Locked out of the house: Using trash to get back in

A snippet of my adventure for the day as told via an IM conversation:

Justin: I go downstairs to eat lunch, pop a burrito in the microwave and notice that we had a piece of mail from our neighbor, so I grab the mail to put it in his mailbox … only as I’m closing the door, I realize that the lock is on, so I try to just semi-shut it but I accidentally shut it all the way.

Locked out.

Eric: no way

Justin: I have my cell phone, but nothing else. I realize that if I had a credit card, I could probably jimmy the lock as I have done this before with some success. Only, I don’t have a credit card or anything for that matter.

I pretty quickly decide to call my landlord who works out of the house in hopes I could catch her admin to let me in. Too bad for me — no one is answering.

I start looking around on the ground for stuff I might use to jimmy the lock … first item I see remotely useable: an empty nicorette chewing gum wrapper (like the plastic/foil/pill-type wrapper). I figure it’s worth a shot.

Eric: huh, well that is resourceful

Justin: It didn’t work. I even managed to get it stuck in the jam!

At this point, I look to our trashcan with disgust, but figure I have no other real options. I pull out the lone trashbag in the can and start rummaging. Everything is mildly damp and smelly. I try using some containerboard from a yogurt box, doubling it over on itself for extra strength …

Nothing. Too flimsy.

At this point, I try calling the landlord again. STILL NO ANSWER.

Cursing commences.

Eric: this story is outstanding. haha

Justin: I then decide that I’ll just walk out on the street and look for things that might be useful to jimmy the lock. Mind you: today was trash day, so I was hoping that by some odd chance some piece of refuse will come to my aid.

Justin: I see *another* nicorette gum wrapper (And wonder who is chewing so much nicorette near our house), and then imagine if I can use the battery cover of my cell phone to jimmy the lock. As I walk back to the house, I see on the ground a pull-off top from who knows what kind of canned food item.


I grab it, and a few cuts to my index finger later, I’m back inside.

Eric: hahahaha, you used a little metal top. that is outstanding — all b/c you were being nice and giving your neighbor his mail

In case you’re wondering, I do have a deadbolt on this door, which is used whenever we leave the house!

Tree Stand Fiasco

Getting into the X-mas spirit:

Over the course of Christmases past, my in-laws have only messed with artificial trees. They’re Hindu, so Christmas has always been a sorta secondary, when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans kind of holiday. This year, my wife and sister-in-law decided to take Christmas to the next level.

Since this would be their first live tree, they needed a tree stand. And since I was the resident White Christmas expert, I was designated the live tree selection technician.

We must have been feeling frisky because we ended up the biggest “8 – 9′ frasier fir” I’ve ever seen. I think it is more likely at least ten feet tall from base to the pointy top, full all the way. And for $60, that’s a lot of tree — too much tree, really. If you’re still buying your tree from the fly-by-night shops in parking lots and random lots around town, chances are you are overpaying for your tree.

Terrible tree stands:

Lowe’s Christmas tree stand offerings were almost exclusively Home Logic E.Z. H2O stands. These stands were stacked all around the tree cutting station making up roughly 85% of the stocked tree stands.

The 10′ version of the E.Z. H2O was $20. At first glance, the build appeared up to the task. My wife and I had twice previously used a Good Tidings Plastic Christmas Tree Stand without any problems, so I had no reservations about picking up this stand.

It was only when we arrived home, unloaded the monster, and unpacked the tree stand did I start realizing things weren’t quite up to snuff. The stand came without directions, which initially wouldn’t seem like a big deal but for the fact that there were these cheap plastic doo-hickeys that appeared to go on one end of the steel bolts. Their use is obvious now that I see a product picture like that above, but at the time, it didn’t seem to make sense that the red plastic end caps would go on the end of the bolts that touched the tree — is a plastic end-cap going to hold up against screwing itself into the base of a tree? Seems unlikely.

Another oddity of the stand was that the base of the stand (the part touching the bottom of the tree) had no metal spikes. Metal spikes at the base of tree stand are typically included by default, and I’d expect to see them in any tree stand. So why did I buy a stand without them? Simple: I didn’t know they weren’t there! The bolts/redcaps plastic baggy was taped to the bottom of the stand using two large swaths of non-translucent packing tape, covering up the area where the spikes would be. Therefore, I wrongly had assumed the spikes were there, only hidden. Oops!

My father-in-law, Uncle and I got working on the eight bolts sans red caps, tightening them into our monster tree. Soon enough, we had it standing upright, more or less straight. Er … crooked. We adjusted the bolts again. Still crooked! We got it “close enough” after about 30 minutes of adjustments and then put the lights on. The tree was crooked again! What was going on?

We decided that the problem was the size of the tree. Or maybe it was the cut on the base of the tree. Whilst we were diagnosing the problem, my wife kept saying, “it’s the stand!” We ignored her and kept adjusting the bolts. We even tried taking a rope from the wall about halfway up the tree to pull it towards the wall. Nothing worked.

Us three men finally gave up for the night, determined to sleep on the problem and fix it in the morning.

It was at this time that I finally accepted that our failure to straighten up our tree wasn’t our inability to get the bolts “just right” or our jerry-rigged rope not being tight enough. The problem was the stand.

Giving up. Trying again.

We went back to Lowe’s and reevaluated our options, of which only two stands were non-H2O stands. Of these two, both were Jack-Post stands, the Jack-Post Large Welded Tree Stand and the Jack-Post Oasis (Plastic) tree stand. Now that I had spent a great deal of time trying to make the H2O stand work (and failing), and having given an inordinate amount of time theorizing on what a great tree stand would be, it became quickly obvious that either of these two options would suit our needs better than the H2O.

We decided to go for the Jack-Post welded stand. It was easily the most expensive option pricing in at $50; however, it also came with a lifetime warranty, had the beefiest bolts, complete with steel nuts / caps (like the H2O redcaps, but beefy, substantial and threaded), preventing the bolts from screwing into the tree trunk. Did I mention it was constructed of welded steel? I mean, look at this beast!

The Jack-Post Beefy Tree Stand
Welded steel! Plastic be damned!

But even the Oasis looked like a better option than the H2O having larger bolts, reinforced plastic where the bolts screwed into the stand as well as threaded steel, steel base spikes, and steel end caps — all for a paltry $15.

The weaknesses of the Home Logic E.Z. H2O

And it is in the strengths of these other stands that the weaknesses of the H2O really stand out. So without further ado, here are those weaknesses:

  • An eight bolt design. The H2O must believe in quantity over quality. It’s not easy to get four bolts to evenly support a tree trunk in a stand. Doubling the quantity of bolts only doubles this difficulty.
  • The eight bolts were diminutive in size — problematic in that the thinner bolts are more likely to drill into a tree trunk, offsetting their purpose entirely.
  • A lack of metal. Yeah, the stand is plastic, but the steel bolts were the only metal parts! A key ingredient to exerting pressure on a tree trunk is that the bolts have a fat end where they meet the trunk. I suppose the non-obvious plastic red caps were intended to accomplish this task. However, I cannot fathom how a thin plastic cap could hold up to the kind of pressure exerted between a 50 lb tree and a steel metal bolt.
  • Further to the last point, the stand has no spikes in the base! Spikes are imperative for the simple reason that the bottom cut on the tree trunk is almost surely not going to be at a perfect 90° angle to the tree, itself. The spikes enable the tree to pivot, giving purpose to the offsetting bolts! Duh!

In every instance above, the two Jack-Post stands offered at Lowe’s succeeded and the H2O stand failed. More than anything, I am disappointed in Lowe’s for pushing a product so fundamentally flawed as the E.Z. H2O tree stand. It’s shoddy quality, more expensive than better constructed alternatives, and ineffective at getting the job done. And as for the ease of putting water into the stand? Meh! Who cares about putting water in the tree stand when the stand is lousy? Not me!

Conclusion: a tree stand that works!

It should be no surprise that the Jack-Post welded steel stand had the tree ramrod straight within five minutes of removing the H2O? Nah! And really, what is $50 for a lifetime, welded tree stand that you know is up to the task? Nothing! Which is why we didn’t get the $15 Jack-Post plastic stand. Any plastic stand may last three seasons tops before falling into disrepair. A lifetime of Christmases tells me to go beefy, pony up the dough and pick up a welded Christmas tree stand. Two out of two Indian uncles (and one white guy) agree: the Jack-Post welded steel tree stand will get your X-mas tree sticking straight up!

And yes, Lowe’s took the H2O back. Though I say shame on them for stocking it!


I wrestle with beginnings. How do I begin? Where to begin? What if I fail? There is so much to do — where do I even start?

Beginnings are overwhelming. How often have I never even started a project because I was too afraid to fail? Or how often has the complexity of a goal overwhelmed me, turning me off to even trying?

Whether it is the beginning of a website or the start of my day, the choice to start a new job or to learn a new hobby, the question of beginnings pesters and demands answering.

There are these problems with beginnings. Not only do they overwhelm and instill me with fear, but they are supposed to be big, loud, ceremonious, impressive and purposeful. Races begin at gun shot. Boats begin with smashed bottles of champagne. We toast at the beginning of a banquet. There are groundbreaking ceremonies to mark beginnings. Perhaps one of the grandest, most elaborate beginnings we can experience is the ceremony of marriage.

Often there is such pomp and circumstance associated with beginnings that we miss the entire point, which is merely to begin.

I conclude that, ironically, beginnings are stumbling blocks. Pondering the beginning, planning for it or making it grand accomplishes little more than distracting from the task at hand, which is to act, to begin doing that which I want to do!

With these problems at the forefront of my mind, I’d like to offer up a few ideas on how to tackle beginnings head on:

  1. Identify a sub-task of the overall goal. Just pick something — anything. Once selected, do the task.
  2. Once 1., above, is complete, repeat. Continue to knock off sub-tasks so long as you are progressing towards accomplishing the greater goal.
  3. At some point, after repeating steps 1. and 2. enough times, a certain overall order will manifest itself. When this occurs, take the time to see the big picture, planning as much as necessary (but no more!) to continue accomplishing your goal.
  4. Remember: a goal is not accomplished merely at the end. It is achieved throughout. The only lasting failure is that which comes from not even trying.

Note that the above ideas are merely focused on the beginning. They have nothing to do with recharging once you’ve become exhausted or begin to experience malaise about your overall goal. However, I think its worth saying that perhaps the best thing to do when you feel yourself losing interest or momentum is to start back at Step 1., above. The key is not to dispense with distractions and other trivial matters.

As for my own beginning, so completes the start of this weblog/blog/journal, with as little pomp as I can manage.