Ramble On

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Beaver Dam Fails

Over the winter and throughout the spring we enjoyed our new water view across the road, as the beavers had set up a dam very close to us on Beaver Run. Apparently, with the pups all grown and after the rains we've had, the dam has broke, and much of the pond is drained.

In an earlier post, I wrote about all the wildlife we'd observed there, including the beavers, fish, ducks, geese and herons. There are still ducks and fish, although I didn't see much of the other animals last weekend.

The water has receded, but there are still areas where there is standing water in the deepest parts of the pool. Our little four-foot cascade that had serenaded us all that time is gone, the water no longer high enough to divert over it. Now there is a mucky black soil left in the areas that were formerly submerged.
Other wildlife is moving in: we saw a squirrel scampering around on the newly exposed earth, and as we were leaving Sunday night, a young deer was passing through there. It's a cycle, there will be plenty more to see, and hopefully this smaller pond will remain for a while.

Summer Flowers '09

There is a spot out front where we've been thinking we need a summer flower bed. It is along the little stone wall, along the path that leads to the pool. This spring I put in some hollyhock rhizomes, and scattered some shasta daisy seed.

Only one of the hollyhocks has come up, but it won't flower this year, and daisies don't bloom in the first year after planting either, so we really don't know what we'll get from the earlier effort. We decided to buy some perennials in containers and plant them there to get things started.

Here's a photo of Mary after the garden was planted - cone flowers, black eyed susans, and one other variety. These will flower throughout the summer and come back next year, better established and with more flowers.

Friday Concerts in Luray

Mary and I spent a rare 3-day weekend out at the Hawksbill Cabin this weekend, so we were in town on Friday night and were able to do some local stuff. One of the highlights of our weekend was going into town for the "Concerts on Main" event, sponsored by the local business community.

These concerts start at around 7 and take place at Ruffner Plaza, a nice little gathering spot near the Hawksbill Greenway. Shown here are two photos, below, one looking from the crowd at the stage (that is local act Acoustic Thunder performing), and above, a second looking back at the crowd from the Main Street bridge (Bob Prestage, a national blues act, performing).

We're guessing that more than 500 people were attending, boosted by the Ruffner Family Reunion that was going on at the time. The Ruffner's forebears gave the original land for the founding of Luray, an act that is memorialized on a plaque in the plaza.

It was a real delight running into our friends at the Plaza - Mickey and Candie, Howard and CFM (sorry we missed Andie).

We were hungry and left most of the way through the second act of the show, heading over to the Mimslyn for a quick bite. Since we don't have internet at the Cabin, and no cable, and no newspapers, we were surprised by the new of Michael Jackson's death - but that was only one of the notable passings this weekend.

For more info on the concerts, there is an entry on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/album.php?aid=2014177&id=1237389208&ref=mf

and here is a link to Bob Prestage's site:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Page County 2004 Plan Wrap Up

I’m finishing up the series of posts on the Page County economic vision from 2004 today, so I will take just a quick look at a second goal in the document – existing business retention and growth – before going back to think about some other opportunities.

This section begins with the statement “…Page County’s diversified economy, based on the four ‘legs’ of manufacturing, tourism, retail and agriculture, provides an excellent foundation for growth.” There are two key ironies to beginning this section with a statement like this:

  • Elsewhere in the report is a note about the lost jobs in the manufacturing sector; in fact, this labor pool is part of ‘being ready’ for future new business arrivals; and
  • This strategic goal merits only a page and a half of the study, and two objectives, compared to the coverage of attracting new businesses and the lamentations about transportation infrastructure.

Addressing the recent – at the time, although they have continued since 2004 – job losses in the manufacturing sector, this plan reports, “…the strength of Page County’s local economy has allowed the County’s agricultural, housing, tourism, and retail sectors to continue to grow…”, partially offsetting the impacts. Then there is the bottom line – the requirement to come to an understanding of the needs of existing businesses.

We spent a three day weekend out at the Hawksbill Cabin last weekend (looking forward to spending the 4th out there, too), and having just read this plan I kept my eyes open for details on some of these issues. Some of the things I heard:

  • You know, if they’d open up a commuter rail line from here, people would commute into DC to work.
  • A lot of money was spent here to attract the Wrangler plant, but its closure as a manufacturing center left a bad taste in people’s mouths.
  • The big company agriculture approach has really taken advantage of the small farmers here. Those people have mortgages to pay.
These points, overheard in casual conversation, ring true. There have been a lot of DC commuters from the area (although there have been a lot of job casualties among this group, too). And the manufacturing jobs at the plant were still shipped out to Mexico despite the County’s incentives (another irony – Wrangler jeans are one of the branded products you can buy at Wal-Mart). The poultry processing plants are the subject of any number of cost savings initiatives (and recent bankruptcies) that all go back to location theory, discussed briefly the other day.

As a business person, I’ve found that sometimes the highest payback comes from doing just a little more with the investments already made. It’s different from a “good money after bad” concept – if the fundamentals for success are there, sometimes the little extra of a renewed approach, new tools and technology, or simply, new management, are all it takes to break loose profitability. So I guess I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The strategies listed here are good ones, although I wonder if there was ever any follow-up: undertake a survey of local businesses to ascertain needs, problems, and general perceptions of the business climate; and survey supplier locations and products purchased, using the information to ascertain the feasibility of recruiting common suppliers to the region.

This is where I would start – from strengths. The tourism sector, while taking a bit of a shot during the recession, has remained robust. I’ve never seen the parking lot at the Caverns as it has been this summer, and on Friday I saw no less than four camping families arriving with the tell-tale rectangular cylinder of a tent strapped onto the luggage racks. They are coming here for recreation – make sure they have the highest quality experience. Outfitters and groceries are complimentary – make sure these are the best they can be (we have great outfitters, so I mainly am talking about the groceries here!).

Then there is agriculture. Family farms have really suffered and have been in a bad state for decades, but lately there are some new approaches that seem to work – I’ll write about them soon. A county agricultural marketing extension could develop a plan that builds on the sustainability and “buy local” trends that are hot in the big cities right now. Page County is ideally located to serve DC, Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Baltimore, Charleston, WV, and even Philly and Pittsburgh. Targeting grocers like Giant, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Harris Teeter with micro-ag, and seasonally fresh crops, seems to me to be an opportunity.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Page County Economic Plan "2004" - continued

On Saturday, sitting there on the brick terrace, I finished reading the 2004 Economic Vision for Page County. To be honest, as a consultant, reading background material such as this always leaves me with a few questions. While I have this post, and one other tomorrow, hitting some highlights of the action plan, the questions and next steps elements are always where the hard work is – the consultant delivers the reports, packs up for home, leaving the client to execute the recommendations.

By far, the driver of this plan is “business attraction” – five pages out of a total of 25. The discussion begins with the quote, “…one key to a sustained economic future will be Page County’s ability to attract new economic development…,“ before moving into a discussion of how Page competes with other destinations in the state for this kind of investment. The key concept is being ready, focusing on land prices, a resident labor pool, and accessibility via highways and rail.

There is an honest assessment of the probability of success for a plan like this. Apparently Page County has traditionally created marketing plans like this without taking the step to explore what industries are suitable, or where high priority investments should be made. This kind of targeting contributes to a higher probability of success. To do it, the community begins by asking itself questions such as:

· What is our niche?
· What types of businesses do we want to attract?
· What should be our strategic priorities: manufacturing, tourism development and promotion, or retail development?

There is a recommendation to take this key step of a market study and consensus building effort to answer these questions. The goal is to identify the industrial sectors and business types that would be most beneficial in the County. A second goal outlined in this area is an analysis of the types of export opportunities that might exist based on proximity to the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal.

The rest of the goals in this section – invest in better communications infrastructure, and the transportation infrastructure issues keeps coming up in various ways – address getting the table stakes together before being dealt in to the big hand. Coming down to earth, there is no assessment of how likely a small county like this, 30,000 or so people, is going to attract the kind of economic development investment needed to do these things, simply the observation that Page County must do them.

These recommendations are alternatively “easy ones” or “throwaways.” I found some interesting references to establishments I haven’t heard of before, that I am going to check out: the “Wrangler Annex” and the County Industrial Development Authority. I’ll look into these and make them the subject of a future post when I return to this topic.

The “attract new business” section closes with a sensible recommendation about supporting the expansion of the county’s tourism and retail base. As I’ve mentioned before, the thoughts on tourism seem the most logical to me, with the river, the mountains, the Park (1,000,000 visitors annually) and Forest nearby, not to mention Luray Caverns (500,000 visitors annually). The county was just awarded the state’s designation as “Cabin Capital of Virginia” highlighting the opportunities for a rustic and outdoors form of recreation.

That seems to be where the most leverage is, at least to me. It’s what brought Mary and me here in the first place. In the absence of the kind of investment study outlined in this report, the critical mass seems to be with tourism and related services and retail.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Page Economic Development Plan Review - Continued

Today continuing with a brief summary of the 2004 Page County Economic Development Plan...

The Plan describes a "high quality of life" in the county - good land prices and a relatively low cost of living, combined with scenic environment in an area bounded by the National Park, GWNF, and the Guest/Shenandoah River State Park.

There is a reference to the history of closing down the manufacturing centers in the County, well underway in 2003-2004, with a statement that growth in tourism, retail, and services showed promise in continued growth during the previous decade, and with attention, might continue this upward trend going forward. Combined with investment and promotion, further development would be a final segment that might be used to propel the County forward.

Looking at the resources that would provide a foundation for executing the plan, there is an appropriate focus on transportation and utility infrastructure, a brief consideration of what low land prices for zoned commercial and industrial properties might mean to development opportunity, and a reference to the qualifications of the Page County work force.

Taking these in a prioritized order, I would have to rate the transportation issue as one of the most important parts of the strategy. While the intersection of two US highways in Luray might have served as adequate all the way up to the '50's, once the interstate system was built allowing speedy and fast transportation, much of the traffic moved off of the old two lane roads and onto the new four-laners; in Page County's case, that means across the mountain to I-81, or 30 miles north, to I-66.

Effectively, this eliminates most manufacturing from consideration in an economy such as Page County's; reaching into the dark resources of my economics undergrad I seem to recall location theory that suggested proximity to natural resources is one factor, and proximity to market is the other. With the exception of agricultural and food products, we just don't have a driver that justifies manufacturing business location decisions or further development of a larger scale transportation infrastructure.

We could talk about the rail line that goes through town. There is capacity in that system for Page County commerce, as the trains head up to the inland port in Front Royal; analysis of the supply chain would be needed to look at what's downstream and upstream in the system in order to advise what might be appropriately located in the County.

And an interesting exception to the rule for transportation remains. I don't know as much as I would like to about the old Wrangler factory that is now used as a distribution center. That any element of that commerce was retained here is a real credit to community leaders, I hope that is something that can be extended to further benefit the economy in other sectors.

Leaving utilities aside, let's look at what these low commercial and industrial land prices mean. With poor transportation infrastructure and limited access to natural resources, the industrial sector doesn't have a strong justification for locating here. That leaves commercial development...again, that is going to want a reason for locating here to justify investment.

Usually, that would be a natural economic center - think banking in Charlotte (or Richmond), or high tech in Silicon Valley (or the Dulles Corridor), and proximity to a transportation node - most likely an airport in this case. While Luray sports a developing general aviation airport, it isn't adequate for this purpose, since we are close enough to Dulles for it to be the choice.

Low prices on zoned developable land means there is little demand, further reinforcing the transportation issues and reminding us of the limitation of the utilities infrastructure issues (power and communications infrastructure, specifically) as well. Although I still have not read the business plan and strategy about the data center I keep hearing about, my own opinion is that that will never achieve great success until these other factors are addressed.

The work force is the last factor I'll look at today. The Lord Fairfax extension in Page County seems to be a high point in this area, and I think the promotion that it continues to receive is welcome and a true benefit. With the departure of the manufacturing sector, we have what is known as "structural unemployment" meaning well experienced and qualified folks - but no place for them to apply their skills. Recognizing this, a good investment is to help the people affected to learn new skills so they will be prepared for the opportunities that are available to them, and that is the role I understand that Lord Fairfax fills today.

So, with these thoughts about the infrastucture and basic economic resources behind us, next post will move into discussion of a couple of the economic goals outlined in the 2004 plan. I'd emphasize at this point that I don't mean to convey criticism of what's happening, just that now that we have been going to the Hawksbill Cabin for two years I am finally getting around to an understanding of the County. I find myself a stakeholder there, and I am interested in understanding the situation so that I can better find a way to make my own contribution to making positive changes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Page County Job Losses

Last week in the Page News & Courier, several articles had caught my attention, but especially the one that discussed an economic task force that recently met in the region. As far as a charter or more specific identification of what this task force is, I didn't find anything on a web search. The article identified a couple of state legislature points of contact, but didn't report on plans or goals with any specificity, so it is hard to understand what the objective is beyond hearings and public meetings.

One of the most striking facts in that article was the report that in the region that includes Page, Shenandoah, Rappahannock, and part of Rockingham County, 4,000 jobs had been identified as "lost" since September 2008. Beyond the statement that in essence said that people affected by the economy should work on education and gaining skills for future work, the article reported that there is no plan for a meeting in Page County - with a double-digit unemployment rate, among the highest in the state.

I decided to do a bit more research on the question and did some preliminary searching, finding a 2004 document called "Page County Strategic Economic Development Plan" - I'll report some of the findings over a couple of ensuing blog posts, keeping in mind that this document is more than five years old, and the data is likely to be older than that.

The Plan was developed by MarshWitt Associates, based in Roanoke, and funded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. It starts with a section called "An Economic Vision for Page County" as follows:

"Page County's sustainable high quality of life is the result of a diversified economy based on tourism, industrial development, agriculture, and retail and service industries. Existing jobs are being retained, and new high quality jobs are being created in the County. Job growth is the result of the County's educational system and workforce training partnerships that ensure the available of a trained labor force and the County's investment in water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure that has been planned to accommodate existing and future economic development needs."

Leaving aside for a moment that fact that much of this vision statement appears to be obselete, the report is organized around two key elements in addition to the vision statement: guiding principles and an action plan. I'll write more in tomorrow's post, but before I list the guiding principles, I note that the executive summary recommends that the County be proactive in these matters, reviewing the plan and updating it based on changing conditions and priorities.

The report lists six economic development "levers" or economic system components:

  • Business attraction
  • Existing business retention/growth
  • Community infrastructure
  • Education and workforce development
  • Government economic development programs and services
  • Transportation

Tomorrow's post will take a quick look the guiding principles, again circa 2004, followed by a post that summarizes the strategy and goals for each of these components. Next steps will be to research the execution of these plans and see if there are conclusions about what should and can be done at this point.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On motorcycles riding US 211

A little over two years ago, Mary and I were staying at Skyland in the Shenandoah National Park, and we had taken a morning walk in a cool Spring mist up to breakfast at the restaurant. We were seated near two guys sitting at a four-top and it was clear they were waiting for a third, as they were worried about him being late. They also discussed the likelihood of rain later in the morning.

Not long after, their friend joined them. He talked about the motorcycle ride up US 211 to the Park, saying that the road was wet, so he took some extra time to get there. The other two had stayed in the Park overnight, so they hadn't encountered the morning conditions.

Their breakfast conversation continued, and Mary and I couldn't help but overhear their discussion of the safety classes that they had taken since they began riding. The newest of them had been riding his Harley for just about five years. All of the talk was sprinkled over with technical references to safe riding and care on roads like the 211 route up from Sperryville and Skyline Drive itself - in the end, they postponed their ride due to the weather conditions.

This overheard conversation was one of the first things that came to mind when I read about the high-speed chase and motorcycle crash with injuries that occurred outside of the Park the other day (link here: http://www.whsv.com/news/headlines/48770112.html) - there were several other memories as well:

  • There is a flashing sign on the Sperryville side of US 211 just inside the Park boundary, that alerts riders of a high crash area for the next three miles
  • Being passed on the single lane downhill of US 33 headed into Elkton by three riders driving in excess of 80mph
  • Taking my family members up to the Park one day and encountering no less than 7 emergency vehicles near the top of the Thoroughfare Gap, where they were attending to 2 down riders - on the uphill side, no less
  • Following the AT on certain trails in the Park, only to find there is no solace from the sound of motorcycles touring the area (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/09/ivy-creek-easy-day-hike.html and http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/04/marys-rock-not-so-easy-day-hike.html)

It seems the riders fall into at least two groups: careful and safe riders on an outing, enjoying time outdoors; and joyriders going after the thrill of the machine's performance.

The first group, while they are the source of a lot of traffic noise in the Park, are safe operators and are pretty considerate of other motorists. They also make frequent stops to check their gear and machines. They take extra time to make sure everyone gets to the next destination safely. At area businesses - the wineries, restaurants, and shops in Luray, Sperryville and New Market - their big parties are a welcome site, making the days revenue goal in a down economic time.

The other riders are most frequently seen as single riders, although sometimes there are small groups. From what I've seen, they appear to be novice riders that tend to overestimate their own skill, and they are probably are the majority of the motorcycle accidents along the Park entries and exits (they rarely ride Skyline Drive from what I have seen, 35 mph and entry fees keeping them away), and their riding approach endangers everyone else on the road. Their groups tend to spread out due to the varying skill levels, and you can often see two or three of them pulled off on the side of the road waiting for stragglers.

I can see where it is a thrill to take those machines out, but I think back to that conversation we overheard at the restaurant that morning, where the riders were deciding whether to take their own high-performance machines out and decided on safety first. And now we have this latest incident, where a trooper was injured and the motorcyclist took off and ran from the scene. I guess the rider had been seen earlier in the day speeding along at 120mph, and when the trooper came after him, he ran. Not only that, when the bike went down, he overestimated his skills again, and ran off on foot before he was inevitably caught.

I'm coming around to the thought that maybe our local law enforcement team should spend a few months this summer enforcing the speed limits on US 211 and 33 within the Park boundary - setting a "no tolerance" rule on the speed limit, as they currently have with seat belt enforcement.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Arlington - Rainy Days and Construction

It’s an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain in the Mid-Atlantic region this week. The US Open is on and has had to deal with substantial rain delays up in Bethpage, NY; Howard (Evergreen Outfitters) posted in his Facebook status this morning that he considered canoeing into work in Luray; and yesterday, this little backhoe sunk into the mud at the construction site across the street from my office in Arlington.

The backhoe had been extracted by this morning; unfortunately I missed that part of the action. I would guess they pulled it out with one of the larger vehicles, but there is a cantilever crane at the site and they may have been able to pull it out that way.

The incident reminded me that I haven’t posted on the Arlington construction in a while. This project got started in January 2008 at about the same time I started my current job. We watched the demolition and site prep from our windows. Currently, as seen in the accompanying photo, the building has risen out of the hole, the parking decks are completed below ground, and the mezzanine and retail levels are a work in progress.

As a side note, the majority of the “Arlington Rap” video I posted last week and have linked to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T1RMuoQnKo was filmed within 2 blocks of this construction site.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This Week's Page News & Courier

It's looking more and more like we aren't going to make it out this week. But the paper arrived in the mail yesterday (it is published Wednesday and is usually here by Thursday, on weeks where we are in town on Wednesday, it is still hawked at the main intersection in downtown Luray) and there are a couple of items of interest that merit a further look.

I can't cover them today, but posting them for a moment so I'll remember to come back to them:
  • a regional economic task force met recently in Luray to discuss unemployment in Page County. The article left me with an impression that nothing was decided, except to make an endorsement of the Lord Fairfax Community College.
  • a petition regarding the Econonomic Development Authority's pursuit of "Project Clover" - the purchase of farm land for future development. The EDA Chairman is quoted as not understanding the issue in a photo caption; most of the chatter I have heard on this issue involves the multiple of assessed value (nearly 3x) that was paid for the land.
  • an announcement that Tractor Supply Company (TSC) is coming to Luray. I've driven past the stores in Leesburg and H-burg, but never been to one...it seems to be across the spectrum from the Lowe's offering, but I want to know more about the chain.

I'll see what I can find out about these over the next week.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Follow-up - "Bubble Buddies"

I mentioned our groomer - here's a photo of the van and the link to the business. Apparently they are not taking new customers at this time, but we sure appreciate the work they do an the convenience. http://www.bubblebuddies.biz/page2.html

And look at those girls afterwards. Sofie looks like she really enjoyed it, although Gracie finds it to be a drag, only less so because Mary and I didn't bathe her!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

...a Presgraves-Cantor connection?

There was a recent national article that linked 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor to Page County’s former Sheriff Danny Presgraves. In my rush to post this morning, I forgot to mention that I had come across the Harper’s article by Ken Silverstein (it’s been referenced in both the Harrisburg and Page County papers); I’ll summarize its content here and end with a link back to it.

Also, the caption on the accompanying photo (I’ve lost the link to its source, but everything in today’s post came via a Google search on “Cantor + Presgraves”) should read, “Former Page County Sheriff Daniel W. Presgraves talks with Virginia's 7th District Congressman Eric Cantor during a local Republican rally in August 2003.”

Before I begin the summary of the Harper’s article, I did a quick check on “watchdog.net” about Presgraves’ contributions to Cantor. I found that he gave a total of $3,600 to Cantor’s cause between 2002 and 2006. The Harper’s article mentions these contributions as well as those of fellow indictee Chester William Fannon III, who subsequently pled guilty to “making nearly $9,000 in illegal conduit political contributions,” and is subject to a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $100K fine. According to the Harper's article, Fannon gave Cantor a total of $500 during 2006 and 2007.

In the DNR’s (and Page News & Courier's) earliest reporting, the list of Presgraves’s charges included the following: diverting $39K from the US Customs Service and $47K from PayTel to an escrow account, and making small deposits totaling $100K in a structuring scheme between 2001 and 2004. Note that these are charges, alledged crimes, yet to be tried.

However, these activities overlap with the Cantor contributions, and the saying “Politics makes strange bedfellows” comes to mind. I am not saying that at the start of all of this the Congressman would know whether he has a problem here, but it seems prudent now that the case is well underway to make sure those records are scrubbed before the trial. There is inevitable scrutiny ahead.

The Harper’s article is entitled “Congressman Cantor and Cockfighting.” Here is an extended quote, the link follows:

The Middleburg man first hauled into federal court the same day as former Page County Sheriff Daniel W. “Danny” Presgraves has pleaded guilty to making illegal political contributions in relation to cockfighting. Chester William Fannon III, 47 at the time of his October arrest, entered into a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville on Monday, according to online court records. The one-time president of the Virginia Gamefowl Breeders Association Inc. pleaded guilty to making nearly $9,000 in illegal conduit political contributions, the plea agreement says. That charge carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine…

According to the indictment against him, Fannon had links to the Little Boxwood cockpit near Stanley in Page County. It says Fannon wrote checks to presidential and congressional candidates, and would then get reimbursement from the cockfighting association, in violation of federal law. Corporations are not permitted to donate to federal campaigns.

Both Presgraves and Fannon appear to be fans of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. The former has made five contributions totaling about $3,500 to Cantor since 2002. The latter gave Cantor checks for $500 in 2006 and 2007. In April, after Cantor was interviewed on CBS, Fannon wrote this note on the congressman’s website:

‘Great interview! I am glad that you made it clear that you don’t want the President himself to fail but only his policys. [sic] Please keep supporting rural values, animal agriculture and the second amendment. The H.S.U.S. is a serious threat to the above mentioned organizations and we need your help.

‘The H.S.U.S. is the Humane Society of the United States, which has been leading an effort to ban cockfighting; and as a Humane Society blogger noted last October, Cantor was one of the very few House members who voted against the felony animal fighting bill.’”

The truth will out. You can find the Harper’s article at http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/06/hbc-90005080.

The Presgraves Update

It's been a while since I posted on the felony trial of former Page County sheriff DannyPresgraves. He has been indicted on 22 wide ranging charges in a case that was originally set for trial in March but has been postponed.

The most recent news is that the former sheriff has added a new attorney to his expanding defense team, and, quoting H-burg's DNR newspaper, "This attorney brings some star power." He is former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who has been a candidate for governor, running against Tim Kaine in 2005. Kilgore is a partner at Williams Mullen, the same firm as Presgraves' previous lead attorney, David Barger, who left the law firm in May.

It is newsworthy that a politician with Kilgore's reputation would represent someone charged in such a high profile case. I'll refrain from speculating on what this signifies, in favor of thinking that it is nothing more than taking advantage of a challenging, high-profile case to rebuild his law career.

Duly noted, however, is all the rumor and innuendo on the internets. For previous reports about this, click on the "Sherrif Presgraves" label below.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yet to pull the trigger: Tech Watch Geek Update

All the summer gear reviews are out, and this year there are even more choices of tech watches. The one catching my eye right now is the Suunto Elementum Terra - one good looking watch.

It's new enough that there aren't a lot of reviews yet, so I want to see some field experience with the watch before I make a final selection of the one to get. I've seen the Elementum Terra most recently in the June/July issue of National Geographic Adventure (which also features some of the nation's top parks as a headline article); I haven't seen it in stores yet.

The Adventure article reviews the watch as follows:

"...Not all climbing watches look the same. Suunto's Elementum Terra has every mark of a quality mountain instrument, with an altimeter, barometer, and obsessively precise compass. But the stainless steel powerhouse's urban style is all its own... ."

The price for this functional style is around $1,200, putting it in the same class as the Tissot T-Touch (click on the "Tech Watch Geek" label for a look at some other watches I've been considering). It is good looking, with bracelet styles in stainless, leather or rubber.

First of all, I am a "hiker" and not a "climber," but it is the use of that word "obsessive" to describe the watch functions that troubles me. My friends Chris and Andy both have tech watches with altimeter functions, and so far on our Duncan Knob and Signal Knob hikes they've forgotten (or neglected) to calibrate their watches before we set out. Chris admonishes that the operator guides are difficult to read and use. We've been able to work around the calibration, but I suspect the reason they don't do it is because it is a pain.

That's why I need to have more info before I invest in one of these tools. My G-shock (casual) and Omega Constellation (dressy) watches will get me by until I make a choice.

By the way, in a move reminiscent of the Appalachian Trail story on the Casio site, Suunto has added a feature on Doug Stoup, a polar explorer, and his endorsement of the watches. More at: http://www.suuntocampaigns.com/Elementum/
By clicking on the label "Tech-Watch Geek" you will be taken to the entire series of altimeter watch reviews.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Some down time with Gracie and Sofie

It was a rare weekend not heading out to the Hawksbill Cabin, with me just getting back from being on business in San Antonio, and Mary headed up to NJ to visit some cousins preparing to relocate to Germany. Besides getting nine holes of golf in, and catching up on some reading (I’m currently reading Michael Perry’s Coop), I’ve been spending some quality time with Sofie and Gracie.

The girls were recently groomed. Because of the trauma bath time imparts, I haven’t given Gracie a bath in more than five years. We have a service that comes around twice a year in a converted RV, called “Bubble Buddies,” that actually specializes in older dogs, like our two. Gracie, the Border Collie, is 14 and a half; Sofie, the Chow mix we found as a stray in the DuPont Circle area of DC, is older than that. In fact, it has been about 13 years since Sofie joined our pack.

They don’t really get dirty and smelly like younger dogs anymore, so the twice a year schedule works out well for us. They actually seem to like it when the groomer hooks up the leash and leads them into the van – it’s an amazing difference from the “flat Gracie” routine I would experience when I tried to get her into the bathroom. Who knew a dog could actually expand to cover so much square footage, so that she couldn’t fit through a door?

When the groomer leaves, the dogs have been bathed and trimmed, and their nails are clipped. They get a special bandana, and they seem to like the extra attention we give them afterwards.

With Mary out of town, Sofie and Gracie have been hanging close by, mainly snoozing away as dogs at their age do. But at times, I still see glimpses of the old personalities. Sofie is mainly motivated by her tummy (or other bodily functions), so she is up and by my side any time I pass through the kitchen. Gracie has mainly been content to lie on the floor nearby, as she is now while I write this, but when I speak to her I can see the eyes darting around the room in search of a tennis ball or other toy.

Sofie is living proof that treating dogs the way you want them to behave makes them great pets. She’s smart, she has a great vocabulary, and with her, we’ve been through a lot. Almost 10 years ago she blew out a disk in her back, a fatal injury for dogs if they don’t receive medical attention. We got immediate emergency surgery for her (we had pet health insurance that helped). To this day, Mary and I both swear that the vet treating Sofie could operate on us; too, he was so well qualified and had such a great manner with his patients.

When our regular vet first met Sofie, she looked at her teeth and the Chow posture and said, “I like this dog. She has good hybrid vigor.” That inspired us to have Sofie’s DNA checked out: the Chow is definitely there, not just because of the purple tongue, but it gets hazy after that. The most significant other breed represented is Poodle. Who would have guessed?

Beyond the parentage, we get a glimpse of her life before she joined us whenever we meet an “intact” male dog on a walk. Even at the advanced dog age of at least 15 (person) years old, these encounters involve a lot of squealing, spinning around, and boxing the male dog. She seems to know what she is doing, but the male dogs are left puzzled by all this, standing there perplexed, worriedly checking with their masters about whether this (spayed) old lady is going to hurt them or not. She probably had a litter of fuzzy little Chow mix puppies somewhere along the way, and she has probably outlived them.

Sofie has slowed down some, but she is still in great health and full of good spirits. Her sister, Gracie, on the other hand, is not in the best of health. Still, she is doing well, in good spirits, and holding her own for now. Having been diagnosed in January with final stage canine renal failure, she is on a full regimen of prescriptions, and she gets a half liter of subcutaneously administered IV fluids every other day. She has lost most of her hearing, although she can hear a loud whistle, or one of her vocabulary words, when spoken directly to her in a loud voice.

Border Collies are widely considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and they were very popular around the time of Gracie’s birth, which was when the movie Babe came out. Our relatives had taken Gracie, but seemed to be finding the four-month old pup to be a whole lot of dog, so we offered to adopt her. Or maybe she adopted us, as I do remember the first weekend we met I spent eight or nine hours learning that border collies (1) love to fetch; (2) have incredible stamina, even at the age of four-months; and (3) upon first meeting a new human, have a wily ability to keep the human busy paying attention to them. Even now, despite her health and age, whenever we have visitors, there is a big production that we call the “Border Collie Parade of Toys. “

A few years ago, there was a story about a German border collie, named Rico, who knew the names of something like 200 dog toys. There is a Wikipedia article about Rico here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rico_(Border_Collie). Rico could retrieve articles he’d never seen before, and that he did not know the name of, using a deductive reasoning approach called “canine fast mapping.” There is a second Wikipedia article about a border collie named Betsy who is said to know 340 words, and I like to think that Gracie has a vocabulary around that size.

Sometime during the first year we had her, we took Gracie out for a ride in the Valley. While Mary and I had a picnic on the lawn at North Mountain Vineyard, we played fetch with Gracie. Later, she napped while we drove with the windows down the Old Valley Pike to Shenandoah Vineyard. There were sheep farms in the area, and the scent of the pastures eventually woke her up, at first just enough to raise her nose to the lowered window to sniff.

Slowly, the Border Collie genes took over, and she stood up in the back seat to have a look. When she finally figured out that there were animals over there in the pastures, she let out a long “Aooo-ooo-ooo” and watched the sheep carefully as we drove by.

We’ve had these girls a long time, but it had been a while since I have had to chance to sit with them at home, without the stress (for them) of the drive out to the cabin, and just enjoy them for what they have become as “senior” dogs. I know we may not have much time left with each other, especially compared to the time we’ve had together. But the character of their company is rich with experience and warmth, and there seems to be an innate understanding of all thoughts – verbal and nonverbal – between us as we hang out in the house. And this weekend, that’s been as good a time as I could have asked for.

Post publication clarification, from Mary: "...Thought the blog was good today, but, as I recall, I was also involved in those baths and actually tried to bathe them a few times once you had given up on the process... Also, I'm now trying to get them groomed more often, about quarterly. It's less stressful since the hair doesn't mat so much and it's a less painful process. Sofie also can't groom herself in the rear area any more due to her arthritis so the groomer shaves her back there. No more pantaloons on the Chow-Dalmation-Springer Spaniel-poodle mix."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

San Antonio Wrap Up

A number of old Air Force friends remain big fans - or even residents - of San Antonio. I had a good time during my visit last week, and overall I would rate it a successful business trip. It's always the case that you wish you had more time to check in with folks, go to the places that they know...I had some really good recommendations in this respect, but no vehicle and no time.

Here are a final few photos...the "Pay-Less Liquors" - advertised in the slick hotel room book, the Hemisfare Tower (a landmark any Air Force vet will recall from his "town pass" day), a pre-Columbian artifact (this thing was bigger than me!), The Alamo (above) and a memorial that was near there. I have a few more photos that aren't suitable for publishing - they just don't meet my phone cam quality requirements, or they are too trade show specific...what happened there must stay there, in other words.
One photo I regret I wasn't able to publish. In front of the convention center, the town has laid a colorful map of the US into the sidewalk. It's made of different colors of granite and marble, and is very impressive.
One of my colleagues is from Texas, and he pointed out the map to me as we were going back to the show after lunch. "Look," he said, "here's the map of Texas and the other states!" I guess that explains somethings about Texans.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

AT Thru Hikers Update

During some yard work on Sunday, Mary got stung by a wasp. I have some sting relief meds in my hiking first aid kit, so we took care the bite quickly.

I really like this stuff. It was a life saver on late summer hikes a few years ago when Chris and I were prepping for the Half Dome summit. Back then, he used to go down the trail first.
In the late summer, yellow jackets can often be found nesting in the ground or rotting wood near trails. It is not unusual that a first hiker will disturb a nest, and the following hikers walk unsuspectingly right into a cloud of angry insects. This is what tended to happen to me, and that is how I learned about the sting relief meds.

Since the ointment gave Mary instant relief, we decided to take a drive into Luray to see if Howard had any of the stuff sold alone or in small packs, so I could re-equip the first aid kit. He didn’t have the product I needed, but he had something else that is pretty good – Jewell Weed. Turns out Mary has some, but she left it at home.

We talked about how things are going in the store – big news coming at Evergreen Outfitters later this summer – and about the through hikers that are coming into town right now. Howard’s had thru-hiking visitors since late March, and I ran into one fellow, “Old Spice” in the store a few weeks ago.

Old Spice had stopped by to pick up a care package that was being delivered to the store one Saturday, but it hadn’t arrived yet. So he spent part of the day hanging out waiting for it around town, and I think he caught a movie, either Star Trek or Transformers. They kept his pack for him at the store, and the package arrived while he was hanging out. I was sorry I didn’t think fast enough to offer him a ride back up to the trailhead in the park.

Another thru hiker was hanging out in town this Saturday – she made her way around doing some errands. I heard that she was at the library, where she left the pack outside draped with a banner that said “I can’t believe I hiked all the way here from Georgia,” or something like that, as reported by Cindy, Howard’s mother-in-law.

Also in the store were three Dutch guys that were doing the trail, the “Three Stooges.” Here is a link to their blog about the trip http://www.bergopbergaf.nl/– it’s good reading. Howard said they had a good visit.

Back to the sting relief meds. Chris actually kicked up the bees on me twice back in those days, but luckily was right there with the meds both times after I’d gotten stung – this was always happening three or four miles into the hike, so it was a long way and very likely slow going back to the car for something.

These days, I go first on our hikes. Somehow, though, I don’t think it’s just about the bees. I think it’s because the young whipper snappers think I’m slow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trade Show Behind the Scenes

While I've worked show booths before, I've never been there on set-up day like yesterday. It's dangerous! There were fork lifts moving around everywhere, folks up on ladders installing big booth furnishings - any number of things could go wrong. Here is the view late last night while there was still work to do.

This morning the floor opened at 8:30 and I did the whole day in the booth or meeting our vendors. Of course, I have dutifully taken pictures of the variety of stuff on display. It's hard for me to believe that the government buys all of this stuff! (Note:, the chopper was at a furniture sales booth, it was not for sale.)
Finally, our humble little booth. #1343, right there between the National Safety Council and the custom imprinters!
There was a booth accident today, one set of displays came down with a boom! Nobody was hurt, but there were office supplies all over the place. The humanity!

Piney Pool Mess

I sure am glad I put the thermal blanket on the pool last weekend before we left. Between the storms and wind, all the little pine buds blew of the big tree – and right into the pool. You can’t make this stuff up. After all that work opening the pool last week, here I was looking at an effort of similar scale.

With the blanket on, I figured I could keep about half of the crap out of the water if I was careful – that was a success. But, there were still 20 pounds of that stuff in the pool – too much for Dude to take care of all by himself. So I got some of the other pool cleaning tools out and set to work.
I also moved the hummingbird feeder around to the little planter by the pool. I’ve seen the birds around the yard, but they hadn’t seemed to find the feeder yet. Almost as soon as I moved it, I saw one at the feeder…so this is a good place for it.Back to the pool cleaning: between Dude and me, we got ‘r done in about two hours – four or five big nets worth of the piney buds and a bunch of needles.

But the good news is the second batch of chlorine shock has really cleared the water. It wasn’t quite warm enough for a swim, but the pool’s ready.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

San Antone Knife and Forker

So the last of these boring entries for the day. The place I had lunch, at dusk...a boat where there was a small party having dinner on one of the "Rio Taxis" (I like 'em but gawd I hope my group doesn't try to organize one of these)...and the approach to my hotel, which fortunately was visible from my seat in a restaurant, since I could not resist the margueritas.

In case you are wondering, the phrase "Knife and Forker" is how I refer to any business trip that is primarily for marketing purposes. If you are working for a client, you probably don't have time for all this (although you will still eat well)!

Tomorrow the trade show begins in earnest.

San Antonio River Walk

Here are a few more photos from walking around at lunchtime. A little cafe, and a sign on a bridge reminding me of industry back (gone now) in the ol' home state. Last one, from the hotel balcony - forgot to post it this afternoon.

PS I had tamales and a tecate with a lime for lunch.

Road Trip to San Antonio

Now that daylight is upon us, turns out there is a balcony in this room that overlooks the famous River Walk. I know I am nearby the Alamo so I will try and check it out while I am here - I've walked by a few times but never went in.

Lots of great tips from my old Air Force friends about things to do and see, but I don't know what I will be able to fit in - it is a work trip.

It has been 20 years since I was here, visiting Henry on Labor Day 1989. We did the River Walk then, too, with the San Antonio Grand Prix going on all around.

The flight from DFW was packed, and I sat among a team of airmen coming back from a TDY in Florida. Same ol' same ol' - the poor taste in jokes and constant sarcasm made me laugh remembering some of our old jokes. One of them was a Serbian Linguist, and they were all impressed when I told them I had been a Russian Linguist. That was fun. These young people will be deploying to Kuwait within six months or so - length of tour between a six months and a year. Good fortune to them!

H-burg Farmers' Market

During our drive down to Harrisonburg on Saturday, we were surprised to have gotten into town while the Farmers’ Market was still on – instead of heading straight into Home Depot we had decided to grab lunch at Clementine’s, and when we got downtown, well, there you have it.

The H-burg market is top notch. Really a nice selection and mostly covered under a shelter. And on the day we were there, the “Market and Court” days were on, so there were a lot of vintage costumes and crafters around. Here are some highlight photos of spinners and craft booths.

In the market, I was happy to run into one of my fellow H-burg bloggers, Katrina Didot, who runs “a Bowl of Good” – the website is at http://abowlofgood.com/blog/about/ , is definitely mouthwateringly worth checking out. Here’s a photo of Katrina with the “good stuff” at the market. She has plans to open a cafĂ© soon in H-burg, so Mary and I will have another place to go when we are down there for errands.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Saturday Chores

After heading out to the Hawksbill Cabin on Friday night, we got up early so we could run some errands on Saturday. Mary wanted to pick up a few items at the Luray Farmers’ Market, and then we were due for a drive down to the Home Depot in Harrisonburg (the only Home Depot I will ever set foot in again – most courteous and knowledgeable staff I have encountered in one of these stores!).

We made our stop in Luray, but the two vendors we wanted to see weren’t there – there is a fellow that sells Page Valley honey and Mary wanted to get a few jars for hostess gifts, and there is a lady who makes wonderful beeswax hand soap that is scented with lavender that we really enjoy. With these two absent, we browsed the other booths, where Mary found some local jams to substitute for the honey, and from the same vendor, a nice bunch of asparagus which I grilled with corn and NY strips for dinner.

Then it was on to H-burg. I mentioned that Jesse, our general contractor, was out a couple of weeks back – we have a slate of small projects for him, including installing some folding doors on the hallway closet (we currently have curtains hanging there) and a new door on the master bedroom.
The bigger part of this group of projects is laying a new floor in the hallway, about 80 square feet. We were going to put down linoleum tile ourselves, but after shopping the Pergo we decided we liked it better. We’ve chosen a light colored Beech Block pattern, and we went down to Home Depot to buy what we needed. These photos are of the linoleum we were considering.

It turns out that a little more planning is due – there are several kinds of trim packages, including quarter rounds, leveling elements, etc., that need to be purchased at the same time to complete the installation. Because Pergo is a “floating floor” it is not mounted flush to the walls, as you do with linoleum. There is a quarter inch gap between the floors and walls, and this is typically filled with a silicon caulk-like project and covered over with the trim.

So we left without a purchase, just slightly better educated. We will work with Jesse to make the purchasing arrangements for the flooring, and he’s going to go ahead and start on the closet doors within the next couple of weeks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New on the Blogroll - Sneezing Cow

Last week, my main vacation reading consisted of two books by Michael Perry:

He's a humorist and essayist, and these two books were a great read. The first is about his time as a volunteer first responder in New Auburn, WI; the second is his experience fixing his vintage International Harvester pick-up and other events during a year in the life.

I enjoyed these enough that I checked out his blog, thus the addition to the blogroll, and I am also following him on Facebook.


River'd up!

Finally, after a few preliminaries on Sunday morning, the last day of my vacation, I persuaded Mary and Barbara to go on a canoe float. The three of us once canoed from Elkton to Shenandoah on a spring weekend after staying at a PATC cabin down there, so I knew they were up for it and would enjoy it as I would. We also brought Barb’s 13 year old border collie Willie with us, and he rode in the canoe with them.

We went with Downriver Canoe Company (http://www.downriver.com/) in Bentonville for this one – we organized the trip in a car shuttle sort of way, so that Barbara could leave directly from the put-in at Compton Rapids. Here are three views from that area, where Downriver has a little campground. Then we all drove in one car up to the outfitter site – downriver has quite a few of these vans and there are always trailers loaded and ready to go with boats and canoes.

M and B paired up, with Willie, in a canoe – shown here as they set off. I followed in a kayak.
The river was high from all the rain, running fast, and mostly smooth. There were still a few bumpy spots, but unlike the long ago trip from Elkton, we didn’t have to exit the boat to push off of any rocks, which is very typical in the Shenandoah.
For wildlife, we saw herons and geese, among others. There is an eagles’ nest in this part of the river, and we saw one of them in flight. There were lots of folks camped along the shore or fishing, and this big group was canoeing behind us for part of the way. We also passed some tube floaters.
Barbara has a secret campground on a small island in this area, and she and Mary broke off to explore it…the high water had brought a couple of trees down in that area and they had to do some portage, though – but they did spot the campsite. After they disappeared on their adventure, I paddled to a confluence and was able to float with minimal paddling to wait for them, about 15 minutes – that was a nice experience because the water was very fast on either side of me, but facing into the wind in a leeward spot I was in a zone of complete quiet.
Finally, we were back at the campground near Compton. Barbara and I decided to do the rapids, which are Class II whitewater most of the time. It was big water this day, however, and from above we could see big heaps and pools as the river crashed over the rocks. She went down in the kayak, staying to the right, and then came back, and she and I went down in the canoe – photo is of us approaching the landing.
The last image is one of the bluffs just below the Compton Rapids. For about four river miles above, and continuing on to Front Royal, this is what the river looks like. It’s also the reason for much of this river’s character – these rock layers extend out into the river bed. On days when the water is clear you can see them below.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Late Start Saturday

Mid-week during our vacation, we got in touch with Mary's friend Barbara, who we had invited out for the weekend. She planned to drive out Friday night, but the storms held her up; she arrived at around 9am on Saturday.
I had hoped that this would be the day of the canoe float, finally, but we had just gotten started too late to fit that in. I had been in touch with two river outfitters during the week, Downriver Canoe Company in Bentonville and Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray, and both said they sometimes run out of kayaks by 10am on spring weekends.

Instead, we decided to drive over to New Market for lunch at the Southern Kitchen - always a favorite. And since we would be on that side of the Massanutten ridge I had a few other activities in mind.

Our first stop after lunch was to take the short walk on the Storybook Trail to the Page Valley overlook. This is a great view from 1600 feet up or so across the valley to the ridge of Shenandoah National Park.
Somewhere along the line of the road in the foreground lies the Hawksbill Cabin, nestled almost at the beginning of the ridge in the distance.

Next, we drove through the GWNF, stopping to take a look at Passage Creek, swollen with rain, along the way. This picture is from a drive over there a few weeks back, when the creek was in similar condition.

Finally, up in Toms Creek, we visited North Mountain Vineyard. It had turned out to be a very nice spring day despite the continued threat of thunderstorms, which is just the way it is in Northern Virginia this time of year. We sat out on the deck and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and the cheese plate, watching people come and go.
It was a very relaxing time. I've said it before, but a couple of these vineyards remind me of Sonoma - especially this one and Linden. The Virginia wines, while they are always improving, aren't quite the consistent match to those in California, but the industry here is doing very well and you can find some very pleasant surprises in the vintages.