2015 – Year in Review

Well,  I started the year off intending to post regularly (once per month), and started off okay, but then life took a turn for the fun for me as I enjoyed probably one of my best summer’s ever (which extended well into the fall), and I got out of practice.  But rather than giving up on this blog, I plan to continue to improve on my postings next year.

Isn’t that what year end goals are all about – not only achieving them, but having the opportunity to strive to achieve them.  Even if one fails to complete the goal, one learns more in the process of trying than if they never tried at all.

Take my winter experiment for trying to grow vegetables indoors.  Last year’s attempt was a miserable failure.  But instead of giving up, I’m trying again this year.  I learned in my first attempt that the vegetable sprouts got too cold and dry after I removed the plastic wrap I used to get them started.  Also, there was not nearly enough sunlight coming through the windows to help them grow.  So this year, I’m using a new portable greenhouse I got for my spring seedlings to house the veggie sprouts, ordered a grow light, and some “in ground” watering tools.  We’ll see if those veggies make it any farther this year.  If not, I’m sure I’ll determine what else I can do to improve the process and try again next winter..until I am finally able to get something to grow – only then will I decide if it’s worth it to continue.

So with that, I say good-bye to the successes – expanding my garden, more maple syrup, more fruit jam from my garden and locally hand-picked, getting back to rock climbing, exploring new places around my state, and keeping up with basic house maintenance without any major issues this year.  I also take notes from unfinished goals – the fence that didn’t get fixed, cabinets I want to install, rehab goals taking a little longer to recover than I’d prefer.  And identifying unexpected opportunities that presented itself – like new people who like exploring like I do, and a neighbor’s new fence which provided an opportunity for growing grapes…

You never know what life will have in store, so it’s best to plan to achieve something (easy and hard), but remain flexible to change up your goals when new and interesting opportunities presents themselves, and if things don’t go your way the first time, don’t take the failure as a bad thing – but as a learning experience to improve upon on the next attempt.

May everyone have a safe night celebrating New Year’s Eve, and may 2016 bring everyone more adventures to experience and explore.  I, myself, am planning to continue to improve in many areas – including my efforts on this blog – and am looking forward to what life has in store for me to learn and grow next year!  See you next year!

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It’s Maple Syrup Time!

Sorry a little late this time, but March was packed.  Wanted to share a new hobby I started last year – making my own maple syrup.  It was confirmed one the trees in my back yard was a Silver Maple tree, and I wondered if it was possible to tap the tree in order to attempt to make maple syrup.  Turns out that the Silver Maple is one of 4 maple variety that one can use to make syrup.  The others are the Sugar Maple (of course), the Black and the Red varieties.  Sugar is typically the best as it contains the highest sugar content of the four, but if you have any of these, give this a try next Spring.

Last year, to get started, I ordered some taps and tubes to collect the sap.  Buckets were harder to figure out.  To collect, you really need to use food grade material, and most of those buckets cost an arm and a leg, so I investigated other options.  Some people recommended going to bakeries or other food establishments and ask for any used buckets with lids – as those are all food grade and they are just going to dump them in the trash anyway.  I stopped by a local Dunkin Donuts and did get one 2 gallon bucket, but that was as far as I got.  Instead, I came up with another idea – to use gallon Ziploc bags.  Those are food grade too, so why not?

With all my equipment collected, I took a 1/4 inch drill bit with masking tap marking about 1 inch from the end to properly measure the depth of the hole.  I found a root on the tree on the southern side (as was recommended on several websites) and drilled a 1 inch deep hole on a slight incline about 2 – 3 feet up.  I took a rubber mallet and taped in the tap, attached the hose, put the hose in a Ziploc bag, and put the bag in an unused old Britta pitcher.  Now I sit back and collect the sap.

I found with Silver Maples, they generally tend to be higher sap producers than the others, which caught me by surprise last year.  I often will get 2+ gallons a day when the weather cooperates.  To manage all that sap, I also bought a standalone burner and 3 gallon stock pot.  I strain the collected sap through cheesecloth into that Dunkin Donuts 2 gallon bucket, then transfer the cleaned sap into the stock pot, and boil it down to about 1 – 1.5 gallons.  At the end of the day, I put the stock pot back in my refrigerator, and repeat the process the next day.

Collect sap as long as weather permits – best runs are when the temperature swings between 20 degrees at night to 40-50 degrees during the day.  It’s recommended to stop collecting once the tree starts budding, as that process turns the sap flavor more on the bitter side.

This year sap collection has been a bit start and stop due to huge swings in temperature, some days too cold, some days too warm.  But surprisingly I’ve collected about 18 gallons this year so far.  I’m hoping to make it to a little over 30, which is what I collected last year, which resulted in 80 ounces of syrup.  We’ll see what the rest of this season brings.  Stay tuned!

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FLASHBACK: Adventures in home security

It is the last week of May in the year 2010.  I’ve been in my new house for a week.  When I was getting the utilities turned on, there was a deal to get an ADT security system installed, and I decided to take up that offer.  Little did I know that what should have been a simple install would turn into a comedy of errors I would never forget.

The contractor showed up at my house with his 2 younger brothers for what everyone expected to be a routine installation.  I decided to install the alarm system inside the closet by the front door so it was accessible, but hidden.  One of the younger brothers was tasked to drill a hole between the walls to the basement to run the system’s plug wires down.  Using the long flexible drill bit, he was trying to break through what he thought was the subfloor, but ended up being the wall outside the closet.  I suddenly noticed the drill bit had gone through my wall and I had a hole.  Not in my house but a week, and I already was putting holes in my walls.

They were extremely embarrassed, but I laughed it off (I probably would have done the same thing myself).  The corrected the track and eventually got the system powered.  Now all they had to do was get my service connected.  They called in, and found out that my account wasn’t ready to be set up – in fact, they never even setup my account.  After about an hour of being on the phone trying to figure out why no one ever setup my account, they finally got my account setup and tried to connect.  Fail.  Tried again.  Epic fail.  More calls to the corporate office – finally they asked what my zip code was.  When I told them, the service said they don’t offer service in my zip code!  None of us could believe it.  How could they sell me home security service if they don’t service my zip code?!?

Well, after talking with his supervisor, they had an alternate solution.  I could install a cell service with a local company that partnered with ADT who would act as a relay.  Would cost less than $5 extra per month.  At this point, I figured we got this far, may as well.  So the contractor and his brothers got to work installing the secondary cell service next to my security system.  About another hour later, and after several conversations of favorite TV shows and pizza to pass the time, they tried to get that service up and running.  After another 30 minutes on the phone, the contractor, almost not able to look me in the eye, told me that the service required a minimum of 3 bars to work, and I was barely getting 2.5 bars – not strong enough to connect.  By now I couldn’t help but laugh at this almost Shakespearean comedy unfolding before my eyes.

Determined to get my system working, the contractor walked the cell system all over my house, yard, and into the street where he finally got the 3 bars.  He even sent his brother up into my attic with no more than 2 bars up there.  Coming down, his brother’s belt hooked on the attic access way frame and pulled it down, so now I have a big hole in the ceiling to go along with my hole in the wall.

Eventually, the contractor gave up after nearly 8 hours of trying to get my service installed.  He had me tear up all the contracts, but then told me he did private security installations on the side.  He offered to come back and install a self-monitoring system for me at cost.  Since everything was ready to go, I took him up on that offer.

He and his brothers returned a week later and I finally got my new self-monitoring security system installed.  And to dine on after the installation, and as a peace offering, they brought one of my favorite pizzas – pepperoni and pineapple.

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Happy New Year 2015!

Okay – I really will commit to getting this blog going.  I have so much information piling up that I’d love to share, but if I keep procrastinating, that pile will keep growing rather than shrink.

Last year I attempted to “train” myself to blog by attempting to regularly post something meaningful on Twitter.  I thought, “What’s the point of a blog if I cannot get into the habit of regularly posting articles?”.  My Twitter experiment was a miserable failure – only lasted about a month…maybe 6 weeks.  Just seems trying to cram something “meaningful” into 140 characters is tough to do.

So this year the new plan is to commit to posting at least once per month.  If I can’t find some time in 30-odd days to type up a quick article to share with random people who find this little corner of the internet, then I should really give up the idea of this blog.  However, I am optimistic this will get me going.  I will mix new challenges I encounter this year with catching up on adventures I’ve already experienced (like the security alarm comedy of errors when I first moved in or the basement fiasco of 2013…) so if you stumbled upon this entry, I invite you to come back to see which story (old or new) will be the next to grace the internet.

Until then, wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2015!

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Happy 2011!

Happy New Year to one and all!

Being the first day of a new year, I felt this was the perfect time to officially start this blog.  Over the upcoming weeks I’ll continue to work on updating the main sections of this blog that I hope you will find informative and entertaining.

I became a first-time homeowner a little over 6 months ago, and in this short time, I’ve had enough adventures, I decided to start this blog to share my stories with other new and seasoned home owners out there.  Maybe some of you will learn new techniques, and when I get the comments/feedback fully organize – perhaps you will share your experiences as well.

In addition to stories of house maintenance, repair, remodeling – and whatever else pops up, I have a variety of interests I will probably write about – from my attempt to learn to figure skate, to playing in the worlds largest trivia contest, to various diversions I get myself sidetracked onto like TV show commentary, online money making, and other things I have yet to ponder.

I also have plans to upload “how to” videos or demos of interesting products I stumble upon while learning how to take care of this wonderful gift (my house).

For now, I’ll sign off, but be looking forward to some catch-up stories from my first 6 months as a home owner.

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