Ramble On

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Tech-watch Geek Returns

Now that I have my Casio Pathfinder...well, it gives me a gadget to play with when I go on these hikes.  And, fellow hikers, remember this, whenever you set out on a trail head from Skyline Drive you will either climb first, then descend back to your starting point, or you will descend first, and climb back to the starting point. 

Why?  Because the Drive follows the Ridge.  So consider your route before you start, and be prepared for the climb, whether it is the start or end of your hike.

In the case of the Hightop Mountain hike I took last Sunday, the hike bagan with the ascent.  Although it was a mild climb at the start and end, there were some steep sections through the middle, and even a switchback or two to help the path make its way up the mountain.

I took a few measurements with the altimeter function, summarized in the table below.

In looking at the entries I've numbered "5" and "5a" - note the difference.  The error factor is less at the lower altitude, and had changed by 100 feet by the time I had reached the summit. 

There are a couple of potential reasons for this.  Of course, one of them is operator malfunction, but more likely, there was a change of barometric pressure during my hike.  The other possible reason for this inaccuracy is a temperature change during the hike - I don't remember that being the case, so I am pretty sure the pressure was rising...in fact, there had been storms overnight and the atmosphere was still clearing when I got up on the mountain.

The other thing I did while I was at the summit was to take a reading on my compass.  North was indicated as 292 degrees, so I was facing approximately west up there on my ledge (photo shows the view - note that it was obscured by clouds!  The town of Elkton was somewhere out there).

I guess I am pretty comfortable with the watch's basic functions now, and I need to move on and learn how to do a couple of things with it - setting a reference altitude, and also calibrating the compass.  And just now I deleted some earlier records. 

So it's a work in progress, but it's coming along.

Hey, if you want to be like me, here's my watch on Amazon!


The Search for Trillium

“…in May look for the red-purple trillium, Trillium erectum, starting about a quarter mile from the Drive; it’s rare elsewhere in the Park.” – From Heatwole’s Guide to Shenandoah National Park

As I set out on my hike to the Hightop summit on Sunday morning, there were two things I had in the back of my mind – one of them was the hope of seeing some Trillium flowers, even though it is late in the season for them, and the other was to keep an eye out for the flower “Pink Lady Slipper” although I knew this one was unlikely since it is already late spring.

I wasn’t disappointed in my search for Trillium, and even though the flowers I saw ranged in colors from pink to red, it would be hard for me to say which variety I saw – the typical variety you hear about in the Park is white, but a fter it peaks, it blushes to pink before it fades. I think I may have seen both varieties - the Trillium erectum were too far off the trail to get a good phone cam shot.

I also saw hardy geraniums (a favorite), violets, mountain azaleas at the peak, and glades of ferns and blackberries.

Here are two Wikipedia links on the main flowers I was looking for:



And don’t forget, the invaluable Heatwole guide is now available as a web-based reference:


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hightop Mountain: An Easy Shenandoah National Park Day Hike

Sunday morning I had planned a hike up in Shenandoah National Park, thinking I’d go where ever the mood hit me to go using my Easy Day Hikes book as a guide. It turned out that I had left the book in Alexandria, so I referred to my “Hikes to Peaks and Vistas” book, from the Shenandoah National Park Association (quick link to the book: http://www.snpbooks.org/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=SNPBOOKS&Product_Code=P%26V&Category_Code=BK) and picked the Hightop Mountain Summit.

The short Heatwole guide description of this trail says it climbs about 935 feet and is about 3 miles round trip, following the Appalachian Trail the whole route. That makes it a bit steeper than Mary’s Rock, so I was expecting a workout. I guess the walking I’ve been doing lately, since my office moved downtown, is helping and this wasn’t so bad for me. The first two photos are of the trailhead sign and some large bolders near the start of the hike.

Besides the possibility of views on this hike, I was hoping to catch a view of some trilliums, since I knew as May advanced they were probably already past peak. There were quite a few wildflowers blooming, and I did find a few red trilliums scattered around ¾ of the way to the summit. I plan to post a few of the wildflowers I saw in a writeup tomorrow or Friday – I also have a “Tech-watch Geek” post coming.

Heatwole goes on to mention some history associated with this area of the Park, and the 3,585 foot summit of the mountain (the views are actually from ledges just below the summit):

“On March 18, 1669, the explorer John Lederer first reached the crest of the Blue Ridge. The ledge you’re standing on may be the point from which he first saw the Shenandoah Valley.”

When I started my hike, it was sunny at the trailhead, but I could see that low clouds were swirling partway up the mountain, obscuring the summit. So I knew the views might be limited from the top – and that’s what I found. However, I do like the experience of being up on the summit in the clouds, which these two photos show (click on them and they will open in a window for a larger view).

There is also a spring and an AT hut near here, so I walked the additional half mile or so to the spring. I looked around for a trail leading to the shelter but couldn’t find a trace of it, so I turned back and spent some more time enjoying the views into the clouds from the cliff.

I met two thru-hikers when I got back to the trailhead. I didn’t have anything to share with them, or I would have…they’d both been on the Trail for about 10 weeks. While they were close by each other in this stretch, they weren’t hiking together – I encountered them about 5 minutes apart while I was taking off my pack and putting away my hiking poles. I didn’t catch their trail names.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Growing Stuff

On Sunday I made a quick stop by Wisteria Vineyard to drop off an article that was in last week's Post about the Norton grape. Apparently the food editor has researched and written a book on this grape, known as Virginia's only indigenous grape. Wisteria has a vintage of Norton, so I thought that Moussa and Sue might enjoy the article.

I also used the opportunity to sneak into the barn and check out their lamb. He was a little wobbly, but his aunt came over and nosed him while I was snooping around in there. All is well with the little fellow. Sue told me she thought they might have another lamb or two soon, but it's getting late and "maybe some of the ewes missed the window" last fall.

Also, from the looks of things, we are going to have a banner year for apples.  The fifty-plus year old tree at the Hawksbill Cabin is so laden with fruit this year I am afraid that we may lose it from the weight of the apples. 

It was a three-trunk tree until we lost one in the snow this year.  I had planned to get it pruned in March, but we postponed due to the loss of basically one third of the tree.

We still have some branches that are breaking in the wind, probably weakened by the winter storms.  Mickey came by to mow and took one of the large branches down last week - it left all of these baby apples behind.  This branch was maybe six feet long and two inches in diameter - if it had this much fruit on it, you can imagine what we will get from the rest of the tree!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Container Gardens Update

We’ve got some squash blossoms on the plants in Alexandria – honestly, I can’t remember whether the yellow squash is on the left or right, and zucchini will be the other choice. One of Mary’s tomatoes (she put three varieties out this year) has fruit showing, while the others are blossoming. And there is at least one pepper blossom showing.

The squash plants came from Whole Foods and were advertised as organic, so they are pretty much on their own there in their little planter.  I did see some beetles and other bugs there in the plants so I have to go on line to identify them - unless a reader can help me.  The little guys were less than 1/4 inch long, and were striped lengthwise with yellow and brown.

For the simplified garden out in the country, the seeds have germinated – the yellow and green squash there is also robust. I probably should have thinned the squash plants this weekend, but will take care of that next week. The eggplant and cukes have just barely broken the surface of the soil – I thought I might wait and do my thinning all at once.

Looks like some stray grass seed has gotten into my little plot, so while I had hoped that weeding would be minimized, that's not going to be the case. 

We may only be thirty days or less from our first home grown summer vegetables, which will be from the Alexandria plants. We are still 60 plus days from harvest at the country garden.  However, with the Farmers’ market already up and running, we’re looking forward to picking up some nice vegetables out there soon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Page Co. EDA "Action Spectacular" - Part 5 - final, for now

We are still waiting for our PN&C this week, but I see that there is some news about the Rainwater letter already on line, where Benjamin Weathers reports on Lowell Baughan’s response via interview and written statement. For the final post in this series, let’s take a look at what Baughan had to say about Project Clover and the arguments presented in the attorney letter.

First, while defending the EDA’s authority to defend the land, Baughan disputes the appraisal of Project Clover’s value, which was pegged at $2.5 million versus the negotiated price. The article reports that (emphasis added) Baughan said there was no appraisal conducted before the authority made its decision to purchase the 210 acres. It goes on to say that the price paid was derived from other appraisals.

Baughan’s own comments show how subjective the appraisal business can be: “We based our purchase price, in part, on appraisals of properties in the same general area that were considerably higher,” he said. So on the one hand, Baughan confirms that his actions in this case are irresponsible - no appraisal was conducted before committing to a $7.5 million purchase – and on the other, he wants to debunk a legitimate appraisal based on his own reckoning of the valuation used in this deal.

Honestly, it’s not hard to see anymore why so many Page County citizens and residents have lined up against this transaction!

The paper also reports that Baughan has conceded that the county has “no legal obligation to move forward with the land purchase, but argued as he has in the past that defaulting on the payment would significantly impact the county's credit rating.” Also:

“There is no legal obligation for the county to keep its word, but if they don't, there are serious ramifications,” Baughan said. “If you renege on a pledge of moral obligation, the next time you try to borrow money, you either won't be able to, or the interest rates will be much higher.”

Baughan defends the decision to disenfranchise the County’s citizens, saying that “because no bond was ever issued for the property, no public hearing was ever required.”

These comments won’t do anything to quiet the questions that continue to be raised about Project Clover.  With these responses Baughan seems to suggest that he sought no counsel during the episode leading up to the purchase agreement – that he felt he was smart enough to wrangle an agreement that would be good enough despite all the signs pointing to a bad deal. Although it is unlikely that the Commonwealth Attorney would look into this matter with so many other pressing issues at hand in the State, a civil lawsuit from several parties – not just Rebecca Hudson – just might be justified, as Rainwater's attorneys say in the letter.

The paper closes with another quote, “The allegations made in the attorney's letter regarding actions taken by the EDA are non-specific and without merit,” Baughan said. Actually, it is clear that the attorneys who wrote this letter have a lot of material in their hands, and that material is very specific. In my mind, Baughan’s comments confirm the validity of the questions and opposition to Project Clover.

It will be interesting to see what’s next in this case.  Lowell Baughan should start taking these questions seriously - it's irresponsible to respond these comments so lightly. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Page Co. EDA "Action Spectacular" - Part 4

In the last couple of posts I mentioned a letter that was recently sent to the Page County Board of Supervisors by attorneys for Charles Rainwater, a Page County resident who apparently owns property near Project Clover. I thought I might take a moment to outline Rainwater’s four concerns as discussed in this letter.

His first issue is a fear that Project Clover will have a negative financial impact on the County. This is due to an “excessive price” of $7.5 million for the acreage. I posted on this topic yesterday – apparently the EDA is going to commission its own appraisal to address this concern. Unfortunately, that will be the fourth appraisal…they are getting to be quite the subjective topic at this point, so how would you reconcile them? Take an average?

Coupled with concerns about the price are concerns about the process that was used to secure the land. I have friends who tell me this is a done deal and it is time to move on. I have also heard that Lowell Baughan has provided a lengthy but curious explanation in the PN&C this week, but I’ll have to wait for my copy.

With reference to the debt obligation, or whatever we should call it, which finances the Project Clover purchase, the County documents say the instrument is not a debt or pledge on the part of the County or even EDA. Who the hell is it a pledge by then? And who really would be foreclosing if it weren’t paid?

As a common citizen, this is very confusing to me, the manipulation that has apparently gone into this situation to get us here. How hard would it have been to have put this to a vote? I’ve heard that this may be partially answered in a PN&C article this week, but I have to wait for my copy.

The attorney argues that the Virginia Constitution requires a public vote on a public obligation of this sort – assuming there really is a public obligation at the heart of this transaction, there is some legal wrangling ahead to figure it all out. In short, this puts the County in deep kimche, whether laws were broken or not. The taxpaying public is going to pay for all of this at the end of the day.

The second concern the letter goes into is the process used to get to this point. The letter discusses frequent closed sessions that were part of the process for negotiating the Project Clover purchase, highlighting the legal procedures that justify these closed sessions – and allegedly were not followed here. The attorney closes this discussion with examples of where the law was supposedly violated, and the recourse and penalties available should Rainwater pursue the matter further.

The third concern is also about closed EDA/Board sessions, except this time, after the purchase was negotiated. The fourth concern is about a possible conflict of interest – maybe several of them – involving the parties involved. The attorney’s letter closes with a request for clarification, a request that the Board of Supervisors take steps to stop the controversial aspects of this situation; it then advises that there may be a recourse to civil action.

So what to make of a letter like this? In truth, the choices to be made about what to do and the roads ahead on this matter are difficult ones. The taxpayers of Page County are going to be stuck with the expenses for Project Clover no matter what happens at this point. And the whole debacle is going to keep any kind of economic recovery away from there for years.

Page Co. EDA "Action Spectacular" - Part 3

First a note about this series.  To the extent I can, I am using public information for the basis of these posts - for example, I quoted extensively from the PN&C yesterday under the assumption that they have done their own fact finding.  I also quote extensively from past EDA strategic plans, which I have downloaded from the Page County site and read for myself.  I've added analysis - just simple math really, since I have avoided learning calculus all my life - where I needed to.  On top of that are anecdotes about my attempts to do business in the County, and then there are my opinions.

This background was necessary because today I want to talk about the valuation of Project Clover.

There is some news on WHSV about a letter that was sent to the Board of Supervisors by an attorney that has been retained by a local Page County citizen who is concerned about Project Clover.  I will post more on the substance of the letter tomorrow, but an appraisal of the value of Project Clover was also included.

The letter mentions an appraised valuation of $2.5 million for the Project Clover land, based on its recent zoning reclassification.  Recall that the EDA/Page County has agreed to pay $7.5 million for this property. 

I've heard that there were other appraisals done, including one by the current owner, as the property was being brought to market.  I understand this showed a lower value, based on the then-current agricultural use of the land.  I haven't seen that appraisal, so I can't state the published value.

I understand that EDA also had an appraisal done; I haven't seen this appraisal either so won't offer the value that was evaluated.  However, it is reasonable to think it must have justified the purchase offer of $7.5 million and provided the basis of the USDA loan application process.

So here we have three valuations, that widely vary.  You could take the high one and justify the $7.5 million.  Or you could take the low one and be exposed for making a bad deal.  Or this new one, which suggests the overpayment was around $5 million.  All of this comparison - the wide range of values - introduces an element of risk to the financial proposition for the County.  If it is a bad deal, the taxpayers are going to be left hanging - either because they have to pay, or in the case of a default, because future projects won't get financing.  How do you resolve a problem like this?

I understand that Lowell Baughan gave a talk at a local fraternal organization following the receipt of the attorney's letter and the appraisal.  He questioned the appraisal methodology and valuation.  He states a preference for a type of appraisal endorsed by MAI, one of several professional associations that advise on appraisal processes and offer a certification for appraisers.  He also questioned the comparables listed in that appraisal, which is fine, they're fair game.

This called to mind some discussions I had recently with a bank when I was thinking about some commercial property in Page County.  The bank had set a price on this property of $1.4 million, and they shared with me a list of a half dozen or so similar properties that they had used as the basis of this price. 

When I did my due diligence on this, I came up with a purchase price of $1.1 million, based on 2x property revenues (an industry standard I found during my research) and the price of a very similar property on the market in another county. 

The bank questioned my findings - they said that comparable properties had to be within 20 miles of the commercial property I was looking at.  That had kept the list small, limited the comparisons to properties that didn't exactly match the one I was looking at, and probably was the source of the inflated valuation.  In the end, the bank ended up buying this property from itself at the asking price of $1.4 million since no bidders came forward at their reserve price...a pity, because that place will sit vacant now until it sells, hardly doing anybody any good, least of all the Page County community.

This annecdote is what came to mind immediately when I learned about Lowell's comments to his fraternal organization.  Comparing values is a fairly challenging proposition - there should properly be a geographic restriction on the search for comparable properties, and allowances need to be made for amenities available on the property being evaluated for comparison purposes. 

I'd suggest this takes industrial properties in H-burg, Woodstock, New Market, Elkton, and Front Royal out of the question for comparison for Project Clover.  They have easy access to good highways, important since the only way into Clover is by truck - rail transport there is transient on the way to the inland port, and no business is going to pay to transfer goods on and off a train unless there is a market at the siding, or raw materials are processed and added to the goods there. 

All this to say, if Lowell Baughan has questions about this valuation, he should get a new one done.  The request for this appraisal should be via public RFP so that it is done on a transparent basis.  The appraisal should evaluate and reconcile the previous ones that come to disparate conclusions.  Questioning this latest one and speculating on the methodology doesn't add any facts that will help the community one way or another in its quest to evaluate whether Clover is a good deal.

If Lowell is the kind of business person he wants us all to believe he is, he needs to take steps like these to repair his credibility with a large share of the County who apparently don't agree with him.     

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Page Co. EDA "Action Spectacular" - Part 2

It’s rare that I find myself agreeing with an editorial in the Page News and Courier (PN&C), but I readily admit that the editorial page is the first one I turn to in the paper every week, and that’s exactly the situation I found myself in after the article “Invest in People” was published last week. I’d like to summarize some of the article as my second “action spectacular” post about the Page County EDA.

Essentially, PN&C argues:

“…the one thing that we can all agree on is that the money that is collected through our taxes should be spent wisely on the things we designate as priorities in our community.”

The editor goes on to conclude that the emphasis should be education:

“The dividends on investing in people may produce quicker returns than real estate.”

Some of the issues mentioned in the editorial happened before my wife and I arrived on the Page County scene. But this is quite a summary:

• A landfill deal that cost millions of dollars
• Thousands more lost in a sale of the landfill because of poor management, permit violations, and legal fees
• Millions more to repurchase the landfill
• Thousands again on consultants, legal fees, and staff time to see these transactions through
• The cost of subsidizing another county’s use of the Page County landfill

Most of what I read about the landfill lays the blame for all of these issues at the feet of the Page County EDA. If that is an accurate assessment, it’s quite a track record – I don’t know if the private sector would tolerate these issues for so long…at least in my experience they wouldn’t have!

Notably, Baughan’s letter in the same issue of the PN&C doesn’t mention the landfill track record, and it doesn’t seem to benefit from the hindsight of these things gone wrong. He is focused totally on Project Clover, and argues that everything is okay because the Board of Supervisors approved his actions.

Regarding the EDA’s speculative real estate ventures, PN&C adds:

• The thousands of dollars spent on unused plans and architectural designs for a new office complex that seemingly will never be built
• A $650,000 purchase of nine acres that sits partially in a flood plain and may never be built upon
• The $7.5 million spent on the hope that business will come to an open field along the tracks
• The many dollars lost on interest for those debts

In my business we have pretty straightforward measures for a person’s productivity. The company has to earn enough money to pay salary and benefits, the costs of the roof overhead and utilities, and supplies that support the work, plus profit, which compensates for the risk of being in business. In one of my past companies, that meant I was responsible for keeping twelve people busy – our motto was "Growth is an imperative" - the company made me responsible for $2.5 million in annual revenue as the cost associated with those twelve.

That metric could apply to Lowell Baughan, except that, according to the PN&C, he’s probably cost the County that much per year over the last few years. And it’s a reality of the rural economy, but that amount would easily support twice the number of jobs I had to deliver, or more.

Now, I keep going back to the past strategic plans that the EDA is supposed to be following, and that Baughan cited in his letter to the editor. Referring now to the July 2009 update of the 2008 plan, there are two “priority b” education objectives:

“Department of Economic Development will develop a list of targeted industries and communicate that information to the Technical Training Center and Lord Fairfax Community College in order to provide direction regarding the skills that are needed.

“Encourage the school district to have conversations with students in middle school and high school about topics such as life skills, introduction to different kinds of professions and schooling necessary to achieve success in the areas, importance of completing GED, etc.”

Just as these goals have been moved to the side – to the “priority b” list, it seems that the schools in Page County have been treated as second most important compared to EDA. PN&C estimated that the cost of the poorly conceived and executed projects above amounted to 60 to 75 percent of the cost of the new high schools – and the decision to build them was 66 years in the making!

Perhaps, just maybe, if some attention had been paid to these needs along the way, Baughan’s son would not have been writing his letter of support from Charlotte, NC.  I often hear the remark that the younger generation moves away from Page County in search of opportunities.

All of this is just food for thought, because it doesn’t seem that Project Clover is going to unwind itself with any kind of speed – and it is only going to cost the County more, no matter which direction it goes in from here. But I will close today’s post with the thought that EDA has to take responsibility for the advice it gives the Board – advice that doesn’t seem to have delivered on expectations by any definition.

It's clear that the County has no business trying to engage in speculative real estate deals at this time.  We can't afford it in the first place, and the projects don't deliver the results we need in the second.  And maybe that makes the PN&C editor’s suggestion that, just now, reprioritizing County investment in education is the right way to go.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Page Co. EDA "Action Spectacular" - Part 1

Since I covered the PN&C letter about Lowell Baughan, written by Jay Dedman, a couple of weeks back, it’s fair that I should take a look at the responses that appeared in last week’s paper. First, there is a letter written by Baughan about his role with the EDA, and a couple of letters of support, including one from Baughan’s son. A second item to take a look at is the PN&C editorial this week, which encouraged the Page County Board of Supervisors to invest in people and education.

For a third item related to this topic, I also received news about an updated series of arguments regarding the Project Clover deal, which are contained in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. So my plan is to have a sort of “EDA Action Spectacular” series of posts this week – doing what I can to cover these items. It’s my opinion that EDA and Baughan have probably brought this criticism upon themselves since their identity has become so closely tied to Project Clover – a project I have opposed since first learning about it.

Baughan’s letter, which was headlined “EDA operates only with the approval of supervisors,” argues that the Authority is an arm of County government. He says that the organization develops projects that must be approved by the supervisors, as opposed to taking rogue actions on its own. He proceeds to categorize the actions the EDA took under his chairmanship as full and open, and even specified in the 2004 and 2007 strategic development plans (I have been calling the 2007 plan the “2008 update” on the blog).

I’ve reviewed these documents before and published summaries here. I recall that after reading them I was confused at how these plans can be considered a road map to a speculative* real estate venture such as Project Clover has turned out to be. In 2004, there was an emphasis on six guiding principles:

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

In the update to the plan, published in 2008, there is a note in the executive summary that says, “…the County needs ready-to-go sites complemented with the ability to process permits, licenses, etc. within short turnaround times” in order to attract companies that fit in with the rural character of the County and diversify the economic base.

As I wrote at the time, it’s my opinion that:

‘To me, this is “cart-before-horsing” – among other things, the previous version of the plan called for an assessment to determine what kinds of businesses to target. Was there follow-up on these objectives and initiatives? Without them, I don’t think it’s prudent to land bank this property, betting it is a panacea to future economic development requirements; squirreling it away in a quasi-government EDA that may not have followed up on its own previous goals and objectives is another thing.’

As the letters of support that accompanied Baughan’s letter demonstrate, he has provided valuable service to the County in the past; however, I’d like to learn more about his role as an advocate for the Project Clover purchase – business that, according to him, was conducted in broad daylight with unanimous board approval. How did the board come to the decision that a price of almost $36,000 per acre for Page County farmland was a fair deal for the citizens? Why weren’t the other objectives in the 2004 plan and 2008 update given any attention or priority, when they have been completed at very low costs and would have provided the board with the necessary insight to decide whether Project Clover would be successful. These questions are even more urgent, since Baughan’s letter discloses that the EDA was given authority to spend as much as $9-million on the deal, another $1.5-million over and above the reported purchase price.

Unfortunately, Baughan’s letter does get personal in one section, where he claims that EDA has been “unfairly maligned in various blogs and letters generated by the uninformed.” Dedman’s letter was pretty direct with the questions and criticism, but still, I was surprised by the personal nature of Baughan’s comment, because he serves the taxpayers of this County in a responsible role. The opportunity to serve is a privilege, not a bully pulpit for name calling – the questions and comments he refers to are simply the taxpayers asking for more information so that they can evaluate whether or not to support the EDA.

Here on Hawksbill Cabin, I seek to publish a logical, intelligent and informed discussion about the county lifestyle, framed by my own 30 years of experience in business. But I’m not going to shy away from giving an opinion here and there too. I don’t question Baughan’s integrity, but I do question his judgment and his failure to execute those strategic plans as they were written and approved.

As far as the two letters of support that are included here, they speak to Baughan’s accomplishments as a private citizen. One is written by his son, who lives in Charlotte, NC, and another, by a parishioner at his church. They both reinforce the claim that Baughan is motivated to do the right thing, as exhibited in his commitment to charity and civic organizations. These have an important role in the community, but none of them has the potential to obligate each man, woman, and child member or participant to a $2,100 debt obligation, as Baughan has championed in his role as EDA Chairman.

* speculative – relating to an act of speculation, assuming unusual business risks in hopes of obtaining commensurate gains.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happier than you or I...

Yesterday, as the evening started to cool down, I sat out on the deck with a nice, cold, Brooklyn Pils and a "La Gloria Cubana."  Sofie came out with me and did her usual wander around the backyard.

After a short while, Mary came out, and spotted Sofie down in the yard, on her back as shown here.  This is a spring ritual, but at 17, we didn't think she was flexible enough to do this anymore.

But there you go, she'd gotten over and was enjoying a roll in the grass.  When she got back up on the deck, there was a contented doggie grin and cuttings falling off her back.

That's why I always say "A dog is happier than you or I can ever be."

Friday, May 14, 2010

The New Luray Tri Sprint - and other endurance sports news

In honor of the new Tri Sprint that is coming up June 5 in Luray, thought I'd put a couple of items together in a post about outdoor endurance sports.  I'm not planning on competing in any of these events this year, but I'm considering it in the future - this year my goal is simply to be more active and get more exercise than I have the last couple of years, and so far, so good.

The first news in this regard comes from a note we received from Mary's cousin Heidi, who lives in Munich with her husband and children.  She's joined a tri team there, and the team keeps a blog, so I've added them to the blogroll "Sporthasshuster" over there on the right.  Click through to the team for a photo of everybody.  Here's the note we rec'd from Heidi with the news:

"I applied for and was selected to “Sport Schuster’s Elite Triathlon Team.” You had to live in munich, own a racing bike, and do some type of endurance sport – I run marathons) and get this, I got a spot. There are only 12 of us and everything we do is sponsored by the sport store and our main goal is the Garmin-Alpen Triathlon on Sept 18th. It has just been like winning the lottery and I am so very happy. We are trained by ute Schaefter, a German professional Triathlete, who won all distances for Germany up until 2005 when she “retired” (she is about as old as Felix). I will send you our blog address and if you want you may follow and also check pics and try and read the German text."

Now onto the new Luray Sprint.  Set for June 5, here is the description of the race from http://luraytriathlon.com/:

"June 5th: Set in the Shenandoah Valley near the beautiful and welcoming town of Luray, this race offers the same great course as the August sprint triathlon beginning with a swim in pristine Lake Arrowhead followed by a 16.5-mile bike on paved roads through the surrounding woods and farms and ending with an out and back 5K with rolling hills on the roads of Page County."

Be sure and check that link for the video of the course.  If you've ever wondered why I write so much about the beauty of the area, you'll see why...turn down the volume if you are at work - soundtrack is Queen!

This race, along with the other two that are done in August, benefit the community.  On race weekend in 2009, organizer David Glover announced that more than $10,000 was donated to the United Way of Page County.  United Way is the beneficiary again this year.  Also in 2009, another $8,000 was donated to the Luray Downtown Initiative, Luray Volunteer Rescue, Shenandoah Volunteer Rescue Squad, Luray Christian Church, Luray Parks & Recreation Department, Luray Police Dept and the Page County Sheriff's Office.

I did a post on the volunteer experience last year here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2009/08/luray-tri-weekend.html. Needless to say, I am looking forward to helping out again this year - I'll do all the races if I can.

As far as participating, maybe in a few years.  I have a thought that I might like to run the Berlin Marathon in 2013...the 30th anniversary of my run in 1983.  Between that and swimming lessons, I might be able to finish.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Visiting Pagans

We had a very pleasant surprise on Sunday when our friends the Pagans dropped by – they had been in town overnight after a funeral in Winchester, and after a stop at the Caverns they came by to see us at the Hawksbill Cabin. With a hungry 2-year old in tow, we thought a stop by our neighbors at Wisteria Vineyards might be a good idea before we headed into town for lunch at Artisans CafĂ©.

Wisteria was featured in the PN&C recently, in an article that highlighted some new vines that Moussa and Sue have planted. We got a glass of Norton and Traminette to share among the adults while we took a stroll around the farm. Since the vineyard is so close to us, Mary and stop by there often, but there were some nice surprises in the barnyard this time.

One of the Romney ewes had a lamb with her, and there were some chicks running around with hens in the barnyard. So we had a big-eyed two-year old fully engaged with the animals – and a full recap of these activities over lunch once we were downtown. We also walked down the little road between the fields to the back of the property, which borders on Upper Hawksbill Creek just down from the Beaver Run confluence (Beaver Run forms one border of our property to the south of the vineyard).

By the way, to my surprise, this section of the Hawksbill definitely looks like it could hold trout, although I didn’t study it long enough to see if there were any. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some of the fry from downstream stocking have made their way up and naturalized, although that may be a stretch given summer temperatures in these fields.

We ended our visit in town at Artisans, where Mary and I had also lunched the previous day. The little one had the grilled cheese and fries – a lunch that looked pretty good to me too – which she drenched with ketchup. Not a bad outing and I hope we sent her away tired for their drive back to Potomac.

I’ve posted on Wisteria before and I want to say again how much we enjoy Sue and Moussa’s hospitality. Here’s a quick note, referencing the PN&C article, on the two wines we had while we were out this weekend:

  • Norton – dry red from a native Virginian grape, spicy aromas, deep ruby color with full finish.
  • Traminette – Dry white wine with a rose-petal nose and palate, crisp and light with a delicate finish.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Cabin Container Garden, and Spring Flowers Update

A combined entry today – on spring flowers and the new “container garden” I planted out at the cabin last weekend.

First on the spring flowers – we have irises up, but it has been so sunny that they were already past peak last weekend and I didn’t take photos. These peonies, on the other hand, were blooming away, and there were a couple of other plants just getting ready to open up – if I recall, there will be some white ones, and another bunch that is a dark red.

As far as container gardens go, this year will be an experiment for us – Mary’s done so well with the one in Alexandria I thought we should try one at the cabin. I saw this approach in Mother Earth News and thought I would try it out. You keep the soil in the bags – for a couple of reasons:

• Eliminates the need to till
• Soil is pasteurized – no weeds
• Plastic bag keeps the native soil parasites away from the seedlings
• Recycle the bags at the end of the season, leaving the soil in place for next year

So I’ve got eggplant, cucumbers (a round, yellow variety), zucchini and yellow squash going in this plot. They are all vines, which is why I’ve done this trellising. These plants are going to be on their own for a lot of the time, so we’ll see how they do – germination ranges from 7 to 10 days, and harvests are up to 80 days after…that puts us into August, so we’ll see.

If we are successful, next year we will remove these hostas and have a second row.  But the bet, as neighbor Terry says, is that all I am really doing is feeding the deer and rabbits.

By the way, here's the link to the inaugural post about Mary's container garden in Alexandria:

This is an old shed that is directly behind the house.  It used to have power but doesn't anymore.  I think the Thompsons kept their freezer here, and Britt and Lori kept their pellets for the wood stove (which they bought in bulk by the ton) in a bin here.  A big black rat snake (the one that kept getting into the laundry room) used to live under it...who am I kidding, "used to" ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Down Comes the Big Pine

Since we bought the Hawksbill Cabin in September 2007, we've enjoyed the big pine tree that dominates the hill in the front yard.  The neighborhood is known as Hawksbill Pines, after all, and this just might be the eponymous tree...although I doubt it.  It's really a marvel.  But unfortunately, it's going to have to come down this year.

After the snows this winter, we've noticed there is a pronounced lean in the main trunk.  While it's subtle enough that you might not notice it as a casual visitor, I can definitely see it, and I am growing a little more concerned each time I take a look at it.

For the last two springs, a family of hawks (I've had trouble identifying the species - either Coopers or Sharp-shinned hawks, and at the moment I'm going with Coopers) have nested here, raising four hatchlings each year.  They didn't nest here this year, but moved to the woods in the back of the house.  I haven't found the tree, but hear the "near the nest" call and see the male flying over from time to time.   Their voluntary relocation opened up some options.  (Click on the "Hawks" tag on this post for more on their nesting activities.)

There will be a big relief associated with the event.  This tree drops needles and those little cones into the pool all summer long.  I had no idea how much litter a pine tree continuously throughs off, and that's especially true of this one.

We are taking down two of its downhill neighbors, which have always looked a little sickly, and one more up the hill closer to the house and pool.  It's just time for these to go, and unfortunately for the big one, with the lean, we can't afford the risks of it falling at anytime, especially later in the summer during the heavy rains.

Chris said this will open up the view.  That's certainly true and we'll have a clear look over to Beaver Run hollow. 

I'm thinking about replacing these with four to six apple trees, which won't grow as tall.  It'll be nice to have a little orchard there, and since I think we could lose the old tree soon, it's time to think ahead.

As far as pines go, we'll still have 10 or so of the large, 70- to 90-footers left, and there are a couple of 30-foot sapplings around that will grow into place.  We've got more in the acre of woods behind and to the east, which is where I think the hawks have settled.  So the neighborhood can keep the name - Mary and I will stand by it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring Fest Luray 2010

This weekend was the big annual “Festival of Spring” in Luray, and for the first time in a couple of years we didn’t have competing commitments and could join our friends to celebrate the arrival of spring. The event is held on Main Street in Luray, and despite a pesky brisk wind that kept toppling tents and knocking down displays, the crowds showed up and everybody had a good time.

We spent an hour taking a look around the booths and visiting folks we’ve come to know in Luray. After making the circuit, we took a break for lunch at Artisan’s; then we went down to bulldog field for the “disk dog” exhibition, which is co-sponsored by Howard and Appalachian Outdoors Adventures. Despite the breezes, it seemed like humans and canines alike were having a good time tossing and catching disks.

Here’s a photo of Lilly and Martha getting ready for the show. These two, and Athena, back at the store, were taking a break their trail dog duties; Athena was working the crowd in the shop and out at the booth. Lilly is the disk competitor, while Martha is the supporting cast.

In this photo, we’ve got Howard and Lilly off in the distance getting ready for the two-disk catch, a timed event where the dog has to retrieve two disks at a distance of more than 20 yards. Many herding breeds excel at this (all three of the AOA trail dogs have herding lineages), so you see a lot of collies and shelties here. There was also a young and alert German Shepherd mix who was quite excited to have the chance to show off.

After watching the retrieve event, we decided to head back and get out of the wind – a cloud of dust had blown in and sent me into a sneezing fit. We opted out of the beer garden (we won’t miss it next time, though!) and the wine garden, which are two welcome new components of the Spring Fest.

We have an important connection to this event – our first visit to Luray was at the Spring Fest in 2007. We were staying up in the SNP at Skyland for a three day weekend, and it was rainy on the mountain that spring morning, so we decided to head down into Luray to check it out. We stumbled upon the fest, and we were pretty much sold on the little town and area there in Page Valley. That’s my story, anyway, and I am sticking to it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reprinting the PN&C letter - re: Mr. Baughan

While I've been on the road this week, yesterday I rec'd news on-line about a letter that was in the Page News and Courier, reprinted on the Lurayva blog (link in the blogroll on the right).  It gives voice to a lot of questions I've had over the last couple of years as I've thought about the EDA role.  Kudos to Jay for putting them so straightforward and succinct!  And a tip of the hat to Keith for putting it up on the blog...
---letter follows
Last week I opened paper to see a man’s face on front page. Lowell Baughan. I see his name in the paper connected with so many county dealings.

Who is this man? I don’t remember voting for him or hearing he was elected.

A friend told me he’s been head of the EDA for 30 years. He seems to have the ability to spend taxpayer money without direct citizen input.

Why? Is this some kind of untouchable second leadership?

Let’s just be clear. Mr. Baughan wants to spend $7.5-million for 210 acres of farmland (a.k.a Progject Clover), while the county is already struggling to balance it’s budget for this year. Remember the landfill fiasco that we’re still paying for? Clover will weight us down like the new landfill, if we allow it to be purchased. Everyone gets rich but the Page County taxpayers, who will pay for the next 40-years.

So let’s default. We don;t need to borrow more money. Each of us must live within our means and so should we as a county. We’re cutting the school budget to the bone, as well as other necessary services. There are already too many empty industrial parks along I-81. Let’s not add another one.

A friend told me that Lowell’s father was part of the “Byrd Machine“ (look it up on Wikipedia.org) when VA politics was run by a tight group of insiders. As a member of the new generation, those days of crony politics are over.

Mr. Baughan says we can’t default on this proposed loan to Rebecca Graves Hudson. But we only default if Mrs. Hudson sues. As a citizen who’s family has lived here for generations, she could also realize this purchase is a bad deal for the community. She could be a hero. As is, Rebecca will still be paid over $1-million for 38 acres of farmland. Do the math. She’s no victim.

We elect leaders. They make the decisions for us. If I don’t like their decision, I help vote them out of office. So who is Lowell Baughan? I can’t vote him out of office because he’s never been elected. Lowell simply has power to spend $7.5-million of taxpayer money that taxpayers don't want.

Jay D., Rileyville

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Orlando Trade Show - Final Post

Uploading these for future reference...we are thinking of redesigning the booth next year and we liked these.

That's all from Orlando...I'll be boarding in a few...

Orlando Trade Show - almost final

Writing from the Orlando airport (free Wifi)...last post on the show with a few more photos of all the stuff on display there.  Here we'll finish up with some of the vehicles and then some miscellaneous interesting stuff.

I found the shot of the John Deere I thought I had lost, and then there is the bus command center, and the OCC designed smart chopper at the Siemens booth.

Then the miscellaneous ones...the Camelbak government sales booth - I have quite a bit of this stuff but nothing in Camo...and the guy told me they do 27 patterns internationally!  And...a gun locker for your over the top hardware.  And, Hall pottery.  We have one of these blue "ball" pitchers, so I thought it'd be fun to snap the shot.

I am posting once more from the show, we saw a couple of booths that we might redesign our stuff to look like for the future.

Cars and Trucks...and Tractors

Whenever I am at this show, it continues to amaze me what the federal government has to buy to do business.  Today a post mainly with photos of the vehicles I've seen around the exhibition hall.  You've got all the "big 3" here, plus tractors and those upgraded golf carts used for sporting and maintenance. 

There is a John Deere booth here, but I didn't have my camera with me when I walked by it.  Also, there is some super duper bus in the middle of the show, looks to be rigged for some kind of mobile command post.  Awesome stuff.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This is not a boat show, but...

One of the things about this show is the wide range of products and services that are displayed.  And since we were there at set up day yesterday there were a couple of treats to be found and enjoyed without the crowds you would expect - this CBP cigarette being one of those.

It happens to be at the end of our row so we took a quick walk down to look her over.  One of my colleagues is a retired Coastie so he was very excited to be up close and personal with this vessel.  I was impressed too.

I took a couple of photos - the ones I'd like to point out are this one up at the pilot station.  There's all that electronic gear, but if you look up at the dashboard, you see - a paper compass.

Then, of course, at the stern, you get a look at a heckuva lot of horsepower...1,400 if I am doing the math right.

We also are on the same row as a bunch of GM fleet cars.  I got to try on the Equinox and they offered to sell me one on the spot...somebody let Mary know I didn't (yet).