Ramble On

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fibrowatt - in depth

Following up on the NVDaily article about the potential of Fibrowatt LLC locating an energy plant at Page County’s Project Clover, I am planning to post a series on the company and its projects next week. Broadly outlined, I’ll research and post on the following:

1) Fibrowatt company overview and its projects in Minnesota and North Carolina, and the UK if that is possible;

2) Review of the press releases on their website, and anything else that is reviewed by following these;

3) An overview of what I find out about local citizen's concerns, some EPA matter’s that turned up in a Google search, and also research into one of Fibrowatt’s own press releases about “alleged non-compliance in Minnesota”;

4) A break-even analysis from a report on a similar plant in Arkansas, and other operators of similar projects in the US; and

5) A wrap up, with some abbreviated profiles of Fibrowatt’s board members.

This is going to keep me busy next week, and the posts may tend to be on the longer side…but I am looking forward to it. I'll leave you with this paragraph, cut from the article linked below. If it’s true that Fibrowatt only builds where they have been invited, one has to conclude that Page County somehow invited them here:

"Locating these plants near to major poultry producing centers is critical to the model’s long-term success. But Fibrowatt is sensitive to the needs of the communities it would like to enter. Although it is exploring potential future projects in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, and other states, the company’s philosophy is to only go where it’s invited."

That’s from: http://www.energytodaymagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7006&Itemid=101

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Green Energy at Project Clover?

There was breaking news on the prospect of developing Page County’s controversial Project Clover site this week. In essence, there is a proposal to build a “green energy” plant on the site, as reported in NV Daily (link below).

Delegate Todd Gilbert is quoted at length in the article:

"The ag industry benefits from having this waste product taken off their hands," Gilbert said.

"And [Fibrowatt tells] us it's a clean process. The smokestacks are mostly steam. And you would be removing thousands of tons of poultry litter from the ground that might otherwise have found its way into the Chesapeake Bay."

As a renewable-energy producer that would sell the power to utilities, electric cooperatives and large industrial users, there are certain economic impediments to Fibrowatt's operations that require incentives to make the process affordable for everyone, Gilbert said.

"What the company does is highly specialized and expensive," he said, adding that its costs are only marginally above the wholesale value of the product.

Given the history of Project Clover, this is sure to be controversial. I hope there will be a lot of additional due diligence done on the prospect. I have a feeling that this Gilbert quote doesn’t tell the whole story: "The ag industry benefits from having this waste product taken off their hands, and [Fibrowatt tells] us it's a clean process.”

I started to do some additional research on this after reading the article last night. I was impressed with the assessment of potential economic impact…but I could see a number of environmental concerns about an industrial site like this that I would like to understand better.

After thinking about it some more, my first impressions returned to the matter of how the site selection for Project Clover was done in the first place, especially after I read about how the plant would need to source the chicken litter from a wide geographic area. They need a sustainable supply, and their Minnesota operation gets it from at least five counties. A Page County plant would source the whole Northern Valley area.

The question then becomes one related to truck access to the Clover site. I imagine there would be at least one truck per hour delivering raw materials to the plant, and they would have to use that two-lane bypass to get there…rolling through the little town of Stanley since through traffic in the other direction isn’t allowed. My conclusion on this a few months ago was that other sites with better proximity to existing highways were better candidates, and I still think that way.

In any case, seems like we’re on the front end of an exciting development. The prospect of 300 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs operating that plant is nothing to sneeze at, but the reality is that Page County has a hard time sealing the deal on prospects like this. The best way to move forward is an open, trusting, intelligent dialog involving all County stakeholders, now that this opportunity is public.



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Twofer: Mom's Birthday and Clarendon Construction Update

It's mom's birthday today - Happy Birthday Mom!

Also, a quick post on the construction progress near my Clarendon office. The masonry continues to rise across the intersection, and they are on the one slab a week pace on the mid-block building. Speaking of which, I went up to the 9th floor lobby for this photo - if you look closely over the roof of the building visible just below where the crane cable is hanging, you will see the Washington Monument peaking out over the top!

Hard to believe, but from my office in Ballston a few years ago I could see the Capitol building, now all of this new construction blocks that view.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tech-watch geek: Looking for Timex Expedition Reviews

I have been looking for reviews of the Timex Expedition WS4 watch. I posted a reference to it in Tech-watch Geek last year: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-offering-for-tech-watch-geek.html , and I have repeated the photo here with this post. Most of the references I found today were dated around the time of my post – meaning they were posted at about the time the watch was released last year, and draw from ad copy rather than actual user experience.

The watch is not on Amazon either, where my Casio Pathfinder came from, and where there are a number of reviews. The reviews are the main reason I chose it. If you come across any, or have one to share, please let me know with a comment.
Meanwhile, I am still on the learning curve with the Pathfinder. I toured a data center building a few days ago, and we took the stairs between the ground and third floors. The ceiling heights in these buildings should be 16 feet, my watch set the measure at 48 feet – we got that one right.
Also for fun, I took a manual measurement in the basement parking lot of the building I work in – “P3” – and again on the 9th floor after an elevator ride. I still have not set reference altitudes, but the watch read 0 on P3 and 45 on the 9th floor – 45 meters, or after adjusting by 3.2, 144 feet. Twelve feet per floor sounds about right to me.
I am still getting used to the size of the watch, and yesterday found that I had taken a compass reading while reaching for my keys. I’ve been pulling the bracelet too tight for one thing, and now am taking inadvertent readings much less since figuring that out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Snow Facts

When we first bought the Hawksbill Cabin, there were large support poles attached to the beams in the main part of the house. One of them is shown here near the fireplace. These old beams and structures came out of the house after we found the termites and had to tear the roof off of the place, replacing it with a modern structure (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/12/wtf-moment.html ).

During the winter of 2007 and 2008, there wasn’t much snow – certainly not enough, it seemed to us, to justify the expense of these support poles, even if the previous owners had known about the condition of the roof. An article by Carl Quintrell in the PN&C last week provided more insight.

The four Page County snowfalls in December 2009: 6.5 inches on the fifth, .25 on the ninth, 18 inches on the 18th and 19th, and another inch on the 31st, combined to make it the snowiest December since 1942. In fact, the average snowfall during December is 4.26 inches, according to Quintrell. Adding the rain and freezing rain that fell during the month, there was another 4.85 inches of precipitation, on top of the heavy snow.

The article goes on to report that the average annual snowfall from October to March is 22.74 inches, with the heaviest falls in February, at 6.36 inches, and January, at 6.20 inches. Comparatively, the 2007 snow was only 17 inches, with only a light dusting after we bought the place. In 2008, there was only 5.85 inches, and we never saw it during our weekends out.

However, the average figure of 22.74 inches is certainly enough to justify those snow poles in the old roofing system. We’ve modernized and upgraded that system now, so there is no danger of a collapse, and we added insulation up there to reduce heating costs. Maybe it would be nice to have the old beams back, but I’ve no complaints about our successful renovation and the character of the new ceiling.

Friday, January 22, 2010

February Pruning

The old apple tree in the front yard at Hawksbill Cabin looks like it has been neglected for more than ten years. Even so, it produced a great crop of MacIntoshes in 2008 - apparently a late frost killed off many apple blooms in Page County in 2009 and the crop failed, including with our tree.

February is pruning month for apple trees in Virginia, as I understand it. So I am looking for advice about how we should approach it for this tree. I included the porch in the foreground for perspective - the tree is at least 30 feet tall. You can see forks at previous pruning points, and since each of these branches is more than four inches in diameter, I'm guessing it's been a long time since it was cut back.

Also, we have two of these little evergreen shrubs in the yard. I had thought they were some kind of weedy volunteer, but last weekend I took a closer look. This one has some kind of little bloom or seed coming off of it - right now, in January. It kind of looks like a rhodie but I'm not sure - readers, any thoughts?

Post a comment, and thanks!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tech Watch Geek: Baby Steps

Following up on my ill-fated trek to the Mary’s Rock trailhead a few weeks ago with my new Casio Pathfinder, I decided to take a short walk down the road from Hawksbill Cabin, taking some manual altitude readings at different waypoints. Before I turned back on the Mary’s Rock trail (you can read more at: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/01/skyline-drive-misadventure.html), I thought I had taken three readings, but actually only recorded one. So this little trip was designed to get the hang of taking manual readings and reading back a record afterwards.

To do this, the watch has to be in manual mode – for the record, I am keeping it in this mode – and the readings are taken using button “E” which is marked with the legend “ALTI.” You simply press E until you hear a beep. These readings are stored in the watches memory, which can hold up to 50 records. Among the functions are records of the “min” and “max” readings, which contain the highest and lowest readings – when I am out on real trail hikes I will use this to measure absolute altitude gain.

The route from the Hawksbill Cabin to the Hawksbill Creek crossing is about 1.5 miles round trip, roughly measured using Google Earth. Along the way there are two hills and four stream crossings, including Hawksbill Creek. Three of the crossings are little Beaver Run tributaries that collect before their confluence with the main Hawksbill Creek.

So, my readings were taken at: (1) the cabin driveway; (2) at the first crossing of Beaver Run – the main stream that passes in front of the cabin; (3) at the top of the hill; (4) at the second crossing of another part of Beaver Run; (5) at the intersection of the road and the main road; (6) at the little red barn where I met my friends the donkey, horse and goats (there’s also a Beaver Run crossing here); (7) and at the end of my route, Hawksbill Creek at the big red barn.
As you walk this route, you get the impression that there are good altitude changes, due to the steepness of some of the grades. But the altitude change is really not very significant – at one point I started to worry that the changes wouldn’t be enough to even detect, since the barometric pressure readings are only sensitive enough to detect changes of 5 meters, or about 20 feet. That said, here are the records (taken in meters, I used a calculator (adjustment factor was 3.2 feet per meter, from an REI worksheet) to change them to feet):
I’ve got a few more things to learn about using the watch, including setting a baseline altitude so these readings more accurately reflect altitude above sea level (these records really only serve to define the relative altitude change between readings).
With the lowest reading of 190 meters/608 feet, and the highest at 220/704, the relative absolute change in this route is about 30/96. It was a fun learning experience – but I’ve got a lot more to go.
Also, a shout out to Bob at Old Rag Patrols blog - see the blog roll in the right hand column - for sharing his experience with his Garmin altimeter in some comments a couple of days ago - thanks Bob!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Before I went up to GWNF to walk along the interpretive hikes at the New Market Gap Visitor Center, I took a walk on my normal route in the Hawksbill Cabin neighborhood.

When I got down to the main road, I was greeted by the neighbor's full complement of barnyard residents - the horse, donkey and goats. Although they had fresh forage they still came over to visit as if I had something for them. Even the donkey came over to the fence.
I get it! It won't happen again. I won't be empty handed next time!

Before I went out to stretch my legs, since the overnight wasn't a hard freeze as it has been the last few times out, I put on a little fire and had my coffee on the brick terrace. Deep in the hollow like this, even in the winter, it's all quiet and peaceful-like.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

GWNF Interpretive Trails: A Couple of Easy Day Hikes

On Saturday, once my chores were done and since we had a warm day, I decided to head up to Massanutten Mountain and do a little hike. I set out to do Bird Knob starting at the GWNF visitor center on US 211 at New Market Gap, and would decide once I was there whether I had adequate daylight to complete the hike – and indeed decided against it once I was there.

Instead, after a short visit around the (permanently closed) visitor center, I walked along both of the interpretive trails in this vicinity. In GWNF, there are six of these interpretive trails, including the Charcoal Trail near Elizabeth Furnace; Discovery Way Trail, just off of US 211 in New Market Gap; Wildflower Trail, also in New Market Gap; Pig Iron Trail near Elizabeth Furnace; Lion’s Tale Trail, on Crisman Hollow Road; and the Story Book Trail, also on Crisman Hollow, which I have mentioned here several times.

I started by taking a walk around the parking area of the visitor center – I have been trying to get by here when it was open for some time now – and finally noticed the sign about its permanent closure. There are a couple of fixtures left in a state of neglect, including this large area of benches at the Discovery Way trailhead – more on the trail in a moment.

For history in this area, the Fairfax Line was surveyed through here in the mid 1600’s and passes near Bird Knob – this line marks the early land grant to Lord Fairfax, lands that became known as Virginia’s Northern Neck. This segment is a straight line that extends to the headwaters of the Potomac River.

A second historical note was a Civil War encampment of General Stonewall Jackson, as noted on this interpretive marker. Page Valley and the greater Shenandoah Valley were witness to many of Jackson’s exploits, and New Market Gap is no exception.

After exploring these features, I walked over to the Wildflower Trail, which was marked with the enticing sign at the beginning of this post. As described in one of the PATC guides:
“This east-west trail descends from the Visitor Center to an abandoned picnic area, sharing some of its tread with the Massanutten South Trail. Signs explain the effect of people and creatures on forest health. The trail is noted for its display of wildflowers in season, especially pink lady slippers in May. The trail tread is crushed stone.”

There were no wildflowers in sight on my trip (we may come back to see them in the spring), and US 211 is visible through the trees during the winter, so it’s quite noisy. This is also the trailhead to Bird Knob, so one point of interest is the intersection with the route to the summit, which is also where Wildflower connects with the greater Massanutten Trail.

After I walked back to the trailhead, I found the sign for the Discovery Trail – I was also doing some work learning how to use my new altimeter watch, and roughly was able to verify the altitude gain of 200 feet over the course of this hike…more to follow on that part of the day. As described in the PATC guide:
“This shaded spur trail leaves from the far end of the parking lot. It offers explanations of items found along forest trails.”

It would be an understatement to say I was disappointed with this experience. The only interpretive guidance was found on the trailhead sign, although it is clear that the trail once had a lot to offer. Here are photos of the sign posts that used to hold information along the way, as well as a shot of a bird house that is mounted on a tree, and an abandoned, not finished, millstone.

This trail is paved, so it could make for a nice family outing. It terminates in a ravine, slightly uphill from the end of the Wildflower Trail. At the higher altitude, there are several large stones that have tumbled down the mountain side over the millennia. It is a quiet place and the pause there was restful, even if it was hard to contain my disappointed in seeing this trail with so much to offer in such a state of neglect.

I had a nice time up on the mountain despite the disappointment. Combined with an earlier walk around the neighborhood at the Hawksbill Cabin, I managed over 10K steps that day, measured on my new Timex pedometer – and I am very close to my goal of averaging 5K per day for the month of January. But could I recommend these trails? Not really – not without some much needed maintenance and rework of the interpretive information.

Monday, January 18, 2010

YiMing's Coyote

My friend Yi Ming lives near Denver, and saw this coyote crossing the road Saturday in his neighborhood. Received it while I was out on a short hike of my own on Massanutten Mountain.

We have coyotes in Virginia as well, but not so many they run the streets!

Gutter Job

During the recent snow and melt, our gutters at the Hawksbill Cabin took a beating. They were torn away from the house due to the sheer amount of snow, coupled with a one-inch rain fall. As of this weekend, there was still snow on the roof – shown here in a photo from Sunday morning – but if the warming trend holds another day or so, all of the snow will finally be off the roof. Then who knows until the big piles in the shade behind the house melt away.

In addition to having Alan come out for a little bit of roof work – he’ll be doing a specialized flashing repair and installing “icebreakers” to prevent future damage to the gutters – we had our gutter guy, Craig Comer from Luray with Precision Seamless Gutters, in case Page Valley readers are interested – he’s always been responsive and has done a great job for us.

In addition to reattaching the gutters where they had torn away, we reopened the downspout at the center of the back of the house. I don’t like the placement of this one or how it drains to a little pipe under the house, seen in this photo as white piping in the stairwell. But we learned this is essential drainage for the roof’s large flat spaces – the run to the ends is too far for a heavy rain.

The downspout at the end of the stone portion of the house had to be reattached after the storms, and the gutter on this end was angled more to send water its way. Because this side of the house is somewhat sheltered by trees, there never seems to be much drainage here, although it may just head the other way to the central downspout.

Now just to get the chimney work and icebreakers in place, and hopefully that’ll do ‘er.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Pizza in Town

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had the chance to make a stop at the Brick Oven Pizzeria, which recently moved to Main Street in Luray from their old location in Stanley. They enjoyed a good business in Stanley, with a location right next to the skate park and promising delivery far and wide throughout Page County.
Page County has its competing Pizza restaurants: Domino’s, Celio’s, and Anthony’s – these last two Valley-based chains – and Pizza Hut are here. They vary in their delivery range and timing commitment. Given this competition, I wasn’t surprised but I was very disappointed in the fall when we drove by the Stanley location to see the building vacant, even stripped of furnishings.
It wasn’t long before they reopened in this location, which was a local coffee shop (there’s also a lot of disappointment with the closure of that establishment). Besides seating capacity, the previous operator had installed wireless internet, which is available to patrons.
As I mentioned, I finally made a stop here after walking the Greenway a couple of weeks ago. I had a meatball sub…it was a fine sandwich, meeting every expectation.
I took a carryout menu to refer to as I wrote this post. There’s an amusing quote here: “We go where NO pizza has ever gone before!!” I believe this is a reference to their delivery zone, which I was told extends all the way south to the outer reaches of Shenandoah, and north to Rileyville, which is the border of the county. They said it takes about 20 minutes to get to the south end of the area, and less than that to get to the north end.
As I talked to one of the drivers, he asked where we lived. I told him about the Hawksbill Cabin and our address. “Oh yeah, I’ve delivered there before, I know where that is,” he said. I am pretty sure Britt and Lori, the previous owners with teenage kids, ordered from them a few times, and our other neighbors probably do too.
The Brick Oven Pizzeria website is http://www.stanleypizza.com/ – I’m looking forward to seconds. (PS – the phone number on the sign is wrong, they’re changing it for the new location!)

Friday, January 15, 2010

They are talking about a mid-winter hike

I've been in touch with my hiking team recently - they have started pushing for a hike soon. It has been a while; our last hike together was Signal Knob in early summer. We also did Duncan Knob Hollow in the spring.

There are a couple of options, and whether we choose it for this hike or not, Strickler Knob in the GWNF is one I am very interested in doing. I've included a photo here of the Knob from the Storybook Trail overlook, taken on Thanksgiving weekend.

I've wanted to do this hike for sometime, it is one of five or six prominent summits on the Massanutten ridge, and I would like to check all of those off my "list." Howard, at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures, talks about this route with high regard, and called it to my attention when the review first appeared on Hiking Upward (http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/StricklerKnob/).

That site does rate it as a rigorous hike - so it may not be our first of the year. Some of the fallbacks are:

  1. Mary's Rock in the SNP
  2. Ivy Creek in the SNP
  3. Duncan Knob via Scotthorn Gap in GWNF
  4. Kennedy Peak in GWNF

All of these involve ascents but they range in distance from 3 miles to 10 miles. We'll see what the guys are up for and their timeframes. Hopefully we can pull this off by mid-February.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Saturday Chores

This Saturday is shaping up to be a busy one at Hawksbill Cabin. Mickey is coming by to talk some more about repairing the driveway - he made a stop by a few days ago to check things out for us.

I posted on this project last month - at the time, we didn't know that he had already come out and done some grading, and he'd put down a layer of gravel - just in time for the big snowfall. I have a couple of photos here with the post showing where the new gravel shows through the scraped patches.

The erosion seems to come off of the hill, where the run off gets diverted down the drive instead of continuing on down to our culvert. This was caused by an uphill construction and grading project a couple of years ago before we moved in, and no one is stepping up to help with fixing it. The road back there is private, and the other owners are responsible for its maintenance. My expectations are that funding for correcting this problem will be scarce.

So enter Mickey, who we've been working with for a while to come up with a solution. The first step was to stabilize the drive, which is done. We are going to recycle some old railroad ties leftover from an earlier project to make a berm that will send the water to a wooded hillside, which we expect will slow the flow, and hopefully allow some to percolate into the soil whether than continuing as storm runoff down to Beaver Run.

After we plan the project, I am going on a beef run over to Trio Farms for some steaks. I'll call for an appointment on Saturday once I have a time frame for the meeting with Mickey. I have in mind to pick up some New York strips, some Delmonicos (you might call them Ribeyes) and some chuck steaks. Probably enough to give us a good beef meal once a week through the winter. Looking forward to that.
We also got our estimate on the new chimney flashing and ice breakers for the roof from Alan. We've given the go ahead for those. Also, I'll have the chance to check on the gutter repairs that we done in the meantime. Even though we aren't getting out as much just now, seems like we've been able to hold down the fort on these projects.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harz Mountains - More from the Wayback Machine

I posted recently on ski trips my friends and I used to take to the Harz Mountains in Germany, along the former border between East and West. This inspired me to dig in to the momento box, where I found a few items - a flier from the little Pension that we often stayed at in Altenau, and some postcards from Torfhaus, which was at the top of a neighboring mountain.

After that recent post, several colleagues on Facebook got a thread going about one little trek we did. It was a cross country route that was between 6 and 10 kilometers that took us right down to what we think was the border. Although there was no fence in view, there was a little stream and I think I remember a no-man's land area, and my friends remember signs similar to the ones shown here.

While we were out on the route, a snow storm started - pretty heavy, and we really didn't have great visibility. I have to admit I was pretty worried because we'd skied downhill, and now were a couple miles out, near the border in unfamiliar territory, with a long way to go in a storm. We made it back of course but there was plenty of drama to go around.

Some friends mentioned the radar installation visible in the resort photo above - it was on a neighboring mountain in East Germany. They say a colleague of ours - a famous defector, ended up working there for a time. I don't recall reading that, but wouldn't be surprised that this location is where he might have been assigned when he went to work for the Stasi.

I have the price list from the little pension hotel we stayed at - seven days, single room with private bath, breakfast included - DM 287 - at the time with those exchange rates - $100. The good ole days!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Local and Family-owned in Front Royal

Turns out, an old friend from Berlin lives in Front Royal (hi Mike!), which, at about 2/3 of the way to Hawksbill Cabin, is a landmark of the trip. This is mainly because it is the end of the freeway portion of the drive, and the beginning of a bucolic transition that starts with suburban Front Royal neighborhoods perched on bluffs along the Shenandoah River, and gradually winds through the widening valley, opening up to a view framed by the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountain, and filled with its farms and forests.

There’s a couple of things we especially like about Front Royal – of course, there is the little hamburger stand Spelunkers right there on our route ( http://www.spelunkerscustard.com/ ) . If we are on the short turnaround weekend plan, we’ll stop here for a Saturday lunch, or if I am on one of my Park adventures and enter at the north entrance, I’ll grab a bite here before going in. People tell me the custard is great – looking at the website, I realized I’ve never tried it!

Since we’ve been going out, another business opened along the road in Front Royal that I like to stop at whenever the schedule permits – Two Fat Butchers. ( http://www.twofatbutchers.com/ - and see the photo). For the most part, I just pick up sausages for grilling when I am in the store – I get most of my steaks and beef cuts from the Burners' Trio Farms in Luray whenever I can. But sausage is certainly not everything they have at this place…and frankly, I think it’s worth a drive out to Front Royal from DC all on its own.

First of all, there is a great story here. The first time I stopped in, with my friend Chris, we met one of the butchers and talked about some of their values as a family-owned business. The butchers have more than 26 years of experience combined, and work in the evenings to prepare the inventory (and dress the bountiful deer that the local hunters bring in during the season). Their wives and families work in the store during opening hours, making for a refreshingly traditional arrangement that adds heaps of quality to the experience.

After our first impromptu visit, Chris was inspired and made an order – he chose the “Six Pack Attack,” recently advertised at $166.66, and including: six pounds each of ground chuck, chicken, link sausage, pork bone in chops, and roast, and six premium ¾ inch cut steaks. That’s most of a winter freezer load for a couple. What made this purchase even more memorable is that he scheduled pick up on the Saturday night after we did our Duncan Knob climb (a three-part review starts here: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/03/weekend-hike-duncan-knob.html ).
He was supposed to pick up the meat before they closed at 6 pm; but we were just summiting – see photo – at 4:30. So shortly after I took this shot he called them and talked about the problem – we were four miles from the cars at that point – and they offered that someone would wait for him to come by for his pick up. He got there around 7:30 I guess, but that also just goes to show what family-run business values are.
As I am writing this, I have the store flyer and am checking out the winter freezer filler specials – one is half of a beef (150-175 pounds) and the other half a hog. There are some great cuts available in these packages and they seem pretty reasonable priced at $800.00 for the beef and $149.99 for the hog. And here on the back of the flyer is the deer processing offering in two options – standard and premium. Last year they processed so many local deer they had to stop accepting them before the season ended.
Family owned businesses and locally produced foods. Definitely something else to like about the Shenandoah Valley!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Local Focus - a Mid-winter Diversion

I spent a little bit of the morning yesterday thinking about the summer, a nostalgic moment brought on by a combination of things, including:

December 2009 Mother Earth News article “Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet
Recent completion of Michael Pollin’s “The Omnivoure’s Dilemma” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143038583?ie=UTF8&tag=hawkscabin-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0143038583)
Twice-a-week lunches at Whole Foods in Arlington

I guess the most pressing thought on my mind is our apple tree at Hawksbill Cabin. We think it is 50 years old, dating to when the Thompson’s first built the place. It has gone wild from neglect over the last 10 years (at least) and although it gave a great crop in 2008, 2009 was dismal, even a failure. I think it needs an aggressive pruning – maybe even a couple of years of work on this account – to make it a reliable producer. I’ve started looking for advice on how to take this on, a project we’ll likely begin in mid-February.

There was another realization that David and Heather, at Public House Produce, will probably already have made their seed orders for this year’s CSA and Farmers’ Market program (http://www.publichouseproduce.com/2009CSA.html) . I recently saw where the Sustainable Shenandoah group reported out on their efforts last year (http://sustainableshenandoah.blogspot.com/2009/11/sustainable-shenandoah-garden-2009.html) . Some Facebook friends were discussing a new local, grass fed, beef farm in Sperryville, one that complements the Burner’s farm outside of Luray (http://www.triofarmsinc.com/) – they are a corn fed operation, available at the Luray and Manassas markets. This is pretty fascinating stuff, all contributing to the development of a new, non-industrialized, agriculture, and it has really added some interest to our simple weekend home concept.

I talked to Mary about last year’s container garden, where she had some great success with the tomatoes and peppers – expanding the tomato crop to three varieties and introducing peppers for the first time. I asked what she thought about adding a zucchini plant and maybe some eggplants, upon which she went into some additional detail about moving a rose bush to expand that operation out to maybe 30 square feet this year.

I think there is a still emerging philosophy around our house about eating better. The habits are already changing – I saw a recipe for stuffed zucchini that I think I can do on the grill. It sent me looking for summer vegetable pictures – some of these come from the Public House Produce site, and a few are from planetnatural.com (including a summer squash and eggplant variety that I’m encouraging Mary to include in the container garden plan).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Clarendon Construction Update - Exterior Masonry Detail

During December, I took a walk over to the Post Office, and from there to a neighborhood Starbucks. My route took me to the other side of the construction project we've been monitoring here on the blog, so I have a photo to share from one of those other vantage points - but first, we start with the traditional views from my office window.

The mid-December snows left quite a mess at the site. There was a full day of shovelling snow out of the upper floors where it had blown in - that was quite and interesting (and I have to admit, I thought, dangerous) activity. As I write this, there are still traces of that snow around town, but most of what was at the construction site has melted away.

Here is another view of the site from ground level looking up an alley as I walked around the new buildings. You can see the masonry going up, they are using these gantry elevators to do that. In the next update I will try and include a photo showing how they are attached to the building - very interesting.

The mid-block site is also coming along, but they are still building and finishing the slabs. They are about halfway through the floor that is above the one I've shown here.

I'll keep you posted on this - of course!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Trouble - part 2

Our roofer Alan tells us that attaching the flashing to any kind of masonry chimney is difficult, but attaching it to a stone chimney can be especially problematic. I’ve posted in the past about some of the challenges we’ve had with the chimney at the Hawksbill Cabin – during heavy or driving rain, sometimes we’ll get some water on the surface of the chimney inside the living room, and we did recently on one of the warmer days when there was snow melting up there on top of the chimney.

Alan has been good about coming out to check up on the flashing sealer and even has reapplied it once. His visits always conclude with the invitation to “come on up on your roof to check this out!” I demurred while there is snow up there but I’ve gone up there most times to follow-up with him in the past. Here’s a post about the last visit - http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/10/up-on-roof.html .

After he came out in the fall to reapply sealer, we had Jesse come over to work on the flat concrete surface at the top, to make sure we weren’t getting rain coming down from up there on the inside, appearing again on the outside of the chimney once it got below the roof of the chimney. Earlier Jesse had re-pointed and done some additional work on the chimney, as described in this post: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/10/chimney-cap-repair.html .
We’ve talked to some other folks about potential solutions, as Alan outlined one for us and we wanted to double back for a second opinion with some historic preservation specialists Mary knows. I even have some little hand-drawn sketches of this solution, but they didn't scan well so I can't post them. (Note from February - there is a photo of the new flashing solution in this post:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2010/02/chimney-chore.html).  

The approach that they have proposed involves sawing into the masonry to a depth of an inch or so, then inserting the flashing edge into this line. The flashing would then be bent down at 90 degrees, running to the roof surface (the existing flashing layer would be left in place and this new layer installed over the top of it.) A small fold would be made at the roof surface and the flashing will extend another four to six inches over the surface. Then a mechanical attachment would anchor the new flashing to the chimney, in addition to the normal sealer that is applied.

The advantage of this solution is that once water hits the chimney, it will either be forced into the flue, where it will harmlessly evaporate, or it will be forced outside, running harmlessly across the roof to the gutter. That's how we hope things will work, at least.

If this flashing solution doesn't work, we still have two potential solutions to try. The first is a chimney cap, which is shown in the photo here - scanned from the cover of Atomic Ranch magazine, Fall 2009 edition (back issue at http://www.atomic-ranch.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=33 , this is the "Dansk Weinerbrod" article, and note roof line, etc., and similarities to the Hawksbill Cabin!). I've shied away from this alternative because Mr. Thompson left an inscription "1949" up there (one of three such inscriptions we've found - another at the base of the chimney says "Thanksgiving 1948" and a small concrete repair in the back of the house says "1999.") - but this may be moot due to some later repairs that obscurred the 1949 date.
The other, and ultimate last resort solution, will be to apply masonry sealer to the stone work. I'm satisfied that we have two steps to go before we get to this one though. I hope the new flashing solves the problem.
It is a true home-owner dilemma, in any case.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow Trouble

The snow that still covers the ground in the Beaver Run hollow came down a week or so before Christmas, but the temps have stayed low enough so that it hasn’t melted completely off, and it’s been refreshed a couple of times with light dustings. During the holiday weekend, the temperatures were getting warm enough so that the snow on the Hawksbill Cabin’s roof did melt, so we got icicles…and some trouble.

I spotted these icicles when I did a little checklist walk around in the snow. I was immediately worried because of what they mean to the roof – not so much about the weight load on the low-pitched roof, since we had that all taken care of a couple of years ago (http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2007/12/wtf-moment.html ) - but with the melt getting stuck along the roof edge and either tearing down the gutters (the lesser problem), or ice dams forcing water back up under the standing seam metal roof and wicking into the roof structure (a more serious problem).

Preemptively, I started shoveling snow off the roof as far as I could reach. I wasn’t going up there because of the footing, although at other times of the year there are some chores I have to do up there – see http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Carpenter%20Bees for an example. When we first bought the place, we saw that Mr. Thompson had built a little staircase so he could easily get up there…we wondered why, but I think now we know – it was to get up there to sweep the snow off – we’ve removed the staircase and I use a ladder when I have to go up now.

I cleared the heavy snow off to about three or four feet back from the edge, and checked on it every morning to make sure the gutters weren’t getting refilled or blocked by the melt. These ice blocks are what I found in the gutters each morning – very heavy – and I’m afraid the damage is done, so we’ll have to get them reattached. We have already been in touch with the gutter man to get this taken care of.

We now have a hard frozen pile of snow behind the house – it’s about 18 inches tall, and solid enough for me to stand on and look over the roof. Since it’s in the shade, I don’t think it is going away anytime soon – at least not until we have a week-long warming trend.
We also gave Alan, our roofer, a call, and he came out for some check-ups. We’re going to have some more work done on the chimney – but that is the subject for a future post.