Ramble On

Friday, May 30, 2008

Big Project Number 2 for 2008 - Update

Jesse promised that the paneling in the addition would be completed quickly - and he was right. When we visited over Memorial Day weekend, the job had pretty much been completed.

Here's a link to the previous entry on this topic:

The first two photos are of the master bedroom, the paneled wall is where the old smoked mirror panels were. The wall vents are also visible here in the first one.

We chose pine paneling for this area, as we have in the original stone part of the house. In this case, to maintain the character of the area, we've used a whitewashed finish, since the exposed beams were painted a flat white originally.

Also, there is new recessed lighting in the hallway.

Jesse still had to finish some small loose ends, but we were surprised that he was 95% complete in just a week!

Blogging - we learn as we go

I have started going through the old post and will be using the "tags" function as a way to index those entries. For example, say you would like to have a recap of the carpenter bee adventures - or would like to be reminded of the termite damage we encountered when we first bought the Hawksbill Cabin. The tag "carpenter bees" will take you to all associated entries on that topic, while "termites" will take you to the other; there will also be a tag "battle of the species" where all of the encounters with wildlife can be found, and "big projects" when an entry should be cross referenced - as the termite issue meant a roof replacement.

On another note, I elected to allow Google to place ads based on content - these ads are shown in the left hand column - over there ---->

I am not promoting gratuitous clicking, but any proceeds on this site will be donated to the Page County Animal Shelter. If you do see anything of interest over there, and you decide to click through, you can rest assured that you will be doing some good.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Battle of the Species - The Carpenter Bees Return, continued

It’s a small thing, a carpenter bee carcass, but when I found this one on Sunday morning, I was swept up in a big feeling, one of gratification, satisfaction, dignity, one of…victory.

Immediately on our return from Home Depot and unpacking, we got straight to work on the bee battle. After setting up the ladder, I donned the mask and gloves to begin treating the new pine facing boards with Chris observing. After some experiments on how to apply the chemicals in the wind so they would not blow back in either of our faces, we really made traction on progress.

At this point I would like to repeat the concentration ratio of the chemical treatment we were using. When I write 6 milliliters, it may not be clear how much that really is. In the bottom of a one gallon jug, this amounts to three drops the size of your thumb nail – and the one gallon solution is adequate for 1,000 square feet of application!

After some misguided spraying on my part, Chris decided he wanted to take over for me – while I went inside to wash off the stray drops that had landed in my hair (despite the hat) and on my face (despite the mask). Here are some action photos of him applying the insecticide to the facing boards, both from underneath and then from the roof, which proved an easier vantage point for a lot of the work. The new ladder worked well.
We mixed a second gallon for application to the outbuildings. I was less concerned about these, as there is past damage to them, and I hadn’t just months ago paid for new facing boards to be installed on them. In fact, I’d prefer that the bees go there.
After we finished, we sat down to an excellent dinner of rib-eyes, kale, and roast potatoes, all cooked on the grill. A victory cigar for me, a fire in the firepit, and a nice Old Vine Zin completed the celebration. We speculated on the effectiveness of the treatment, and to the potential damage the chemicals might have done to us, but went to bed satisfied with a job well done.
Still, as that article from Texas A&M warned, the diligence was just beginning. The treatment will keep the bees from starting new holes, but unless we had sprayed them directly, bees in existing holes, or which happened to be away hunting pollen while we were applying the chemicals, would be unaffected.
The next steps are to identify still active holes (hot spots!) and pursue those bees to the death. And I have a secret weapon that I am going to install next week. More on that in a future post.
It was gratifying to find a bee carcass already the next morning, and upon our return last weekend, another two carcasses lying there. I added two to the tally with well-aimed spraying (one was boring a nest in Jesse’s sawhorses – at least it wasn’t targeting the house!) and a perfect flyswatter swing. I gave a gallon of the solution to Terry to put on their house, and to my Page County neighbors who might want to try this stuff, you’re welcome to a gallon or two as well.
I just need to reserve two gallons for the fall application.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Battle of the Species - The Carpenter Bees Return

A few weeks back, as I was sitting on the brick terrace enjoying a morning cup of coffee, I heard the familiar steady buzz that indicates the return of the carpenter bees. I’d seen them among the azaleas earlier in the season, but had yet to spot any active boring or nesting activities. Now here they were, actually beginning to drill into the new siding we’d just installed at the front of the house after the roof replacement.

In beginning my tale, I would like to cite the wisdom of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, part of Texas A&M, which says, “…ordinarily their tunneling is of little or no consequence. However structure repairs may be necessary if colonies are present years after year in the same timber. Effective control includes prevention, persistence in locating the nesting site, and insecticide applications.”

Another point I’ve learned is that the nesting sites serve two purposes, as a place for the larvae to hatch and mature, but also for over winter shelter. Successive generations will return to the same nest, extending the network and the damage, leading to potential structural damage.
All of these thoughts came to mind as I sat there with a cup o’ joe.

Fortunately, my friend Chris was visiting, and although we planned to do a short hike in SNP, he immediately saw the urgency of tackling these pests. So off we went on our project – first step, to acquire supplies to do battle. We figured we needed some heavy duty insecticide, and I knew we’d need a ladder for this – a good one, OSHA Type 1 (load capacity 300 pounds!). Off we went to breakfast at Farmboys, and then to the co-ops for advice on insecticide.

Breakfast did not disappoint, and neither did the advice we received at Southern States (http://www.southernstates.com/) where we learned our friend Kenny is recovering (get well soon, Ken). I was told, “we’ve got one thing, it’s very effective, but it is expensive.” I told the clerk that we were talking about saving a five-figure investment, so I was willing to look at what he had.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the name of this poison handy. But it is highly concentrated stuff – they use it to treat chicken coops throughout the county, where they mix it up in 50 gallon batches! I laughed when the clerk told me that. The square footage coverage told me I’d need only one gallon. Heading for the calculator for some math, we figured that six milliliters were needed per gallon. This package was the 50 gallon size; it cost $40, but it was all they had, and I figured “if it’s good enough for the chicken farms, it’s good enough for the Hawksbill Cabin.”

We shopped for a ladder, next step. I wanted one like the one I borrowed from some neighbors in Alexandria recently to clean my gutters, an extension job that could go up to 16 feet (and OSHA Type 1). Nothing doing in Southern States, the Page Co-op, or Wal-Mart. We were resigned to drive to the Home Depot in H-burg, adding two hours to the adventure.

After a custard stop (Chris recommends this one, near the Wal-Mart in Luray, by the way – especially, say, if you have just gotten stitches at the Luray hospital for a bizarre firewood chopping accident – we’ll leave that for another day) we headed off to follow the GPS to the Home Depot in H-burg.

A note for the record, if you need to go to a Home Depot, this is the one to go to – it is a super deluxe store, and there is plenty of help. Advice and car loading are available. I guess this is where they got the reputation, because you certainly can’t get this kind of service in Alexandria. The ladder selection – awesome, we had three to choose from. Finally, settling on the Gorilla model, we headed for Stanley.

Arriving back at the Hawksbill Cabin at 5:30 pm (thus always with Home Depot projects!), we assembled our gear:
Insecticide: check!
Sprayer: check!
Ladder: check!
Heavy duty latex gloves: check!
Breathing apparatus: check!

The battle was about to begin…

Friday, May 23, 2008

Battle of the Species - It's about to get ugly

As many of our readers know, one of the joys of owning a cabin in the country is frequent encounters with nature. I suppose that one could be called a naturalist, or even an environmentalist, for taking on a project such as the Hawksbill Cabin – we respect the environment and do our best to consider the impact of our actions while we are out there; and we respect the heritage of the place at the county and community level and we’d like to contribute to efforts to preserve these things. We have altruistic goals that offset our other selfish ones.

For me though, there is also the simple matter of a man needs a place to go where his fellow global travelers won’t accompany him. When I speak of global travelers I mean my fellow species – those that don’t quite understand the concept of a symbiotic relationship…snakes, termites, and carpenter bees among them. In the next week or so I have a new tale I am about to unfold, a tale that will comprise the sixth episode of the ongoing Battle of the Species.

For now though, for our readers’ convenience, here are permalinks to the past installments in the series.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Big Project Number 2 for 2008

A second big project getting underway at the Hawksbill Cabin is to upgrade the insulation in the back part of the house, which I call the addition. The name may not be accurate, it may have indeed been built at the same time as the “original” stone portion – we just don’t have any records. We are also making progress on the pool repairs (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/04/pool-plan.html ), and will have the brick terrace and stone retaining wall repointed as our final big effort this year.

The scope of the project involves installing R12 or better insulation in the ceiling, and covering it over with new tongue and groove paneling. Mary has specified that the paneling in this part of the house be whitewashed, as the ceiling is currently painted white and we want to retain that character. Here are a couple of the areas that we will be working on with Jesse: the guest bedroom, the master, and the hallway.

Of note in these photos is the light fixture in the guest bedroom. I don’t have my notes handy for this post, but this is a mid-century design piece, a legacy of the house, that was done by a Finnish designer who was active in the 30’s through 50’s. The round globe is not original, and we guess the hourglass shaped bulbs are custom and will be hard to find, but we are saving this.

We will ultimately have insulation blown into the walls as well to improve the weather-tightness of this part of the house. There will be recessed lighting in the hallway. And a final step will be to panel over the mirrored wall in the master bedroom, another throwback to the 50’s, although this one is not something we’ll save.

A final note, the “oriental screen” wood carving that is installed over the hallway closet. The wall here does not extend to the ceiling, so this decoration adds detail interest as well as facilitates ventilation into the guest room. We’ll be saving it during the rehab – here’s a close-up of the Mt. Fuji area. Obviously: Made in Japan.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Life IS Good

Looking down into Luray from Skyland last year was the start of a great adventure for Mary and me, and we are continuing that tradition with this year’s projects at the Hawksbill Cabin. Among the first people we met in Luray are Andy and Howard at Evergreen Outfitters – http://www.evergreenoutfitters.com/.

We came into town the day of the Luray Spring Fest in 2007, and besides enjoying the street scene, we stopped at the Farmers’ Market, and right next door, Andy and Howard’s store. We were drawn in by the fact that there were a couple of dogs hanging out – their adopted companions, Lilly and Martha – see http://www.evergreenoutfitters.com/meet.asp , but what really set my imagination going was their story of having moved to the Valley from Northern Virginia. (Although we missed the fest this year, Evergreen Outfitters sponsored a “Disc Dog” event. I am sure Lilly and Martha enjoyed that!)

Andy and Howard at Evergreen Outfitters

Their friendly store, helpful advice, and gear have been one of the high points of our experience so far. This Saturday Chris and I stopped in as we set out on our carpenter bee adventure, which I’ll post about later this week. Turns out, they’ve had to do some rounds with these pesky insects, too; there was an interim recommendation that involved a sports racket, which I had heard about from others, including our neighbor Terry…everyone who uses this technique is enthusiastic about it…but Chris and I were after something a little more industrial, since there are already six bore holes in the new siding.

As we took off for the farm store, and subsequently H-burg, Andy and Howard gave me a copy of the little book by the Life is Good guys – it’s full of quotes that remind me that "the glass is half full." And when it gets down to it, that’s exactly why we bought the cabin, and why we like the valley so much. Here’s another quote from the books – “the road to a friend’s place is never long” – thanks guys and see you soon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hike that started it all, part 2

After breakfast at the Skyland restaurant, where we enjoyed the wonderful Page County views along with our bacon and eggs, we walked back down the short trail to our cabin (here's a photo of Mary on that trail - in the early Spring it is still chilly up there). As we considered our hiking options, there were two or three trails we thought might fit the bill: among them Dark Hollow Falls and the Hawksbill Summit.

Mary and I have done this hike a number of times and it is one of our favorites. Here is a link to a posting about it, along with a portion of the review from that site.

Round trip 1.4 miles; total climb about 440 feet; time required 1:25. Take the trail at the north end of the parking area. It crosses the stream and then goes downhill along its left bank. This is Hogcamp Branch, which drains Big Meadows Swamp and becomes the principal tributary of Rose River. You may find it dry at the beginning, but it will gradually acquire enough water to make a satisfactory waterfall.

Here is a photo of me on the early part of the hike, and one of the namesake falls near the bottom of the path. Above, the photo is of one of the small cascades near the trail as the stream gathers. Along the trail, one can see trout in the waters, and in the Spring, wild rhododendrums are in bloom.

On one of the previous hikes of this trail, Mary and I set out from the District in July. There had been weeks of heat and humidity, and by that Sunday we were desperate for some relief. We went to this falls, and stood in front of it for 30 minutes, enjoying nature's air conditioning as the cool air was pulled down the mountain by the falling water. Later as we drove home in a thunderstorm, we knew that the hot spell would be broken.

With the positive developments beginning at work, this weekend getaway seemed to be a start to improving a few things about the situation we found ourselves in last year. It was important to us to find time for ourselves, and our time at the Park was a good way to begin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hike that started it all, part 1

Last May, as I approached my 18 month anniversary with my employer at the time, it was clear I needed a break. At each point where the going got tough, I'd put my head down to work through the situation, but things were just not improving. And this was despite the fact that I received two or three headhunter calls a week during my time there!

I negotiated a supervisory change, and agreed with my new boss on a turn around plan. Then Mary and I took a long weekend break to Shenandoah National Park, staying at the lodge in Skyland.

We left on Friday evening, making a stop to get a picnic dinner at http://www.italianstore.com/ and then drove the 1.5 hour route to the park and lodge. After checking in, we had our dinner on the porch of our room, watching the lights of the Page Valley come up.

There was a 1/2 mile walk to the taproom and restaurant in Skyland from our room. Here are some views of the part of the lodge we stayed in, the view from our porch, the restaurant, and the view from the restaurant.

On Saturday, we'd planned to hike, but it was raining on the mountain so we went down to Luray, where we enjoyed the Spring Festival. This past weekend was the year anniversary of that trip, and although we missed the festival this year, here is a link to the event: http://www.luraydowntown.com/festivals.html .

More to come, next post.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A moment for something important...

http://www.extremehomema2008.com/ (look for the Giunta family episode)http://www.middlesexbank.com/extremehome.asp?print=1

I dont know if this show on ABC is on your regular viewing list, but last night they featured the Giunta family of Maynard, MA...the story is that Paul, the husband and father in this family, was on the way to the hospital to meet his wife, giving birth to their third child at the time, and had a severe accident that nearly killed him. He was left with a tough road to climb - but he is committed to it and his story is one that continues to inspire.

At the time, Paul's brother Chris was a colleague at Booz Allen, and we worked hard to accommodate his need to be near the family after the accident. Chris had his own record of accomplishment - a USMA grad who went on to earn an MS in engineering - Chris eventually left Booz Allen to move to MA full-time, where he now works as a construction manager on a hotel renovation.

The ABC show was pretty moving and inspirational to see, and I wanted to share some of the info about this family's story with you.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring Flowers, episode 6

One of everyone's favorite Spring flowers is the iris - since I moved to the DC/Northern Virginia area, I have always looked forward to their blooming time, which is usually the end of April and beginning of May. That means that they are peaking in Alexandria, but just starting to bloom at the Hawksbill Cabin.

Our experience with irises started with a few stems at the little Linden Street townhouse - these two-toned violet ones. Starting with just a few bulbs, Mary has split them numerous times, continuously thinning them out. The result is they bloom profusely and we've been able to gift bulbs to friends. This year we have plenty in the yard, but also enough for this cut flower arrangement.

A few years back Aunt Rusti sent us a batch of bearded irises. She has a number of varieites planted in her garden in Raleigh, and she shared some of them with us. We've planted them and they are doing very well - this year it seems we will be splitting these bulbs too. The dark purple ones visible in several of the photographs are part of that group, as are these yellow ones, which have spread from a single stem last year.

Finally, we have three beds of irises out at the cabin, and we've been looking forward to their blooming to find out what we had. The color of this bunch was amazing, a red violet that tends towards orange or brown almost. Very pretty.

And there are still two beds that have not yet bloomed!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spring Flowers, episode 5

When I took my walk around the lot last Saturday, the first thing I noticed was that the beautiful violet azaeleas were past prime, and had begun to shed their blooms. As I went around back though, I found a very nice surprise - these little red shrubs in full bloom. They only sit in full sun for a part of the day, but I still thought they might have already bloomed. Apparently they bloom a little later in the season than the others.

Back in Alexandria, the azaeleas are fading for the most part. We have this pink shrub that is currently in bloom, and some low white shrubs that are still a week or so from peak. In the background of the pink shrub photo are some irises - these will be the topic of a future post.

Also, as we drove home Sunday night, we took the old way, up US 211 through the Thoroughfare Gap in SNP. We noticed that Spring is still climbing the mountains. The trees have leafed out much of the way up but not all the way to the peaks. Also, the red buds there are just peaking, giving me the sense that Spring in SNP is about 3 weeks behind us in the Valley.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nesting Hawks

Beginning about two months ago I started noticing a pair of hawks that were spending a lot of time in the pine trees around our yard. In this area, one quickly thinks that a raptor bird of this type might be a red tail or an osprey, but those are both species that are much larger than the birds I was seeing. I spent a few weekends observing them come and go and finally learned that they were nesting in this large pine tree, directly in front of the house.

I’ve decided upon reading the literature that these are sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus), which are described as living in a wide range of woodland and forest types, including our area, which is dominated by pines and other conifers, and includes some oaks and hickories. Here is a wiki photo I found of the bird.

There are several interesting behaviors we’ve noticed. First, during some parts of the day, one of the pair will station itself in one of the tall trees nearby, repeatedly calling with a “kawk” sound – very similar to a single squeak from one of Gracie’s toys. Yesterday morning, we heard this noise starting around 8am.

Also, as the parent (I assume this is the female) leaves the nest to hunt, the call becomes “kawk-kawk-kawk-kawk” – multiple repetitions, usually while in flight. I have watched the bird chase blue jays, and have seen it in the tree with prey in claw. The blue jay chase in particular was notable, as these hawks aren’t much bigger than jays – some books even describe them as jay-sized. I think the two here are slightly larger than that, maybe crow-sized.

The main prey is other birds. By the way, we took our feeders down when we first learned this, not only because of the hawks, but because we heard that feeders are bear-bait in our neighborhood!

I’ve been trying to get a photo of the hawks in action or in one of the nearby trees, but haven’t been able to. The only proof I have of them in the vicinity is a periodic feather, such as this one, which I found on the pool deck. More to come, as we try to determine how many nestlings there are.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Some Town Photos

Here are a couple of photos of businesses and attractions in Luray. These first two are of buildings near the center of the old downtown. Luray has long been a center of tourist activity because of the location near the river and SNP, an industry that was enhanced by the discovery of the caverns - now the economic engine of the town.

In a future post I will talk about local businesses and the murals that you see here, especially the Evergreen Outfitters that is located in the old Ford dealership - http://www.evergreenoutfitters.com/ .

Another item of interest is a little recreational facility that has been built along the Hawksbill Creek as it passes through the town. Appopriately enough, named "Along the Hawksbill," here is one of several parks that make a chain of stops along a paved walkway that is several miles long.

This rapid is the scene of the annual duck race during Luray's Spring Festival - see http://www.luraydowntown.com/festivals.html .