches expected by tomorrow evening. Mason's preschool has already been canceled. If the roads are bad Robert and I might get another unexpected day at home. 

The forecast is VERY COLD this week so if it snows, it won't melt for a while. We will need several warm days for the sap to start running again. 


Stay warm out there!!! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Season Update

We have syrup!! We made our first batch of syrup last night. It still needs to be filtered, but it's either light or medium amber. Jenny reports that it tastes amazing!!

We had a busy weekend at the farm. We had two friends come up from Tennessee to help and they got a workout!! Richard helped the guys finish tapping the trees and Julie helped package the t-shirts, price the maple tea we sell in the store, and package maple cream. Jen and I cleaned the Sugarhouse and mom and her friend Rena cleaned the children's activity building. We bottled syrup for wholesale orders and boiled in the evenings. I'm at home with a sick kiddo today so I'm boxing up mail orders and doing a few other things from home.

We plan on boiling at least one more day this week before the weather turns cold again. The cold snap will recharge the trees for another good run later next week. We are going to package our maple coated nuts and maple cream cookies this week. Hopefully I can start setting up the store this coming weekend. So much to do!!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Season Update

We have sap!! We had a good run on Sunday afternoon (February 1) and a smaller run on Wednesday (February 4). The weather looks fantastic for a great run this weekend. We plan on firing up the evaporator on Saturday!!

The guys tapped most of our trees over the weekend (Jan 31 and Feb 1) while Jen and I were on our disastrous trip to Michigan. Robert finished the back hill on Monday and we expect to be fully tapped by the end of the weekend.

We have plenty of festival prep to do as well. The t-shirts have been picked up from the printer (Sampan in Jeffersonville). They do excellent work of you ever need screen printed items!! We also need to package our maple cream into individual half pound and one pound containers. We also have two decently sized wholesale orders to bottle and boxing so we will have a very busy weekend.

Robert's truck is home from the shop. The diagnosis was a faulty alternator (Robert replaced that) and a faulty fuel temperature sensor. We also removed the performance computer system which may have been the culprit of the electrical problems to begin with. Who knows. At this point I'm like....

Mason and I made three deliveries to Indianapolis yesterday. We delivered to Good Earth Natural Foods, Pogues Run Grocer, and Green Bean Delivery. We fed the ducks at Good Earth for over an hour. 

We will be at the farm all weekend if you would like to stop by!! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An epic adventure and a series of unfortunate events

This post could also be aptly titled "How to survive driving through a blizzard" or "Jenny is very stubborn and fearless" or "The day Jenny really wanted to watch the Super Bowl". Also, if you are Grandmother Whitaker, please stop reading now.....please. 

Full disclosure: this post is going to be very long. Never attempt to drive in a blizzard. 

To start at the beginning, the weather forecast for this past week has been crazy. The weather looked wonderful on Wednesday, so the guys scheduled our tapping crew and Jenny and I volunteered to drive to Michigan to pick up our large supply order. The forecast changed crappy on Thursday so we canceled our tapping crews and the guys planned on going to Michigan. The weather flip-flopped again on Friday so the guys recalled the tapping crews and Jen and I were back on for the Michigan trip for Saturday/Sunday.

Roberts truck and my father-in-law's NEW trailer.

We left the farm at 1:55pm on Saturday. It was cloudy and 40*. Jenny drove and I was the navigator/talk so you don't die of boredom passenger. We were driving Robert's truck and my father-in-law's new cargo trailer. We were given very strict instructions to NOT PUT A SCRATCH ON THE TRAILER. The guys were out in the woods tapping and everything was sunshine and butterflies. 

We had an uneventful trip up. I brought Mason's tablet with us. I'm slightly obsessed with his Talking Tom game where you take care of a virtual cat. It's strange because I hate cats, but I'm obsessed with the game. Jenny even came up with the idea of naming my cat "soft kitty". Our only problem was finding a fuel station that had non-semi truck diesel pumps. The semi pumps have very large fuel nozzles which are great for semi trucks, but won't fit in most regular size trucks. We had a lot of fun and the fuel nozzle fiasco brought on a lot of "that's what she said" jokes. We stopped for fuel twice and put the anti-gel fuel treatment in the tank at our last fuel stop before we reached our destination. It was bitter cold in Michigan and diesel fuel will congeal if it gets too cold. Gotta love diesel trucks!!
65 North around Columbus, Indiana 


We made it to Sugarbush Supply Co in Mason, Michigan around 7:30pm. We plugged in the truck and went to dinner with the Sugarbush Supply family. They treated us to a delicious dinner. Jen and I both had bison delicious!!! Mason's "soft kitty" was also fed and played with.

There was a snow storm on the way, but it wasn't supposed to be accumulating until the afternoon on Sunday. We spent the night and planned on loading early in the morning and leaving well ahead of the bad weather. 

We woke up at 7am to 2-3 inches of snow, 18* and howling wind. Not ideal, but nothing to be too concerned about. We enjoyed some beautiful scenery at the farm.

Beautiful farm house where we stayed.

Beautiful barn. The farm is also home to a dairy operation.

Sugarbush Supply 

We began loading the trailer around 8:45. The new reverse osmosis machine was loaded first. 

So excited to get a new one!!

The cargo trailer has built in tie down hooks on the floor. Using rachet straps, we carefully strapped down the machine, only to have the hooks explode out of of the floor. Turns out the hooks were only bolted to the wood floor, not the frame of the trailer. The guys at Sugarbush busted out power tools and reattached the tie down hooks, bolting them to the frame of the trailer. 

After the RO was safely strapped down for a second time, the rest of our empty plastic and glass syrup containers, tubing, main line supplies, maple cream, an evaporator for consignment at our festival and several other little things we needed were loaded in the trailer. 

Lots of jugs!!!

We pulled out of drive at Sugarbush at 10:45am. It was cold, windy and snowing. The storm was hitting earlier than expected so we were ready to get on the road. We expected the side roads to be a little snowy and assumed that the large interstate would be well maintained and clear. 

We hit the highway and saw this.......

OMG - this is the only picture I took on the highway. I was too busy thinking about dying to take any pictures. 

The highway was terrible. It was completely covered. You couldn't see very well. The wind was howling. We wanted to turn around....

The roads were so bad that the exits were impassable. We probably could have made it in the truck alone, but hauling a brand new trailer that did not belong to us, along with some very expensive cargo inside, we had absolutely no choice but to keep going.

Jenny kept saying that everything was fine, but I knew it was really, really bad. We had about three inches of left to right steering before the trailer started skidding. I was white knuckle/death grip on the door. We crept along at about 35mph for over FOUR HOURS. The only thing I could do was either think about crashing and freezing to death or play with the cat, so I washed, fed, groomed, and dressed the cat several times to keep my mind off of the terrible spot we were in.

We were almost sideswiped by a out of control semi (literally he missed us by less than 3 feet). Jen was absolutely amazing and the truck was a beast. 

When we got South of Fort Wayne, the snow started to turn into rain. The roads improved enough so we found an exit that had diesel, monster trucked up an exit, and made it to a small town.  We filled up and forgot to re-treat the new tank of fuel with anti-gel treatment. I think we were just so relieved to be alive at this point, we totally spaced on the fuel treatment. 

 Better roads!!

Thinking we were in the clear, we sped up to about 60mph and headed towards home.

After about 30 miles, everything seemed to be going well. I was playing with the cat and we were talking about the Super Bowl. Out of nowhere, cruising down the highway, the truck shuts off. No power steering, no brakes, no acceleration. Miraculously, the trailer brakes catch and we skid to a stop on the shoulder. We couldn't steer so we ended up RIGHT on the shoulder. We were so close we had to fold the truck mirrors in so we wouldn't get clipped by a semi. 

We called the guys and Robert walked us through checking out the truck. I thought that we had lost the transmission or blew the turbo. We opened the hood and didn't notice anything weird. Nothing was smoking, hot or smelled funny. Robert suggested trying to start the truck again and it fired right back up. Everything was normal on the dash so we put it in gear and we had a driveable truck. We had nowhere to go but forward so we crept along to the nearest exit. The truck shut off two times before we could reach an exit. Each time we totally lost steering and brakes. If we pulled over and turned the truck back on, it was totally normal. There was absolutely nothing wrong between turning it back on until it shut off again. Robert thought our fuel was congealing or our computer was failing in the truck.

We made it to an O'Rileys in Marion, Indiana. The guys at the shop tested the alternator and both batteries. Everything tested good. We bought a can of Diesel 911 and dumped it in the tank in case the fuel was congealed. We remembered that we had missed the treatment at the last stop so it was logical that it could be so cold that the fuel was the problem.

We let the truck run for about 15 minutes and started towards the highway again. We drove around on the side streets for several miles to see if the fuel treatment helped. The truck didn't shut off so we got back on the highway and headed towards home, feeling pretty confident that the problem was fixed. 

We made it about 15 miles on the highway and bam..the truck shut down again. Jen was a total rockstar and got us on the shoulder each time without power steering and hardly any functioning brakes. At this time, we realized that continuing on was not a safe option. It was getting dark and we could not risk getting stranded in the dark. At this point my cat was long forgotten.

We limped to Anderson, Indiana. The guys were in route with Jen's truck to pick up the trailer and we would either tow or limp the other truck home. Jen and I were totally exhausted. I think it was about 7ish. The super bowl came on and we watched tv and ate some yummy  food. At this point, I called my boss and took off on Monday. I'm thankful that I have a fantastic boss. 

The guys came to our rescue. We hooked the trailer to Jen's truck and decided to drive the truck home....very slowly. It shut off twice almost immediately. Robert shifted into neutral on the fly and got it running again without pulling over. 

We made it to Seymour without any more problems, until Jen and Nic lost lights on the trailer. We obviously had to immediately stop since it was dark. At this point we noticed that Roberts truck was seriously losing amps on our indicator gage. At this point Robert decided that our alternator was faulty.

We decided to try to make it to Scottsburg, which is about 20 miles from the farm. Our amp gage was showing that we were quickly losing power and we were only running on the power of our batteries. We made it to the Scottsburg exit and the amps were low but steady. 

Right outside of Scottsburg, we lost power. Total electrical failure. We lost dash lights, running lights, everything. We cruised into a church parking lot with a dead truck. Jen and Nic were still following us so we had a ride home.

We made it to the farm at 11pm. We still had to unload the trailer because the reverse osmosis machine can't freeze. This is a very expensive piece of machinery so leaving it on the trailer was not an option. Everyone was absolutely exhausted and we may or may not have started yelling at each other.

To make matters worse, the reverse osmosis machine weighs over 1,000 pounds. The guys had tapped trees all day and picked us up. Robert was a mess about having a broken truck. We got the machine to the door of the farm house, only to find out that it wouldn't clear through by about two inches. The guys ended up removing the door to get the machine inside. What else could possibly go wrong at this point?!???

We left the trailer at the farm and finally headed home. We crashed in bed at about 1am. I did fed the cat (he was starving and had to pee). 

Monday morning, Robert, Mason and I headed to Scottsburg with a new alternator. Robert installed the new alternator and after charging the totally drained batteries, we got it started. It made it to the farm and drove like a total beast. 

We picked up the trailer and finally made it home at 6:30pm. I made hot dogs and mac and cheese for dinner. My brain felt like sawdust at this point and that's all I could do. Mason was absolutely thrilled because I made two of his favorite things. 

The truck is going in the shop. My father-in-law's trailer is still scratch-less. We are all safe. 

I have to add that my father-in-law called us about halfway through this ordeal and said he wasn't concerned about his trailer...he just wanted us home safely. He even offered to pay to tow us home. My mother-in-law was babysitting Mason and kept him 10 hours later than expected. Seriously, I LOVE Roberts family. 

I can say that if the truck had died during the snow storm, I think this story would have a very different ending. We couldn't have stopped without brakes and steering on the bad roads. There was no driveable emergency lane due to the snow to pull over on. Jen and I talked about this and we would have had to call 911 and abandon the truck. 

Absolutely never try this. Don't drive in a blizzard. Don't try to limp a truck home. We had someone watching out for us to make it home in one piece.