Ramble On

Friday, November 29, 2013

Perfect Day (Reprise)

Catching up with my fantasy football teams early yesterday, I was caught by surprise when Lou Reed's Perfect Day came over the airwaves.  That's pretty exceptional, I thought - I'd looked away from the television just then.  When I looked back...well, the reason for this post is to cleanse the memory for a moment: the song was being used in a commercial for a video game.

It will make a nice bookend to November, I thought, if that song is the last post of the month for Hawksbill Cabin, and that will be a way for me to get past the commercial - I'd rather not associate those images with the song.  So I've embedded the video below, and then there is a link to the Wikipedia entry as well.  

I recognize that the video is a promotion for BBC - what would life be without some irony here and there?  But we've got to protect the cultural record...so there you go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Green Chile Mac 'n' Cheese Recipe

Yeah - it's not very green.
One of my fond memories of church pot lucks and scout dinners is the banquet-style mac 'n' cheese.  For a long time I searched for a recipe, because I knew that someday in my adult life I would like to bring this dish along to an event.  At last I found a recipe in Grit magazine, a staple of leisure reading material at Hawksbill Cabin - this one is from the January/February 2010 edition.

The green chiles are fairly mild, but they have a great flavor.  If you want to punch up the heat, you can add minced jalapeno - I added about a teaspoon to my last batch for just a hint of extra flavor.


  • 1 pound macaroni (elbow, bowtie, or shell)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (minced or pressed)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tablespoons unbleached flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups grated cheese (I used cheddar, jack, swiss, and gruyere blends)
  • 4 to 6 green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped (I used two small cans)


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, butter 2 quart baking dish
2. Cook pasta al dente while preparing sauce.  Drain pasta and toss with olive oil and one clove of garlic. Lightly season with salt and pepper
3. In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.  Add remaining garlic and cook one minute.  Add on cup of milk and stir well to blend.  Remove from heat (to prevent clumping) and mix in flour.  Add remaining milk, whisk to remove clumps.  Add paprika, salt and pepper.
4.  When sauce is hot, sprinkle in half the cheese and stir well until melted.  Taste for more salt and pepper.
5.  Toss green chiles with cooked macaroni.  Place half in bottom of prepared baking dish.  Spread half the sauce over macaroni, and add half the remaining cheese.  Repeat another layer, spread remaining sauce over macaroni and sprinkle remaining cheese.
6.  Cover with foil (use cooking spray on foil to prevent sticking) and bake for 40 minutes.

For presentation, I added bread crumbs, a little more paprika, and parley flakes to the top of the mac 'n' cheese before I put it in the oven.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Letter to Atomic Ranch

We've been reading Atomic Ranch magazine for a while now - it's a great resource for midcentury modern furnishings and architecture, and Hawksbill Cabin was designed within that context.

One of the furnishings that conveyed with the house is a light fixture that we kept in the bedroom.  We've been puzzled by it, and have even thought about changing it out in the past.  At the end of the day, our senses got the better of us and we've kept it - with the thought we would look to repair it, if that is possible.

We have a bit of "cabin lore" on the fixture, from Kevin, who grew up here - he said it was probably bought from Scan Design or a similar store in the 1960's, when they were building the addition.  He thought it had colored shades in the old days, and confirmed that one of the bulbs had been replaced.

The Atomic Ranch post confirmed that it is a designed piece (Tapio Wirkkala designed them for Idmin Oy) - and even the two hourglass shaped bulbs are designed pieces.  They referred us to a couple of auction sites to watch for parts, such as bulbs or shades.  Those included:

  • www.liveauctioneers.com
  • www.wright20.com
It was good to have our instincts on this confirmed, we'll have to keep working on the restoration.

(Info about the edition of Atomic Ranch the letter appears in is here:  http://www.atomic-ranch.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=64)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Agribusiness Intern Returns

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to enjoy a chat with some representatives from Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, a lender that serves some Page County local farmers.  They offered some good insight about their services - info I filed away in case I need it some day.

Lifelong learning episode 16: Butchering.
Then last month, I had an email from them about a continuing education program for "young and beginning farmers."  I wrote to find out if a person who had thought about buying a farm could be considered "beginning" - I figured it was a no-brainer they wouldn't consider me under the young category.  After all, I had completed that famous internship a few years ago, and truth be told, I had inquired about how to get a farm mortgage.

Well, I was accepted into the program...there's more here for readers who might be interested:

Agbiz in the Valley.
Last Friday we had our first session, up in Frederick, MD; there will be two more on-site sessions this year.  There are eight of us out of the Frederick location, but more than 200 people participating in eight states overall - including one person in Washington, DC!  I really enjoyed meeting the folks in Frederick and learning about the wide variety of agribusinesses they are working with, and the range of experiences among all of us.

We have five on-line modules to get through this year:

  • Megatrends of Agriculture
  • Strategic Business Planning
  • Preparing for Your Lender
  • Preparing Agricultural Financial Statements - The Balance Sheet
  • Preparing Agricultural Financial Statements - Income Statement and Cash Flows

I know I've covered a lot of this in my USC MBA, and heck, I even consult on strategic business planning and financial statements...but I think this specialized application is going to be very interesting.  I'm really looking forward to the course.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crooked Run Brewery - A Kickstarter Project

Crooked Run home grows their hops.
There was a little feature in the Washington Post last week that mentioned the local brewing scene in Leesburg, Virginia.  Among those mentioned was Crooked Run Brewery, which was one of several I sponsored over on Kickstarter this year.  

Here’s the widget that links to the project:

He’s got a great location for his tasting room in Market Station, which the Post described as a “charmingly bare bones operation” – but checking out the Kickstarter video will show you why:  it’s about the beer, and using local ingredients where ever possible.

He keeps four beers on tap and has a recipe list of 21 varieties.  I just added his blog to my blogroll on the right, and you can find the link to the brewery here:  http://www.crookedrunbrewing.com/

I picked this one out on Kickstarter because I found the craft nanobrewery model interesting – and inspiring.  I’m looking forward to sharing the story with some of my Blue Ridge Brewing Association friends next time we meet.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"75 @ 75" Project - a Wrap

Selfie on one of the first 75 @ 75 hikes to
Overall Run.
Yesterday I needed to replace my dog walking shoes, and I really like the Patagonia Men's Drifter A/C Hiking Shoe.  As I browsed the hiking books at REI, I was reminded that my last post on the “75 @ 75” project was a year ago, and I never met my objective for this initiative.  I guess it is time to write some wrap up posts and move on.

I designed the 75 @ 75 project to be a series of hikes I planned to take as a way to honor the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.  The hikes chosen were moderately strenuous, at least five miles in length and including a net elevation change of at least 500 feet.  Even though I have completed quite a few hikes in the park that did not qualify by this definition, my final status on the project (shown in the accompanying table) was seven hikes completed with total mileage of 54.8 miles. 

I simply ran out of time for the project, since these were all to be completed in the 2011-2012 timeframe to coincide with the park’s anniversary.  I plan to continue to check the box on the hikes from my original list, but since they will be done outside of the timeframe for the project, it’s time to put an end to 75 @ 75. I want the closure. 

Here’s one of the lists (sourced from the Heatwole guide, which is now out of print and not even available on Amazon at the moment) I compiled to identify appropriate hikes. The hikes in bold were completed during my 75 @ 75 attempt.

  • Hike 1 - Bluff Trail/AT, mile post 17.6, distance 12.8 miles, altitude change 2,400.  Includes two summits and some views, and about 5 miles on the AT.
  • Hike 2 - Piney Branch/Piney Ridge, mile post 22.1, distance 8.3 miles, altitude change 1,700 feet.  This one includes a mountain cemetery, old homesite, stream crossings, and a small waterfall. 
  •  Hike 3 - Knob Mountain/Jeremy’s Run, mile post 24.1 (at the Elk Wallow Wayside), two versions either 11.7 or 14.0 miles, elevation from 2,600 to 2,800 feet.  There’s a stream with cascades and a falls, and a summit.
  •  Hike 4 - Hazel Mountain, mile post 33.5, distance 5.3 miles and elevation change 1,070 feet (the easiest on this list!).  No summit here, but it is interesting for a combination of a falls, cascade, and a small cave.  Depending on when we go, maybe no spelunking – the snake scene in True Grit still creeps me out.
    Staircase on the Hazel Mountain trail.
  • Hike 5 - Pocosin Mission and South River Falls, mile post 59.5, distance 8.5 miles and elevation 1,800 feet.  This combines the ruin of an old cabin and mission, and then takes in the South River Falls, which was one of Chris’s and my main training hikes for the Half Dome a few years ago.
  • Hike 6 - Black Rock/Trayfoot Mountain Loop, mile post 84.8 or 87.4, distance approximately 10.0 miles and unestimated altitude change.  This trail is shown on one of the Park’s maps, which include distances but not altitudes.  This will take in the rock scramble at Black Rock, an old fire observation point on Trayfoot Mountain, and the hollow where the Black Rock Springs Hotel was located in the late 1800’s.
  • Hike 7 - Riprap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge, mile post 90.0, 9.8 miles and 2,400 feet.  Includes the two Civil War lookout points Chimney Rock and Cavalry Rock, 3 miles of AT section, cascades and a falls.
  • Bonus Hike (8):  Hannah Run and Hot-Short Mountain, mile post 35.1, 9.1 miles and 2,800 feet.  This one includes ruins of mountaineer cabins and a stream.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Strickler Knob - a Moderate GWNF Day Hike

There are a few of them:  Strickler Knob has been one of those hikes that I've strived to complete, but things just never have seemed to work out.  There have been weather-related cancellations, and then there was the time we tried to do it in January 2011, only to fail (check out the Strickler Knob label at the end of this post for more info about the trail and the 2011 attempt).  So when Chris and I arrived at the trail head at 11am last Saturday, I was happy to realize that we were going to finally check the box on this one - even if we were using a shorter version to make sure we completed the summit in daylight!

The trail we used starts at the Scotthorn Gap parking area - a spot in the GWNF we are very familiar with, since we started several of our training hikes for the 2005 Half Dome trip here, hiking up some of these very same trails.  Our planned route was about 5.4 miles long with approximately 800 feet of elevation.

Back in 2005, Strickler Knob was a true bushwack, I guess, which is one of the reasons we never found it.  The trail had been roughed out and was blazed, but it wasn't maintained and the route was lost.  Over the last few years, as discussed in the Hiking Upward review (http://www.hikingupward.com/GWNF/StricklerKnob/), it has been rediscovered and the route has been partially reblazed.

Our route led up the fire road - we'd hiked this many times before, and our familiarity was one of the reasons I wanted to start out and end the hike here, since if we ran out of daylight, we would be on a familiar stretch of trail.  Eventually we passed through a clearing - great campsites here, and we paused to rest on the fire ring - and then a slight descent to a beaver pond and the crossroads, where we had turned back from the summit in the 2001 attempt.

After another short climb, the intersection with the summit trail is hard to find because it is not marked with a sign or blaze. Instead, someone has built a rock pile talisman there, which is the spot where you should make your way to the north to begin following the ridge.  Before you cross the ridge, look up for a few pink or magenta items nailed high on tree trunks - the old blazes for this trail were that color, or pink.

For the most part, this hike follows the ridge of Strickler Knob, which is handy since the blazes can be hard to see - they are either not there, having been worn off, or there are long stretches where they haven't been placed, since the scrubby tree growth up here doesn't allow for the usual placement.  Being up on the ridge like that offers two key benefits:  as long as you continue north, eventually you will reach your objective; and there are incredible views to the east and west of the Luray Valley and the folds of the Massanutten Mountain, with glimpses that stretch off to West Virginia in places!

The highlight of this hike, which is a main feature of the Hiking Upward review, is the rock scramble that comprises the last third of a mile before the summit.  The terrain requires hand over hand climbing in two or three places, to heights of 10 to 12 feet - fortunately, the rock on this summit is mostly eroded limestone layers from the old seabed that was here prehistorically, so there are plenty of hand- and foot-holds.  Even in my out of shape condition, I didn't find it too difficult.

The ridge scramble becomes progressively more intense as you approach the summit.  The last few yards require a scramble over large bolders and rocks, and through a rock crack, more of a tunnel - I've got a shot of Chris standing in it.  And then finally, you're there on the summit, where you will find several stacks that you can climb up to take a seat on, and where there are even surfaces large enough to stretch out on for a sunny nap, if the weather permits.

For our part, we stayed up there for a half hour or so, resting and preparing for the descent.  We started back down the path, satisfied that our preparation and planning meant we'd have plenty of daylight for the hike back down.  We passed a couple of back country campsites, and even three hiking parties just getting to the ridge on our way back down.

I didn't envy those people, as this trail would be quite difficult with headlamps in the dark - I don't know that I would even attempt the scramble with any threat of darkness, and that's why we had bailed before.

But this time - we had accomplished what we set out to do.  This is definitely a highlight of the trails on Massanutten Mountain - and it is one I'm looking forward to trying again sometime!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Prep for the Strickler Knob Reattempt

Chris and I had been in touch about the possibility of taking a hike sometime this fall, and we finally managed to pull it all together over Veterans Day weekend.  We'd contemplated several routes, including a second climb of Duncan Knob, climbing Kennedy Peak to enjoy the views overlooking the Luray Valley, or perhaps Marys Rock in Shenandoah National Park.  In the end, we decided that we would go back and tend to some unfinished business by completing the Strickler Knob route we had tried back in 2011.

As we often do, we used www.hikingupward.com as one of our guides for preparing for the hike.  It describes a 9.1 mile trail as follows:

"Some of the best vistas in the mid-Atlantic.  The new Strickler Knob trail is a challenging rock hopping/scramble that has beautiful views of New Market Gap, the Luray Valley, and a 360 picture perfect panorama from the Strickler Knob summit.  A nice hike with a great little rock scramble on the ridge."

We set about preparing logistics for the hike, with the goal of Chris staying over at Hawksbill Cabin the night before to shorten the time it would take to rendezvous and get to the trail head.  So we met on Friday night at the house, and were ready to head out by 9am - with a quick stop at Southern Kitchen in New Market on the way.  We were on the trail by 11am, which gave us six hours of daylight for this moderate hike, shortened from the Hiking Upward version - we would do approximately 5.4 miles, with an elevation gain of 800+ feet.

Google Earth image of our route to the Strickler Knob summit.
As I mentioned, this was not the first attempt at this hike.  We first tried in in January 2011, on a cold day with temperatures in the teens - I was still dealing with jet lag after returning from my trip to Japan the weekend before.  In the end, as we struggled, burdened with so many layers to fight off the cold while we climbed nearly 900 feet over the course of a mile and a half section of the longer hike, and we simply had to give up because we were running out of daylight.  The blog post about that failed attempt is here:

I had promised myself I would make another go of this one, and was glad that Chris agreed to try it.  I'll post about the trail tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Buster Barn Cat

Last year, after one of the neighbors encouraged two young feral female cats to hang around the Hawksbill Cabin neck of the woods - there was a great surprise one weekend when suddenly there appeared two litters of four kittens each.  One of the litters had taken up residence under the garage (which I often refer to as the barn) and the other was under our pool deck.  Suddenly we had ten feral cats running around - I figured that was a good start on having 200 of them.

We found a local organization called Cat's Cradle in Harrisonburg, which has a mission of helping catch feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and releasing them back to where they came from.  (Here's a link to their web page:  http://catscradleva.org/).  We called them in and eventually managed to get the two mothers and six of the kittens fixed through the program.

Of the two we didn't get - we later found that one was a victim of a hawk (we've had some red tails back in the hollow the last couple years, along with the Coopers and Sharp-shinned hawks we frequently see), and one simply disappeared.  We just figured that nature had taken its course, and that we had taken care of all the feral cats.

We ended up adopting one of the kittens, a neighbor took another, and a home was found for a third - so there were now five feral cats around.  We've taken to feeding them and work with a couple of the neighbors to provide for them outside...and we haven't seen any traces of mice inside of Hawksbill Cabin in return for this.

A new cat - a feral tom that I call Buster - has started showing up over the last few weeks.  He is very friendly and vocal, comfortable around Mary and me, and will even accept being picked up (the others won't).  I think he may be the lost kitten, and that he was taken in by some tenants up the hill - they moved, and maybe abandoned him.

Buster hung around on Sunday and Monday while I raked leaves.  He found some good vantage points to observe me from - the brick terrace (I saw him sit in my chair), the window sill (outside, Sashi sits inside), and even the roof of the pool cabana.

Buster's a character, and I'd love to see him get adopted by somebody.  I'm even willing to help with the introductory vet bills for shots and neutering.

Contact me here with a comment if you know somebody interested.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Along the Greenway

Frequent readers know that Mary and I enjoy frequent walks along the Hawksbill Greenway in Luray.  It's just an excellent community resource that provides so many people with a recreational outlet.  One of our favorite things is to take Tessie for a Sunday morning walk out there.

A few weeks back, around the time of those big rains, I took Tessie out for a walk, only to find that the little pedestrian bridge was closed, with some of the lateral railings down.  There is a walkway like this in the Potomac Gorge around Great Falls that is constructed with similar rails, designed so that it can be taken down quickly to protect it from seasonal flooding.  When I saw the closure on the Greenway, I thought, "Well, that's why they put this kind of bridge here - when the creek is up they can protect the bridge."

Flash forward a few weeks, and there is a front page story in the local paper about vandalism to the Greenway.  It turns out that some one vandalized the bridge, twisting the gates out and tossing them in the stream.  There were other impacts too.

While the paper mentioned an investigation that was still ongoing at the time, I got the impression that the vandals were mischievous youths - the final results haven't been published in the news yet.  However, what is known is that the damage cost about $7,000 to repair...the good news is that the bridge is reopened, as shown in the second photo.

Mary, Tessie and I took our walk last Sunday and were happy to see it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

For Sgt Darne

On Saturday, Mary and I got up at 0-dark-thirty - the designated starting time for so many things out here at Hawksbill Cabin - to join in an event over in New Market honoring Matthew Darne, a former Marine sergeant who was lost last April.  This was an event put together by Healing our Heroes, an organization that supports returning soldiers, all too many of whom are dealing with injuries that go much more deeply than the visible flesh and blood wounds that many of them bore.

My service, in the Cold War, never put me on the front lines, in the heat of battle - a 'hot war' as it were.  There were risks, but I can only read the books, or see the stories told in video (I recommend Restrepo for those who are interested in an embedded story about what the troops we sent over there have gone through) about loss of life or risk of injury in the heat of battle. Still, I know that despite the grief and worry that these stories bring to life, we just can't understand fully the complete picture.

I found this tribute post about SGT Darne:
He was a very likable fellow - just like the hundreds I met and served with.  It's a shame we lost someone of his character.

His wife was very strong as she spoke at the opening ceremony for this 5K Run and 1.25 mile walk at the New Market Battlefield State Park.

Today I'll keep her and the family, and so many of his friends, in my thoughts.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lou Reed (a tribute)

You can always play a Hank Williams song, you can always play a Beatles song, and you can always play a Lou Reed song. - Beck

It’s already been a full work week since we first had the news that Lou Reed had passed away of a liver ailment at 71.  Rock and Roll critics were the first to respond with obituaries – those began showing up on Monday morning and Tuesday, and I’ve paused to read them whenever I noticed them.  Then my friend Tom put up a Facebook status recounting the experience of meeting Reed in person twice at venues in New York city; by Thursday, personal tributes began to reach the media, including a post by Beck, and another – a letter to fans – by Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife. 

My own first reaction was to think about when I first encountered Lou Reed as an artist.  That would have been when the song “Walk on the Wild Side” was a Top 40 hit – I wasn’t sure what the song was about, but we listened to that 45 over and over, singing along to “…and the colored girls sing ‘do-te-do, te-do, te-do, do-te-do…’” A few years later, when the meaning of life was all coming together for me, I would think about this song while walking to Faustos in Key West along Duval Street on the morning after Halloween, enjoying the stories about all the parades and parties that had taken place there.

The second thing I did after hearing the news was to head down to the basement for a look at my vinyl LP collection.  There I found seven Lou Reed records, some bought in Berlin, and some at a used record store in Tampa.  I figure I have a couple of CDs around, and I know that I made a cassette of VU that I used to play on the Walkman back in the day. 

Lou Reed was one of a group of artists who had a strong connection to Berlin while I was there in the 1980’s, which happened to be some formative years for my taste in music.  We looked for DavidBowie and Iggy Pop mementos (check out the label Bowie Quest at the end of this post as an example), and of course there was the Lou Reed album entitled “Berlin.” Among these thoughts was the trip into Kruezberg with Tony Orth to a record store I’d never found before so he could pick up a copy of the first Velvet Underground record – the one with Nico and the Warhol banana on the cover.

Since then I learned about all the artists who point to Lou Reed as an influence.  There was a quote by Brian Eno in the early obits about how the Velvets didn’t sell a lot of records in those first years, but everyone who bought the early pressings of the first record probably eventually bought a guitar and started a band.  Some artists that were listed in that Rolling Stone obit included David Bowie, Ric Ocasek, Chrissie Hynde, U2, Sonic Youth, and R.E.M. – I found that I have LPs or CDs by each one of these artists.

I listened to Lou Reed’s 1989 release “New York” over and over again – I kept the CD in the car and listened to it on my drive to work. When I made my first trek up to New York for a weekend, driving up the NJT with my friends Kelly and Mark, that was part of the soundtrack.  “Give me your tired, your poor – and I’ll piss on them!” we sang along.

It’s cliché to say it, but Lou Reed’s music is part of the pop culture fabric for someone my age.  He’d rank up there in the top 5 or so favorites if I was inclined to put together such a list.  I was sad to hear the news of his passing – but I have taken a few minutes here and there this week to find YouTube clips of his performances of favorite songs.  I found that clip of Perfect Day that I had never seen or heard before.  

So even though he's gone, I guess I still have a lot to discover about Lou Reed's influence.  

Post script.  After I wrote the original posts, I had a couple of other recollections I wanted to add.

Around the time of my trip to NYC, when we sang along with Dirty Boulevard, a few friends formed a band called the Despondent Astronauts and played local venues in Adams Morgan and the emerging U Street corridor.  They did a few VU covers, including Pale Blue Eyes and Femme Fatale as we followed them around back then.

During the U2 Zoo TV tour (in 1992, I think) - this is the stadium tour where they'd brought along all the East German Trabbie cars as part of the stage set - Bono sang a cover of Satellite of Love.  He was out on one of those islands they create to get the band closer to the crowd, and suspended above him was one of the trabbies.  He took a rope that was attached to it and gave it a spin - so the satellite above remained in orbit for the rest of the song.