Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Weekend with the Ackermans

Steve's birthday conveniently corresponds with a 3 day weekend, allowing his family to come around that time to visit.  His parents flew in from Colorado and stayed with us from Friday to Monday.  His sister and her husband were able to drive up from Cincinnati and stay Sunday to Monday.  We had a house full and absolutely loved spending that time with his family!  We were just sad Ian couldn't come, but we managed a little skype session with him (although his camera didn't work, so really we just talked with him).

On Saturday, we headed to Wright Patterson Airforce Base Museum in Dayton with his parents and sister.  (She was in Lima due to work and returned back with her husband on Sunday).  It was very convenient for us that Dayton also houses a location of our favorite pizza spot -- Dewey's!  After enjoying our pizza, we headed to the museum.  I am horrible at remembering to take pictures, but his mom Trisha took a few at the museum:

(Steve, Me, & Trisha)

(Doug & Ashley soaking in the plane history.)

On Sunday, we started the day off with church, where I sang in the choir for the first time!  After church and a quick hardware stop (at Menard's of course), we headed back home to meet up with Scott & Ashley.  After lunch, the beginning of the various house projects were started.  First on the list was finishing sanding the de-wallpapered room.  With limited sanding blocks and respirators, somehow Scott, Trisha, and Steve drew the short straws.  Scott brought an oribital sander which really sped the process up.  The only downside to the whole project was the amount of dust that was created.  Two weeks after the fact and I'm still cleaning up white dust from all over the house!  Even with the door shut, you would not believe the amount of dust that settled throughout the ENTIRE house.  

(Scott before pulling out the orbital sander.)

(Action shot -- safety first!  Those respirators were a definite need!)

(Trisha was the ringleader behind this job and what a huge help it is to have it all done in one day -- especially since I didn't have to do it!)

(Ashley was put on clean-up duty.  Motivation for her was the fact that her and Scott slept in that room that night!  Thanks Scott for your willingness to help!)

There was a brief intermission in the sanding project for Steve's soccer game!  That's right, Steve has been inovlved in an indoor soccer league with some of his co-workers.  Lucky for Steve, we had a packed cheering section just for him!  His team -- The Swedish Meatballs -- played the highest ranked team in the league.  His team didn't have any extra players to be subs, meaning they all had to run and play in the game constantly, they put in a valiant effort, but sadly lost despite Steve's goal!

(When we got back, there was  alittle section left to sand and Scott finished it up.  It's hard to see, but that's not glare on the floor, that's a light dusting of white dust, which is still stuck in the cracks in the wood.)

After wrapping up the sanding project, and cleaning up the dust, we switched our attention to focus on the birthday boy!  We headed out to eat at Yamato Steakhouse -- a Japanese hibachi grill style restaurant where the chef cooks your food in front of you in an entertaining way.  After dinner, we went back home for Doug & Trisha's travel log of their Christmas trip to New Zealand.  Followed by ice cream cake & gifts for Steve!

(Scott was obviously not amused by our chef's shenanigans.  Ha ha.  Highlights included a flaming onion volcano that doubled as a train, attempts to catch flying broccoli in our mouths, and being sprayed (or mostly threatened) with a questionable clear substance.)

Monday was spent with more various projects and enjoying our last day with the family.  Steve decided this would be the prime opportunity for our first sap to syrup conversion.  It was nice to have multiple people willing to rotate and take their turn watching the sap boil and skim the scum off the top.  While sap was boiling, handyman Scott went to work trying to figure out what was wrong with our chandelier (which randomly stopped working back in December).

(I don't remember the order of things, as this was a good couple hour long process.  I do recall that this picture was taken after a vary large electrical arc nearly zapped Scott.  After turning the breaker on and off, covering up open wires, Scott finally realized that the chandelier worked.  Only problem was, it wouldn't shut off.  The remote and the receiver weren't reading each other.)

(Several theories were formed on how best to get the receiver down.  The receiver was stuck in the ceiling and the way it was in there, there wasn't enough room to just simply pull it out.  Scott wanted to go the route of hacking the mold off the ceiling, which sadly is foam and not plaster.  However to my dismay, he decided to go with the longer route of dismantling the entire chandelier, wiring and all. Eventually the receiver was able to come out.  Even though it was synced properly to the remote, it wouldn't work.  The verdict was that the receiver went bad and a new system was needed.  After another quick run to the hardware store, another 30 minutes of work, and Steve nearly falling off the chair, the new system was installed and the chandelier works again!!!  Yay!!  With all the work Scott has done in our house -- installed our tv, sanded walls, fixed our light, we owe him something BIG.  Just not sure what yet.  Ha ha)

(We had a wonderful time with Steve's family!  We appreciate all the help they gave and the time we got to spend with them.  We're looking forward to the next family gathering!)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tree Tapping Fun

Steve comes up with a lot of crazy ideas. They generally go along the lines of odd do-it-yourself processes.  Most of the time, the research and planning portion take too long and nothing ever comes about; however, some times I'm caught off guard by random trips to Menard's resulting in jumping feet first into the crazy.

A couple weekends ago, Steve and I were at Menard's for some legit items, when the next thing I know, we're in the plumbing section buying plugs for our trees.  I thought Steve's tree-tapping-for-your-own-sap idea was just that, an idea.  However, now we're living the dream.  We currently have 3 tapped trees producing sap for our own enjoyment.

The whole process is an easy one, but it takes a lot of work and supervising.  Tapping the trees is the easy part.  The hard part is keeping the sap at the correct temperature until enough is collected to make syrup.  And then the syrup production is very time consuming.

The sap needs to be stabilized at a temperature around 37 degrees.  You can always freeze sap, but if it gets too warm it spoils and looses its sugar content. We don't have a freezer large enough for the 5 gallon bucket to fit into, so we've been relying on the cold temperature in our sun-room to keep the sap cool.

Lasst weekend, Steve's family came to visit.  The weather was warming up and we decided to turn what little sap we had into syrup (otherwise it would spoil).  Plus, Steve gave me some long excuse about needing to decide if making syrup is worth it and he had to prove that more trees needed tapped.  There's a 40-1 sap-syrup ration.  Meaning, if our 5 gallon bucket was full of sap, we'd get 2 cups of syrup once its processed.  Kind of ridiculous if you ask me, but this is not my endeavor.

The easy part of the process is the tapping itself.  All that is inovled is drilling a hole, inserting a tap that will allow the sap to flow out from the tree.  We use a simple system of attaching a milk jug directly onto the tap to collect the sap.  Each evening, Steve then dumps the jugs into a 5 gallon bucket to hold the sap until its processing time.

(Drilling into the tree.  We had 3 trees tapped in the back, but 2 of them didn't produce any sap.  This is one that didn't produce any on the first go around.  Recently, Steve drilled a new hole in this tree to try again.)

(Steve thought that his tree would be the money maker since its so large and well established.  Sadly, it didn't produce anything.  We decided to take the tap out and just leave this tree alone.)

(This is the money maker.  This tree has so far has produced all the collected sap.  Last night, Steve picked another tree in the front yard -- despite my plea to keep this a secret from the neighbors -- in hopes of more sap production.)

(After the whole is dripped, the tap is "tapped" into the tree -- ha ha)

(Notice the snow on the ground and Steve bundled up as he drills.  Sap season isn't a set time frame, but all according to the weather.  The best time for sap production is when the temperatures fall below freezing at night, but rise above freezing during the day.  The sun seems to help a lot, too!  We were afraid that squirrels would bat at the jugs, so we tied them to the tree with twine.  However, the squirrels could care less, so the twine is long gone and the jugs just hang by themselves on the taps.)

(Once the sap is collected, it needs to be boiled down to make syrup.  For about 2 gallons of sap, it took us 4 hours to boil it down to make syrup.)

(We rigged up the thermometer to hang int the pot to get an accurate read.  I'm not really sure why the temperature was monitored, other than to make sure it was boiling correctly.  A scum/foam would form on the top of the sap that needed to be taken off periodically.  Stirring would occur once in awhile because the syrup would sink to the bottom.  There was round the clock supervision to make sure boiling and scum removal was happening.  The closer it got to syrup, the less supervision was needed. In the end, we ended up with less than a 1/2 cup of syrup.  Yum!!)

(This morning, we enjoyed pancakes with our own syrup!  The syrup needs to be filtered (we didn't have one) to get some of the wood pulp out.  We also could have boiled it a little longer to make the syrup thicker.  It passed the test to continue on in the sap collection! Mmmmmm!)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Disney -- Making Memories

Last week, Steve and I were in the most magical place on Earth -- Walt Disney World!  I grew up on Disney.  My family's love for Disney World all started when my oldest sister graduated high school in 1996 and we went to Disney as a family to celebrate.  Since then, it has become a yearly homage for my family (there were some years we couldn't due to weddings, and sometimes different siblings couldn't go).  Once Steve and I got married, my parents continued their yearly Disney trip kid free until the grandkids were old enough to go.  The last time I went to Disney was with my family in 2010, but Steve opted to stay back and work -- ha!

Steve tried his hardest to avoid a Willis family Disney trip, but finally gave in!  We went for 8 days with my parents, my sister Sara, my sister Amber, her husband Chris, and their three little girls -- Emily, Allie, & Gabbie!  My brother, his wife, and their daughter weren't able to go this time :-(.  So it wasn't a complete Willis family trip, maybe next time!

We had a great week while we were there and the weather was almost perfect!  There were a couple days in the late 70s, and a few in the late 50s, but it was way better than the 20 degree weather back home in Ohio!  Some days we'd get up early with the family and other days Steve and I would just relax in our room and have a slower morning.  It was nice to be able to meet up when we wanted and take off and be by ourselves, too.  It was also very helpful to have some matching shirts while on the trip.  There was only 2 days of everyone matching (and another day of just the girls), but it made it really nice to be able to spot people from far off since they had the same shirts we did on.

You'll have to wait for shots of the whole family.  Disney has a service that takes photos for you, and we ordered all the photos on a disc.  Until that disc comes in, I can't put them on the blog :-/.  So for now, you'll have to settle with the few photos I took myself.

(Sunday Jan 27 -- our first full day at Magic Kingdom!  Just Steve and I had gone to Magic Kindgom the night before to do a couple of rides by ourselves.  We were shocked at how busy Disney was in January!  By Sunday night, we were sick of the crowds at Magic Kingdom and headed over to Epcot to see the nighttime show there.  It was a bit sunny, too.)

(On our first day at Magic Kingdom, we all did a family coaster together -- even the little girls!  We did a really small "kiddie coaster" called the Barnstormer.  Even though the ride is geared toward kids, the big kids rode it too -- see they fit!)

(I tried to get a view of everyone on the little coaster, sorry Steve -- ha ha! Oh yeah, and those buttons are "Family Reunion" buttons.  Cast members loved our matching shirts and told us to go get the buttons to "celebrate" our day.)

(Monday Jan 28 -- We headed with the family to Epcot, but no matching shirts this day!  The weather cooled off a little bit with the clouds, but the weather was still perfect!  In the evening, we went back over to Magic Kingdom to catch their night parade and fireworks.  Magic Kingdom only had their parade on certain nights, and this was our only opportunity to see it!)

(Steve was all about getting a turkey leg, but no one else wanted one, except for my brother-in-law.  So the two guys went off in search of a turkey leg while the rest of us at fast food stop.  Once they found the legs, they came back with meat in hand.  Steve said it was juicy and rich and could only take out about half.)

(Chris on the other hand saw the leg more of a challenge and got the whole thing down!  Although, after that night, we weren't allowed to speak of the turkey legs again.  Apparently one a trip is enough!)

On Tuesday, we stayed the whole day at Disney Hollywood Studies, this was our other all matching day.  But sadly, I don't have any pictures of those shirts.  We did the Star Wars ride, a couple of smaller shows/rides and then ate lunch with the family at the Sci Fi Dine In Theater.  After eating, we went on the Back Lot tour where my parents and myself volunteered to be part of the show (this is all on video, but I don't have copies yet to put on the blog).  We ended the night watching the famous Fantasmic Show!

(On Wednesday, we headed back to Magic Kingdom.  This morning, the family went out first for the little girls to be made over into princesses.  Steve and I joined up later after their transformation was complete.  After we met up, the girls went off to get autographs and Steve & I went and rode Big Thunder Mountain together.  I'm a roller coaster fan, while Steve is not!  He was a trooper though and went on most of them with me!)

Thursday was spent at Animal Kingdom in the morning, a lunch at Rainforest Cafe, and a trip to Downtown Disney at night.  This is the last day where the girls had matching shirts :-(.  Even though Animal Kingdom is the most well themed park, it is not one of our favorite places.  It does have an intense coaster -- Expedition Everest and a cool animal safari, but that's about it (oh and Steve's dinosaur ride).  Everyone went on the coaster except for Sara, Gabbie & Steve, but not all at the same time.  I think Emily & Allie both went on it 3 times with different adults.  We all did the animal safari together, which was pretty neat this time!  A lot of the animals were out and even walked up close to the truck -- pretty cool!  Downtown Disney is a shopping/entertainment area that is free to get into.  So my sisters, mom and I went shopping, Dad & Steve went to an interactive technological place called DisneyQuest, while Chris stayed back at the resort with the kids.  DisneyQuest has a lot of simulator games (Chris gets motion sick and couldn't go) and dad and Steve had a good time (even though dad got motion sick on a few games).  

Friday we started out at Disney Studios again in the morning and ended at Epcot in the evening.  Amber & family headed to Studios first in order to sign the kids up to participate in a Star Wars show.  They got there in time and signed up for an afternoon slot.  The rest of us met there in time to see the girls fight against Darth Vader with light sabers.  After the show, all the girls (except me) went to go build light sabers, while the guys and myself went and road Rockin' Roller Coaster.  Even Steve approved of the ride when it was done!

(Feb 1st -- after finishing up at Hollywood Studios, we headed to Epcot for one last time.  Steve and I broke off from the group and did our own thing.  First we went to Norway and ate dinner -- toasted sandwiches and "Norwegian desserts" -- a sweet pretzel & troll horn.  The troll horn was just a pastry filled with some sort of berried cream.  After eating, we went on an "Agent P mission" in Norway and then in Mexico.  Agent P is a character from the Disney Cartoon Phineas & Ferb.  P is Perry the platypus who always thwarts his nemesis Doofenshmirtz's evil plan.  You sign up at a kiosk, get a cell phone that plays videos, and go on a scavenger hunt throughout a specific country to stop the evil plan in process.  It sounds sort of crazy, but it's actually really neat!  You get to learn hidden things about that country's area as you solve the problem.)

(Sat Feb 2nd -- We sadly saved the best for last -- Steve's funnel cake.  While at Disney, we had a meal plan that Steve was very skeptical about prior to the trip.  Each day, we both got 2 "quick service" meals (entree/side + beverage + dessert) & 1 snack.  A quick service meal is an over the counter service, not sit-down/waited on.  For the first couple of days, we would share meals if we wanted to eat 3 times a day, but by the end of the week we were only eating 2 a day because we slept in.  So by the end of the week we were a little ahed/right on our meal count.  We also stocked up on the snacks and went crazy towards the end.  Some of our favorite snacks were: LaFou's Brew -- a frozen apple concentrate drink with passion fruit syrup & marshmallow topping; Dole Whip -- pineapple soft serve with vanilla ice cream twist; root beer floats -- they had a good "bang for the snack buck" deal; and lastly, Steve's funnel cake.  He had been scoping out the funnel cakes all week, but all the places we saw wouldn't count it as a snack option.  On the last day, we found a little restaurant that had funnel cakes that counted!  Even though we had just eaten & were stuffed, Steve still made room for that funnel cake!)

We had a great time while at Disney and look forward to our next trip -- that's right!  Steve said he'd do it again! Prior to the trip, he only promised me 1 Willis style Disney trip.  But by the end of the week, Steve said it was fun and interesting and he'd do it again, only with the stipulation of it being years down the road.  I'll take it!