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Family Like Syrup

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Scott & Shawn in Paris, MI, collecting maple sap

Last weekend was a big one for Michigander Scott Spry, syrup-er extraordinaire. He collected thirty gallons of sap from the sugar maples on our Big Rapids property. Actually, our up north address is Paris, Michigan, which does include a mini-Eiffel tower.

Our 14-year-old daughter, Bella, went up with her daddy the weekend before and put out six five-gallon buckets each with tap and tubing, to capture “nature’s gold”—as we fondly refer to it. March is the month when, with cold nights and warmer sunny days, sap returns from the roots to the trunk and branches.

Scott tells me that taking this sap does not harm the tree. (Find a great FAQ about maple sugaring here.) Another wonder is that any Native American ever figured out that boiling quantities of this watery sap results in thick, delicious syrup. The ratio is 40:1, forty gallons of sap boils down to one gallon of syrup!

Bella and Scott boiling down the maple sap at home in Waterford, MI

It is invigorating, in the crisp spring days, to tap, collect and boil down this gift of nature. It has become a lovely daddy-daughter ritual, special bonding time in the woods and at the “sugar shack”—the outdoor place where a propane-fueled fire is used to reduce the liquid.

The payoff happens at the breakfast table, when Scott makes his special keto-pancakes or I manufacture a best-waffles-ever recipe, and we slather on the Kerrygold butter then drench said carrier in maple magic. And we thank the Creator for making it all so. Possible. And delicious.

I am amazed at the father my husband has become, is still becoming. Hard to believe we’ve been at this parenting thing for almost a quarter-century. We are, truly, a work-in-progress. Watching him parent so well inspires me, to be a better mother, to be intentional, creative.

Bella didn’t come to Paris with us last weekend, so Scott and I had time to work on our marriage, which is vital to being good parents. Having this alone time was golden. In addition to collecting sap, he hooked up his newest tractor toys in anticipation of cutting, sowing and planting. He takes land management seriously and joyfully.

We made time to watch a film I had picked up at the nearest Redbox. If you missed it at the theatre a few months ago, make Instant Family the next one on your watch-list! It’s a fabulous dramedy about purpose, children, foster-care and adoption. It has a great soundtrack to boot.

Starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, director Sean Anders tells a story that he has lived. Based on true events, this heart-warming, heart-wrenching and, at-times, hilarious tale delves into the intense challenge of caring for and loving children from broken homes.

Writers, Anders and John Morris, take on the subject with great wit and transparency. I found myself laughing, crying and being inspired. Rather than sugar-coating the idea of foster-care, it reveals the potentially dark and disappointing while illustrating the hope manifest in its design.

Not recommended for children under 13 due to inappropriate material and language, Instant Family features three adorable children (Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz) and the hilarious salt-vinegar duo of Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro. (For all you 80s film fans, there is a cameo by Joan Cusack at the end.) Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty give great grandma performances.

How is the subject matter of this film like maple syrup? I thought you’d never ask! The title of the film is a bit of a misnomer, but then it’s meant to be comedic…as if just adding children makes a family.

I think maple “sap” is a bit of a misnomer too. Only because when I think of sap, I think of a thick sticky substance, but it doesn’t become that (syrup) until after laborious hours of boiling it down.Scott and Bella have to get the pan of sap simmering at just the right temperature, then vigilantly watch over the course of hours, adding more periodically until all the sap is added, continue boiling, skimming occasionally to remove a bubbly scum that sporadically forms on the top.

Syrup scientist hard at work, finishing the product

When it begins to thicken, it is imperative to monitor in order to finish at just the right stopping point, to achieve perfect syrup viscosity—too little time and it’s watery, too much and it begins solidifying into maple sugar “candy”. I’ll spare you the bottling details, but suffice to say, Scott becomes a mad and methodical scientist, with hydrometer, cotton sieves and metal funnels. The miracles? No burns occur, our kitchen is not a sticky mess afterwards and, oh yes, the simply divine taste.

Families become--like syrup---with much attention, affection, mess and clean up. Whether biological, foster or adopted, children require intense, intentional attention, love, patience, forgiveness and grace. In the big-picture there is nothing instant about it. Laughter is a must.

Things that matter are hard

Nearly half a million U.S. children are in foster care. According to one prominent social service agency:

States are also struggling to recruit, train and retain enough foster families to care for the increasing number of children entering state custody. This shortage of foster families can sometimes result in children having to move homes, change schools, be separated from their family and siblings, and in some cases, live in group care settings which are best reserved for youth psychiatric treatment rather than a living situation.

James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that caring for orphans is evidence of true connection to our purpose.

Please read this beautiful brief introduction to the book Faith & Foster Care by Dr. John DeGarmo, an amazing pioneer in the field. Rhonda Sciortino, a former foster child, shares about her journey and how a foster family changed her life for good.

Whether you delve into maple syruping, parenting, foster care (or all three!) remember these simple and poignant words, from a hilarious scene in Instant Family, “Things that matter are hard.”


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Jenni Halterman
Jenni Halterman
Apr 09, 2019

Yes, so true. I feel like we are at the bottling stage with our oldest and it's been really messy and a lot of the good syrup is spilling. But yes things that matter take work. I appreciate the comparison.

I love how you and Scott enjoy life. You enjoy nature and don't get to wrapped up in the stuff of life. 🌼


Dawn Lichty
Dawn Lichty
Apr 08, 2019

Great truths! Loved the movie and love your use of it in this posting.

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