Pennsylvania Maple Farm

I've been at this beautiful lake out near Scranton for the past two weeks.The whole are a is beautiful here. This has been a rainy summer, and everything is so green. They told me there were no ripe blueberries just yet, but I figured out pretty quick that the low bush blueberries are definitely in season. (I've learned that the low bush blueberries are technically called huckleberries. Whatever you call them, they're delicious!)

There are nice houses all over and little ponds. Lots of empty warehouses though. As it turns out, any improvement a person makes to their property around here results in a huge tax increase. I'm not sure if that'd be enough to stop my dad from the constant "projects" around the house, if we had that in California.

Connor's mom has lots of family out here, and one of her sisters is married to a guy who makes maple syrup. This is what the operation looks like:

If you look between the trees there, you'll see blue tubes running between the trees and down to the main lines (black).

Apparently squirrels are a big problem, since they like to chew through just about anything. The other day, one chewed through the internet wire and put lots of people at the lake offline. He didn't survive the shock as well as a squirrel might do against a tube full of maple sap, but even I got a taste of what a nuisance squirrels can be.

Once it comes down from the trees, the sap is pumped into holding tanks such as these (above).

From there, it goes through the tube on the bottom left for reverse osmosis (above). The concentrated sap is then pumped up to the tank where the ladder leads to and is gravity-fed the rest of the way. The water goes into the white reservoir from the previous picture, to be used later in cleaning the reverse osmosis system.

This is the machine that actually turns the condensed sap into syrup. It cycles around in there for awhile making its way through different heating pipes, before being filtered off of the top somewhere on the right side of the machine. If you look closely, you can see the thin wires that run from the top of the contraption to the ceiling. These are so that the top can be easily lifted off. Luckily, there's a cleaning system in place such that the top never needs to be lifted off. It's basically like an inside-out dishwasher that gets placed inside the machine and cycles for a few hours.

And here we see the finished products! Lots and lots of bottles full of sweet maple syrup... 

Below is the man himself (Roger) standing with the final product and his dog (Hunter), who he's trained to go after those pesky squirrels.

As much work as it all is, and as unpredictable as the winters have been, Roger seems happy with what he does. He's extremely knowledgeable about every part of the operation. He even assembled the syrup machine when it got delivered!

Thanks again to Marianne and Roger for having me up to see the place. It's a spiffy operation, and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to check it out!

Their website is here if you'd like to know more and/or see more pictures. There's a bit more to the process (and more technical terminology) than what I've included above, but that's the basic overview. Hope you enjoyed the ride!


Lightning in a Bottle (May 26-29, 2017)

In May, I went to my first music festival: Lightning in a Bottle (LiB).

Step one: wait in line

Artwork along the side of the road

The Mad Lads, trying to walk up to the gate

There were people patrolling the line in vehicles like the one on the left. One of them shut down the Mad Lads. Apparently you can't just walk in on foot.

Setting up camp

Little bug (a baby grasshopper I think)


The view from the top of Meditation Hill at night

Daytime was all about napping

Too hot to do anything

This is one of the artists (and his friends) who we got to see: StéLouse.
Connor and I are somewhere in the crowd there.

What's that across the lake??

Why, it looks like some sort of a gathering by the ships...


Cameron, with his famous Booty totem

Some of the gang, applying temporary tattoos to Cameron

And now for something completely different:

One thing I got to thinking about at LiB was endings. As a writer, among other things, I've always had problems with endings. I came to the conclusion that a graceful ending is simply a goal, not a requirement and certainly not a realistic expectation in most cases. Back when I was running Improv Club, I'd try to make the meetings go for the full hour. I'd fumble for another activity to fill the last few minutes, always reaching for a good note to end on.
The thing is, I had no control over the endings. Scenes could drone on for minutes on end without a "good punchline" to bring it to a close. Which was fine, because we were all learning. But to stress myself out about how the meeting ended just made no sense.
I've been in relationships, even just friendships, that would drone on with no reason to continue but habit and lack of a good ending point. We'd pretend to want to hang out once in awhile, but why?
When I came back from a year abroad, I'd spent enough time away that I could pick and choose who I reconnected with. One person in particular, I suggested we hang out on a few separate occasions and she always had a reason not to. I thought, "Fine, what did we ever do together anyway?" Sure we had fun, we got along. But she hasn't since asked me about getting together, an why should I care? I let that ship sail about 3 years ago.
When Mara was first living with us, she started to say "BYEE," the way young folks did back then. It probably came from the internet. At the time, I was wary of the word. I make friends with everyone I meet, and have had trouble with goodbyes since early childhood. Nowadays, I realize that most every relationship has a cost, be it time or energy, and a person has to choose how to spend that wisely. Me, I've spent most of my energy these past two years on work. Between my job and school, I hardly had time for superfluous friendships. It's a good excuse to stop talking to people who are probably not going to notice me falling off the face of the earth. "BYEE," has become a regular thought that crosses my mind when something (or someone) becomes tedious. From there, I decide whether or not to continue. The thought is an important first step away from denial.
Denial and I used to be best friends. It comes in handy when you've got energy leaking out of you from all sides and "don't play favorites," AKA don't prioritize the people or goals in your life. But in Fall 2015, I got involve with the student government at my community college. I took a leadership class. It didn't feel like serious coursework, but it was introspective. Who am I? What do I believe in? What does it mean to be part of a team? What do I contribute to my team? And I started to explore myself in a realistic sense. I'm much more aware of my strengths and shortcomings because of it, plus the community involvement gave me the motivation I needed to complete my degree pattern. If it hadn't been for David, who I only knew because of Improv Club, I never would've known that I was so close to graduating as soon as I did. I'm aware of my pride and how it gets in the way of asking for help or expressing gratitude. Recognizing the issue allows me to say thanks anyway, or to admit when I need a hand.
Something I learned in Germany is that it's normal to ask, "Am I crazy?" People do it here in the States, but I always shrugged it off like "Yes, you're the crazy one." Being in a new environment allowed me to listen and absorb, especially in the few months when expressing myself wasn't on the list of things I was good at just yet. Being the outsider, I may well have come across as crazy more often than I otherwise would have. Oh well, can't change it now. All I can do is move forward.
In the past 3 years since I got back from the original "Deutsche Erfahrung," I've spent some good time digesting all of the experiences, both there and when I got back. Every day since I left that summer after high school, I've felt more awake, more aware of my surroundings. I used to bury my head in the sand, as far as politics go. I didn't want anything to do with the stress and horrible things out there in the world, or whatever. In my economics and politics class in Germany, they asked me what things were like over in the states. I told them, we pay lots of money for a "good education," and it's a toss-up as to whether we get a job at the end of it. Meanwhile lots of folks are buried in student debt with no realistic way to pay it off anytime soon. I could go for days about what's wrong with America, and the list has only gotten longer lately. But I get to let it go, since I'm headed out of the country again...right?
I've established where I go to for news, and I give it a read. I talk to people about it, and together we come up with what we think happened. I'm willing to talk about it now, because I inform myself better. I have things to say because I know what's going on. As nicely as the sand fit around my head, it wasn't helping any. My head got plenty of sand blown around it at LiB, and I wanted nothing more than to blow it back out my nose.
Today, I'm more aware of myself, my relationships, my place in the community, how I spend my time, and what's happening in the world. I'm by no means an expert, but I keep my ears open and listen to what people say to me, even if I don't show it at the time. It's the things I deny the hardest at first that I know I should listen to the most. So I guess you could say denial is still a good friend of mine, but as a stepping stone rather than a defense mechanism.
I'm running out of steam this late at night. The only reason this might pass for a good ending point is because it circles back to good endings being elusive things. Maybe it doesn't feel complete. Deal with it!

Whatever it is you're doing in life, listen to the guy from the wedding party. Follow your dreams!


I've been looking for these!

Fairly close to the beginning of the year (late 2013), some friends and I had a little barbecue on the beach. Here are some pictures from it.

Me and Isa

Me and Isa being dorks

Lonne, Rike, Anna (left to right)

Anna and her best friend (beer)

Lonne and Rike again

I have a feeling there's another post about this barbecue somewhere on here, but oh well.
It was windy and sandy, much different sunset to what I was used to at home. But the people were nice, and you can grill and drink on the beach. I didn't have time to compare it much back then, I was too busy enjoying the experience.

Till next time!

Stuttgart Zoo (October 13, 2013)

I found this post in my drafts and decided to finish it and finally post it. Enjoy the time capsule:

I went to the zoo on a Sunday with Mara and Ila.
This is Tigger the Fish...

(Tigger was my cat's name. Everyone used to tell me he should be called Garfield)

...and all his neighborhood "buddies" (as Dad used to say).

Someone's toupee (probably)

Little monkey sitting in a tree


*SQUAWK!* Pretty bird!




Judging everybody with a selfie stick...
(They weren't really a thing in 2013. A moment of silence for the good old days.)

It's like my silks studio in there.

Sky bed

Informative article on the intelligence of gorillas (long before the Harambe incident happened)

If you ask Koko the gorilla who she is, this is what she says.
Translation: "Koko. Gorilla. Good."


Leopard again

Mara and Ila 2013

Crocodile imitating Ila (probably)

Maybe it's just a really long burp...

Butterflies! (This was a walk through area, really serene.)

That's all for Throwback Friday. With any luck, I'll be churning these things out again soon.