Thursday, December 11, 2014

Still tiling after all these years

S.D and I have taken a break from hiking and biking and are currently focused on finishing our unfinished basement. It's a great space, big and dry and in desperate need of a bathroom, sheetrock and flooring.

And so this winter we decided would be, what I euphemistically refer to as " adventures in suburbia part three". After getting to know and enjoy the neighbors and then gardening and obsessing over lawn care, we turned to the house itself.  No adventure in suburbia is complete without a bit of house renovation. Sure we had already stripped wall paper off every vertical surface and deep pile rug off every horizontal surface, hired contractors to renovated the upstairs bath and reframed a master bedroom out of two small rooms ( in our first two years as home owners) but now we felt it was time to get really serious.

Earlier this year we had the plumbers come and install the rough plumbing. After S.D. recovered from knee surgery he got busy framing out the bath and washer / dryer room. That was followed by numerous trips to Home Depot and several hours of web surfing as we tried to decide how to deal with the small window on the bath / shower area. The way the room was laid out, the bath/ shower area was 5x3 with a small high window on the long wall. Initially we had wanted to have a large shower stall. But we soon realized that either meant a 5x3 shower (which is the exact measurements of a full sized tub, or we'd need to make a smaller shower and loose the window. Being practical, resale-value-aware folks we opted for a more practical tub-with-window option. That option ruled out pre-formed tub units and left us with only one surround option; tile.

I'd tiled in my former life. A life I now refer to as my days as a construction site queen (Please note earlier posts on the downside of being a queen - a lesson learned much later) . In those days I'd show up young and limber to a professionally prepared bath /shower / floor / backsplash with all the tile and grout selected by the home owner. The "guys " on the construction site would pull out their professional grade tiling tools. With their giant drills they'd mix the thinset or grout and be on standby with a tile saw to make any necessary cuts. I basically spread the thinset, placed the tiles and grouted them. And then cleaned up and went home in time to meet the girls getting off the school bus.

Tiling as a middle-aged suburban homeowner turned out to be a totally different experience. First, I had to pick out the tile and the grout, or rather S.D. and I had to. Neither of us is fond of shopping or even decorating so that made for some fun. Then we had to gather all the tools erring (and erring we did) on the cheap and easy side. Furthermore S.D. had to frame the space and we had to install the backerboard ourselves! It was at this point in the return to construction work that I began to refer to my former vocation as that of a construction queen.  The reality was dawning on me of just how much prep work had been done for me. Not only did working with the crew make the job easier, it also went faster. I'd lay some tile and viola the next day the plumbing would be finished. Now we had to do each and every step ourselves. It certainly brought a new perspective to the job.

All that aside, two nights ago, a mere six months after starting, we finished with the tile. twenty five years after my last job and I can still lay and grout tile like I used to. Although honestly I don't remember being so sore afterwards.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Honey happens

(co-authored and edited by S.D.)

This year we were prepared. We weren't going to live through weeks of sticky kitchen, like we had last time...and we were going to get honey! We didn't know how much, but the hive box was heavy so we knew we'd get something. To avoid the sticky mess, we had plastic layed out on the chairs and table. We had every possible utensil we'd need for honey extraction on the counter, and we had the counters clears of everything else. The coffee pot, the knife rack, the dish rack, the toaster, the big yellow fruit bowl were all moved into the living room. In hopes of a big harvest we had bought a bee extruder, honey extractor, sieves , a collector bucket, a capping knife (and we borrowed an electric capping knife) and 24 1/2 pound, and 24 pound honey containers.

wax cappings
To get started with the harvest, we placed the three foot high honey extractor on the plastic sheet by the sink, grabbed a dish towel, wet it and then rang it out. S.D. put on the bee suit. It was time to see just how much honey we would harvest after two years of bee keeping.

Getting the frames
We put the bee extruder on the hive between the honey super and the bees and left it for two days.  This allows the bees to go back down to the main body where the queen lives but not back into the honey super. Getting the honey super off the hive was relatively easy.  This way the bees didn't object when we removed the super and although it was heavy we only had to move it a few hundred feet to the back deck. There we removed two frames, shook off the ten or so persistent bees, covered the remaining frames with the damp towel to keep other bees from coming to the frames and brought the removed frames and one persistent bee into the house.

Loading the spinner
Once we had the frames, lovely smelling and heavy with combs full of honey, the next step is to remove the capings off the top of the comb so the honey can flow out. Removing just the cap, the very thin wax cover, of the comb, and not the comb itself is tricky business. We had borrowed an electric capping knife made just for this purpose. Once plugged in, the knife heats to the ideal temperature to simultaneously heat and slice through the wax. It worked okay. So long as we removed the building wax hunk off regularly and S.D. used a lot of pressure. The wax cappings went into a big metal bowl and the honey started dripping. Meanwhile, the bee who snuck in started buzzing angrily overhead and a few more showed up on the outsides of the window screen.   We ended up with a nice chunk of wax after it was filtered, enough to make a few candles.

Spinning Out the Honey
Once the cappings were off both sides of each frame we loaded the frames into the honey spinner. This was the three foot high bucket with a closable spout at the bottom, two racks on the inside, and a handle on the outside. Once loaded, we placed the lid on top. Grabbed the turning handle on the side and started cranking the handle, thereby spinning the frames inside the bucket and causing the honey to fly out of the combs hit the inside bucket walls and flow to the bottom.

Our Honey Flow
After repeating the process for 4 frames we noticed that the honey at the bottom of the bucket was starting to reach the spinners. It was time to open the spout and start filling the collector bucket running it through the sieves. The into the honey containers from there. And boy did the honey flow. By the time we'd finished all 12 frames, we'd filled all the bottles we'd prepared and even had to find a few jelly jars to fill too!   In the end we figure we got about 30 pounds of honey.  All of our friends, family and neighbors we gave a sample to, and the 15 pounds we sold to co-workers,  loved it and said how much better it was than store bought.  We figured out a quick estimate of how much each pound of honey cost us, it wasn't pretty, but then this is a hobby and not cost effective in any way.

Clean Up
Fortunately the plastic wasn't needed, it wasn't nearly as messy as we feared.  Clean up of all the gear was easy, we let the bees do it!  The frames went into the super and back on the hive to let the bees clean them up.  The extractor, sieves and bucket all went out to the back yard and every bee in the area helped clean them up.  In the end all we had to do was give them a quick wash and the clean up was done.

Honey Harvest
After two years, 5 queens, 3 bee packages, 1 nuc, we had a kitchen full of lovely honey. Even more impressive, we'd finally gone through the full cycle of a bee keepers years - we were bee keepers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Mt. Isolation - and Done!

Standing on the summit of Mt Isolation I was torn between getting as many photos as possible, just taking in the view of Mt Washington valley in its fall splendor, and celebrating our completion of hiking all 48 of the NH mountains over 4000 feet. With temps in the 30s and a howling wind it was obvious there wouldn't be much time to do either.  But wow, was it ever beautiful! And we did manage to both enjoy the view and get a few good photos to commemorate the day and the event.

This had been S.D and mys third attempt at sumitting Isolation, the most remote of the 4000fters. The first we had attempted as a day hike and abandoned after only 3.5 miles in the middle of what was an extremely memorable, and even more quotable hissy fit on my part. This time, considering the length of the hike, 14.2 miles, the 11 available hours of sun, and our lack of fitness, along with the desire to do a little backpacking,  we decided to attempt Isolation  as an overnighter. According to the maps and trip reports there was a good tent site less that a mile before the summit that would allow us to hike up, drop our packs, summit and then come back down and spend the night on the mountain. The next morning all we had to do was pack up and hike out.

And that's pretty much how it happened. We hit the trail at 9:00. The first 2 miles are relatively steep and through mixed forest. After that comes a 1.5 or so mile section of what another hiker refers to as "a stream masquerading as a trail".  We tried to locate the "unmissable" T that marks the location of bushwack and missed it.  After crossing the Rock Branch we stopped and ate lunch before continuing North along the river on the old railroad bed for another two or so miles. Then headed due west and up for another mile on another stream masquerading as a trail. At one point we met up with three guys coming down. One of them has just finished the 4000fters! There were congratulations all around and we continued on.  Coming up to the pass the trail wound along the side of a valley and through a quarter mile section of extreme blow downs. Luckily some wonderful trail crew had hiked all the way up here with serious saws and cleared the path. Right after those the trail leveled out in a pine forest, the only level area we'd seen in miles and there was the tent site.

S.D.and I scoped out the site, dropped our gear and headed for the peak. Just after the tent site we hit the Davis Path and turned south.  The Davis path, the first path to the summit of Mt. Washington looked pretty good for a 150 year old trail. After a mile we came to the side trail leading up to the summit. From there is was a short rock scramble to some of the best views in the Whites (of course when is any view in the Whites that is not one of the best?)

Back at the tent site we unpacked, cooked dinner and settled in for cold night. Temperatures dropped into the low 30's but we stayed warm and protected even as the wind blew high over the site. During the night the clouds lifted, the moon brightened the tent, and two flights of Canadian geese honked their way north.

Sunrise was spectacular. Red and orange but in no way foretelling of any bad weather, the day turned sunny and warm.  We packed up and headed down, stopping at the river for a hot oatmeal breakfast.

Feeling a little more relaxed and confident, I agreed to try the bushwack this time. The idea of this is that you get on the 3100ft elevation line and staying on that manage to cut off a mile of the trail and a significant PUDs (pointless ups and downs). S.D did pretty well with the trail blazing and navigation,  I did pretty well with my not-wanting-to-be-lost compulsion,  we got to see a giant moose, and made it back to the official trail alive.

From there it was just a little more rock hopping along the stream/trail, then down the hill and we were back at the trailhead.

Finishing the 4000fter is bittersweet. Some goals you reach and it's good riddance. After months of training you cross the line of a century and you're done. Yea!  Not so much with the 4000fters.  I'm glad to have stood on the summits of all those wonderful mountains.  Having that goal gave us a clear list of spectacular hikes and challenges.  Plus it got us up some very nice peaks that we wouldn't have normally hiked.  The goal of the 4,000 footer club is to get you out on more of the less popular peaks, it worked and it was worth it.  Now were just going to have to find more great hikes on our own.