Ramble On

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Day Hike

We’ve been waiting for the chance to explore the little stream that runs by here, which shows on the maps as Beaver Run. It comes from the south, up in the foothills, gathers a few little tributaries, and then cuts through the hollow across the road, and brushes by our property on the way to Jordon Hollow Farm Inn, and then somewhere over there joins the Hawksbill Creek.

Mary and I went down to the edge of the property by the little pump house and poked through to the stream. On our side of the road the flow is mostly shallow and ripples over rocky spots, but I was pleased to find some pools that are deep enough to shelter trout…I’ll need an expert opinion on this, because the stream is not stocked, although Hawksbill Creek is, and some of them could make their way up here.

As we walked back into the fens and wash areas, there were old sapling stumps where beavers have gnawed them down, so the name is legitimate, but there aren’t any fresh signs of activity from the rodents. Also, we found a small waterfall, which is probably too far away from the house for us to hear it, although we do hear the stream on still nights.

We got into the back areas where the stream borders on the farm, directly under the bluff on the adjoining half acre behind us, and found that part of the stream diverts and fills a cow pond back there.

Another highlight beyond the adventure – incidentally, we were never more than a quarter mile from the house during this excursion. We found a previous version of the house sign, which had been discarded and replaced by the current one. It was blue, in a color that we’ve seen inside the house, and nicely lettered in way that made it clear it had been done by the artist who built the place. Mary decided we should retrieve it and brought it back – we’ll hang it in a suitable place somewhere, probably on the garage or the shed.

More Neighbors

On Christmas day, late in the afternoon, Mary and I had a seat outside on the terrace in the sun with a warm beverage. We watched as a pair of pileated woodpeckers ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pileated_Woodpecker ) started working over one of the nearby dead trees. I’m reproducing the wiki photo here. These are big birds, big as crows, and normally are very shy. I’d only seen one of them before, across the street where you had to strain to see it through the trees. This time they were out, practically in the open, and not only that, in a pair. The wiki article notes that they are usually permanent residents, so it is a real treat to know they are there.

Meals Recap

For my consulting colleagues who have traveled with me, here finally is a “knife and fork” post.

For Christmas Eve dinner, we wanted to try one of the local, more upscale places for something special, and decided to visit the neighbors at the Jordan Hollow Farm Inn – website here: http://www.jordanhollow.com/ . The inn is place marked on Google Earth as well. The farm property at Jordan Hollow wraps around our development and borders the lots on the North and West edges. They keep horses there, are developing a spa concept, and have some nice cabins up on a ridge for a nice getaway.

There are real farms in the area, I posted some photos of the stock before. Here are the goats, who happily posed for us on Christmas Eve.

The dinner at Jordan Hollow was good; they work really hard at it to make an enjoyable experience. I had snapper. Generally, I have a rule about ocean fish when the town doesn’t have a seaport, and it probably would have been a good idea to follow it, but we’d had a busy week and I had had too many hamburgers, so I wanted a change. The snapper was overdone, but it was pan fried and there was promise in the approach…probably need to get in there as a regular to coach up that chef.

Mary had rack of lamb – that’s something I’ll try next, because she really enjoyed it, and it looked like they had made it perfectly. They also had steak and pork chops, which probably would make the cut on a future visit, but Mary had made some great pork chops on our first night out and I doubted the chef de cuisine could top them. By the way, the menu is posted at the website above. We’ll go there again.

On Christmas Day, Mary baked a chicken, a specialty of hers. That chicken might have come from this area for all we know – there are broiler farms all around this neck of the woods – it was definitely fresh! She matched it up with stuffing and Brussels sprouts, and made pan gravy. A nice treat, topped off with pumpkin pie to boot!

Photo Uploads

Here are a couple of photo uploads that go with yesterday's entries - the new Santa votive, the Billy Idol Christmas CD, and the new nutcracker ornament.

And a couple of additional holiday photos - the new firepit out on the brick terrace, and the holiday lights that we put up this year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve Recap

(written Christmas Day) Yesterday we took a drive over to New Market – more about the town in a future, summertime post – a little town with significant Civil War history that is about 15 miles away on 211, through a pass over the Massanutten range. We knew about some antiques shops and also had seen some antiques ads about the town.

We got there and found everything pretty well under wraps, all locked up, except for a nice little Christmas store that we browsed for a while – here’s a photo of their Nutcracker display. The store is called The Christmas Gallery, and they have four locations including this one. We picked up some ornaments for the cabin – a fat little Santa votive that made Mary smile, and some whimsical little nutcrackers on rocking horses (they match up with some ceramic nutcracker decorations on the tree in Alexandria, the first ones I ever bought).

Our next stop was down to Harrisonburg, where we found a huge antique mall. We spent an hour or so going through the place, which was housed in a recycled five and dime store. Some pleasant surprises in there, as we found some examples of stuff we have in the Alexandria house. Here is a shot of one of the ‘tableaus’ that a dealer set up. I’ve been looking for vintage postcards of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, I found one or two there I liked, and Mary found some of Long Branch, NJ – her home town.

Next stop was over to the Massanutten resort (http://www.massresort.com/), which I’d heard about and knew had some ski slopes. I’ve been wondering about the place, only a half hour away, thinking about good times past in the Harz Mountains in Germany – pubs and cross country skiing. Massanutten (or, as my friend Tony Orth called it, Massa Nuthin’) doesn’t get enough snow for cross country. It does have six runs, seven lifts, a couple of terrain parks, and several other all-season attractions.

I’m disappointed that they don’t have cross country, but they do have something I want to try – Peaked Mountain Express Snow Tube Park. This is a groomed area – looks like the golf course driving range – that is dedicated to snow tubing. A ticket for two hours of unlimited runs and lift privileges is $18; its half price on Tuesdays. Some friends from Alexandria have recommended this to us, so we’ll be trying it later this winter.

Christmas Eve Morning Post

(Written December 24, 10:45 a.m.) Mary is out walking the dogs on a sunny day, and the temperature has climbed into the high 50’s already. I had coffee on the terrace, where one of our nuthatches scolded me for letting the birdseed run out and I quickly took care of it.

While Mary and the dogs are out, I am listening to a Putumayo CD that I have grown fond of, “New Orleans Christmas”– it says, “Deck the halls with soul, jazz, and blues holiday classics from the Big Easy.” Here’s a link to the Putumayo site on it: http://www.putumayo.com/en/catalog_item.php?album_id=224.

We have a tradition of buying a new Christmas CD every year; this New Orleans one is our purchase of the year. It makes me a little happy to know that a portion is going to the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity.

Also, it gives me pause to think of a couple of my Booz Allen friends – Jon Cohn and Will Rowe, who each went down to the city and gave some time and manual labor rebuilding things. Jon brought me back a Big Easy coffee cup as a souvenir of his trip, come to think of it, I think he has gone down there more than once. Good on you, Jon!

Here’s the playlist for the Putumayo CD:
· Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Big Al Carson with Lars Edegran and his Santa Claus Revelers
· Christmas in New Orleans – James Andrews
· ‘Zat You, Santa Claus? – Ingrid Lucia
· Silver Bells – Heritage Hall Jazz Band with Greg Stafford
· I’ll be Home for Christmas – Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz
· Please Come Home for Christmas – Papa Don Vappie’s New Orleans Jazz Band
· God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Ellis Marsalis
· White Christmas – John Boutte
· Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Topsy Chapman with Lars Edegran and his Santa Claus Revelers
· Santa’s Second Line – New Birth Brass Band
· Holiday Time in New Orleans – Dukes of Dixieland

Also, we bought the CD for last year too late to enjoy it during the season, so this is the first year we’ve really had a chance to listen to it: Billy Idol’s “Happy Holiday.” This is a real treat, mates. You can probably find it on his myspace page – www.myspace.com/billyidol - we’ve been listening to it in the car. And to hear Billy Idol sing “We all need some Christmas Love” just warms the cockles.

Holiday Posts

Mary and I, along with Sofie and Gracie, will be greeting the holidays out at the cabin this year. A fallback plan, but the weather is supposed to be good and we’ll plan on having a nice time. I’ll be writing some blog posts while we are out, and upload them on the return.

The bits and bytes will be laced with North Pole magic, however, and readers will have to eat a piece of rum cake or a rum ball in order for their secrets to be revealed.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nor'easter Elsewhere

I was out at the cabin with best intentions this weekend...Mary had her annual Wellesley holiday tea going on and I wanted to get out of the house. I was keeping an eye on the forecast - hoping for snow to get an idea of what that is like out in the Valley. All we had was rain, which fell all night. The stories you may have heard about rain on a metal roof are true.

In the morning, the moisture began freezing on the trees, and it made a beautiful picture in the early sunshine. Here are a few photos of the area around the house, focusing mainly on the pines that dominate the yard. As the air temperature warmed up, the trees begain shedding the ice, which was an incredible sight to see - like a hail storm in bright sunshine, and just as loud.

Later, as the skies cleared and I could see the Blue Ridge and Massanutten, those forests were particulary pretty in the winter weather. Looking forward to posting some photos of these later, when we've had snow and I have a better camera with me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

WTF Moment

Mary had some digital photos I didn't know about that add to the chronology of this summer's repairs. I am including a few of them today in order to communicate how significant the roof repairs were after we found the termite damage. In these first two, there is a view from the back of the house with the debris pile of old beams and roof materials that were demolished. That's Chris taking a look at the new tech beams in one of the shots.
Also, there are a couple of photos of me as I encountered the scale of this problem. That is my patented "WTF" expression, by the way.
We had planned on a cabin work day that day, but with the construction under way there was no way we could undertake any of our minor projects!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's one 'SMART' car

While it isn't directly related to the cabin, since it is a lifestyle option, I thought I might post on the Smart Car event Chris and I attended over the weekend out in Fair Oaks.

A few years ago, when Mary and I visited Berlin, these little cars were just starting to catch on. We'd see them parked all over the Potsdamer Platz area, and saw a few of them on the road in the vicinity of Potsdamer Platz, near the Sony Center, the Mies building, and the Bauhaus Museum. (There's the blog link by the way, we have a Bauhaus Museum poster and a Mies print in the cabin.)

In any case, the city of Berlin had made a special parking provision for the cars - they were allowed to park "more than one" to a space, with a limit of 3 cars in 2 spaces. So, I thought, pretty ideal urban vehicle, as long as you're only putting 2 passengers in there, and mostly commuting or running small errands...no road trips, in other words.

After my 5 mile test drive, I'm pretty convinced that the car would work for these kinds of needs. The price points - about $17K for the cabrio/convertible - might be comfortable for those who live and work in town. The model I would consider is "nicely equipped" and runs for about $14K.

It was a pretty enthusiastic crowd all in all. The Smart website is http://www.smartusa.com/ for readers who might be interested. And the cars should start showing up on the street in the spring of 2008.

Photos - ice sculptures near the Smart exhibit, the exhibit, my Smart chaperone, and some Smarts in action.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Holiday Decorations 2

For the last few years we've enjoyed having a real tree from Wisconsin in the Alexandria house. One of our neighbors has some land and a tree farm out that way, and does a few trips a year to tend to the trees. Then a longer trip around T-giving to harvest and sell, and they bring back a number of them for friends and neighbors here in Virginia. So here's a photo of the tree.

Also, the apple squash and pumpkin 'tableau' has been taken down for our annual holiday display, which Mary put up last night after we did the tree.

One final holiday tradition I'd highlight here. Every year after we finish the tree, we play the holiday polka "Must be Santa" - it's on the Rounder Christmas album by the same name. A second great song off of this CD is George Thorogood's "Rock and Roll Christmas" - just checked and it's an easy search to find this on Amazon...I agree with the reviews there as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Decorations Part 1

There is the possibility we'll be spending part of the holidays at the cabin, so we bought a tree and some music. Not a real tree, mind you, as we are going to be away for long periods of time while it's up...this one came from Wal-Mart! And, we bought some tunes for decoratin' -

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Projects Update

Here's a long overdue post. We’ve reached the end of the first phase of repairs…we covered a number of the larger ones in the blog already, especially when we had to hire somebody. But also we did finish up a couple of sweat equity ones as well. No doubt the home improvement enthusiasts among our readers will see some natural opportunities to combine several of these into larger projects!

Photo is of Mary and Gracie in the living room of the cabin a few weeks ago - enjoying the new gas fireplace and insulation!

Projects completed:

Get rid of old freezer in the shed
Install new gutters at back of house
Secure gas line at rear eave to of house
Electrical: install GFCI recap/3-prong outlets (partially completed)
Relocate ground wire to exterior
Deal with drain condition at rear door (taken care of by new gutters)
Recaulk windows (we replaced most of the windows – will need to do the larger ones in the future)
Remove loft in livingroom (sweat equity!)
Install new exterior light fixtures
Install carbon monoxide detectors and add additional smoke detectors
Have septic field emptied Apply sealer to wood frame at window in large bathroomReplace electric heating units - wall heating unit in dining area doesn’t work
Install new ceiling fan in living room
Tear down lean-to at rear of small shed (more sweat equity! Thanks Chris!)
Regravel driveway (we got the neighbor to do this, as the erosion was caused by a building project on his lot) Install damper in fireplace
Paint small chest of drawers and closet door in small bedroom (sweat equity)
Insulate water lines (sweat equity)

Higher priority projects:

These are projects we are going to try and tackle during the next year.

Examine under the house for potential issues with the post-and-beam construction and insulation installation
If beams under addition are not PT, coat them with waterproofing
Relocate dryer vent from under the house
Where shingles on back of house are deterioriating, replace or install flashing
Repoint stone retaining walls where cracked.
The pool (this is major and a future blog topic…enough to say that it is a five-figure project!)

Lower priority projects:

Several of these will be sweat equity during the next year, but a few of them require a bit more thought.

Replace/frame lattice under addition and make sure portion of lattice can be easily removed to allow access under addition
Masonry on terraces: level and relay existing brick patio on upper terrace (this is one of several exterior projects we need to take on – will probably combine them into a major effort)
Add protection/covering to threshold in laundry/back door
Paint or finish laundry room floor
Replace flue top/add chimney cap (less urgent now that gas fireplace is installed and the inside flue has been closed off)
Add new sliding louvered doors to large closet in addition hallway
Rescreen small porch off master bedroom
Add bolts to ramp on small side porchGlobe to cover bear bulb in closet
Replace two cracked floor tiles in large bathroom if possible
Trim trees and bamboo especially near garage
Reroof garage and fix electric problemsRebuild brick grillRemove decorative mirrors from wall in master bedroom

New projects:

During the major work we did so far, here are a few more we identified and need to prioritize.

Install new installation and tongue and groove paneling in the addition – similar to what was done in the stone part of the house (higher priority)
Seal moist area on rear wall of stone portion of house (may not be a problem since new gutters were installed)
Secure kitchen counter top, add anti-tip bracket to range, and replace vent fan in kitchen (we may turn these into a kitchen remodel)Restain/seal cedar shingles Add blow-in insulation to exterior walls in addition (higher priority)