Monthly Archives: April 2013

April Lit Links

Buzzfeed. The 30 Best Places To Be If You Love Books

Melville House. Is this really a golden age for short stories?

Writer’s Digest. Life of Pi’s Yann Martel Shares His Writing Secrets

the guardian. Good Sex in Literature: why is it so hard to find?

Lauren Holder Raab. Handy Hint: On to vs. Onto

The Malahat Review. Above our Biology: Naben Ruthnum in Conversation with Kris Bertin

terribleminds. 25 Ways to Unstick a Stuck Story

Beyond the Margins. The Psychology of Books: Why We Read What We Read

The Baltimore Sun. Good grammar doesn’t entitle you to be smug

Lit Reactor. This is Not a Checklist: How to Write a Story

Muriel Barbery

Excerpts from The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

The Great Work of Making Meaning

“There is always the easy way out, although I am loath to use it. I have no children, I do not watch television and I do not believe in God – all paths taken by mortals to make their lives easier. Children help us to defer the painful task of confronting ourselves, and grandchildren take over from them. Television distracts us from the onerous necessity of finding projects to construct in the vacuity of our frivolous lives: by beguiling our eyes, television releases our mind from the great work of making meaning. Finally, God appeases our animal fears and the unbearable prospect that someday all our pleasures will cease. Thus, as I have neither future nor progeny nor pixels to deaden the cosmic awareness of absurdity, and in the certainty of the end and the anticipation of the void, I believe I can affirm that I have not chosen the easy path.”

Profound Thought No. 9

“. . . this is the first time I have met someone who seeks out people and who sees beyond. That may seem trivial but I think it is profound all the same. We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy. . . . As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.”

Profound Thought No. 15

“You know what? I wonder if I haven’t missed something. A bit like someone who’s been hanging out with a bad crowd and then discovers another path through meeting a good person. . . . Sigh. I don’t know. This story is a tragedy, after all. ‘There are some worthy people out there, be glad!’ is what I felt like telling myself, but in the end, so much sadness! They end up in the rain. I really don’t know what to think. Briefly, I thought I had found my calling, I thought I’d understood that in order to heal, I could heal others, or at least the other “healable” people, the ones who can be saved – instead of moping because I can’t save other people. So what does this mean – I’m supposed to become a doctor? Or a writer? It’s a bit the same thing, no?”

Making Maple Syrup at Maplewood

My dad has been making maple syrup on the McArthur lot (in Ottawa) for the last twenty-five years. I visited in March and helped him make batch #4. During the day, I engaged my dad in a little Q&A about the maple syrup process.


How did you learn to make maple syrup?
I watched Walter (our neighbour) making it. He showed me how to drill the holes, and I read some articles about the process.

What makes a good maple syrup tree?
Good sap producers are at least 10″ in diameter (the trunk) and have a large crown (upper part of the tree).

Collecting Sap

How do you know when it’s time to tap the trees?
I don’t keep track of dates but usually the end of March, earlier if there’s a warm snap. This year I got started around the 10th. 

How many buckets do you hang?
I used 9 buckets in the beginning. This year, I’m up to 17 because it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.


How long does 1 batch (about 6 pints) take to make?
It’s a day’s work. I fill garbage pails full of sap, heat it up in two pots (on burners) in the garage, and then pour the warm sap into two pans on the firepit in the laneway. I just keep transfering from pail to pots to pans all day until I’ve run out o’ sap. 

How many batches do you make in a typical year?
It all depends on the weather fluctuations, but usually three or four. I may cook up a fifth batch next week as it’s supposed to go below freezing and back up again. It’s been a productive year because I’ve persevered. (Batch #5 was made five days later.)

Pot to Pan

What do you enjoy most about the process?
It’s fun to get out of the house, especially in the spring after you’ve been cooped up all winter. You get out in this beautiful sunshine – it’s great.

Would you call this a one-man operation?

Sap to Syrup

What is most challenging about making maple syrup?
Well physically, it’s chopping all the wood. But other than that, getting it off (the fire) at the right time so you don’t overcook it.

Have you ever overcooked the syrup?
Yes – the day it all burned. It was almost ready, but I went inside and got side-tracked watching some crappy TV show, and when I came out the whole pan was just black. It had boiled down to the the point where the sugar caught fire, and the pan was like tar. It took a long time to clean that pan up, son of a bitch (laughs). We finally did and were back in business, but that was a whole day’s work gone up in flames. No fun at all.

Filter Set-Up

How do you know when to stop cooking the syrup?
I can tell by the look of the bubbles in the pan; they should be a caramel colour. And by the thickness of the syrup. It’s better to take it off a bit earlier than later, as I can always cook it a bit longer inside on the stove if I need to. 

What’s next after it’s off the fire?
Time to dump it through the filter, at least twice, usually three times to get rid of what your mum calls “sand”. Another mess-up happened one year before we had these factory-made filters. Mum thought she could make a filter, and she already had some black felt. These white ones are even made out of felt. Well, when we poured the hot boiling syrup through the black one, all this dye got washed into the syrup and, lo and behold, we had black syrup – not very appetizing at all (laughs). That was bad news; another day gone. You spend all day – boiling, boiling, boiling, cutting wood, feeding the fire, and whatya got? Dead syrup. So that was a bad day… but today is going to be a good day.

Pot to Jars

After filtering, what’s left to do?
The syrup is pretty well ready to bottle after that. I sterilize the jars in the oven and boil the rings and lids on the stove. The trick is to keep the syrup warm for easy pouring. 

Where do you store maple syrup?
Well, I used to keep it in the cold cellar in the basement, but your mum didn’t like that, so any batches from years past are now in the freezer in the garage.

Batch #4

What determines the colour variations from batch to batch?
Depends on how long it’s cookin’ on the fire. The longer it’s cooked, the darker it is. But also, each batch in a season becomes a bit darker than the last.

How would you rate this year’s syrup?
Most excellent. I think batch #3 is the best I’ve ever made.

Happy Sap

It was a great day, and I was able to bring some of the #4 Julie Dad batch back to Toronto for syrup loving friends.