Ramble On

Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter is Coming

Last week we had a warm spell that was atypical of Thanksgiving week.  Even so, the stores are getting ready for holiday shoppers, and Mary and I happened to spy this display at an outdoors store out in the ‘burbs.  One of them in particular got me to thinking about winter fun – and I was even wishing for a decent snow this year!

If you’re wondering what these toys are, they are called minibobs – I’ve called them minibogs in the past, but I’m going with the easier term from here on out.  I bought a couple of these a few years ago, based on some fond memories of using them on ski slopes in the Harz Mountains, way back when I was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. 

Here’s a link to an earlier post about the minibobs! 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Replacement

Somewhere around 1988, I became a convert to GM cars.  We've had four of them since then - all of them providing transportation well into the 100K miles range.  I even drove the first one, a 1988 Oldsmobile, to LA, passing 111,111 miles on the way out of DC - and 122,222 on the way back - before finally trading it in with 145K miles!

The most recent iteration was a 2005 Chevy Equinox, which I happened to purchase from Carmax in 2010 with 40K miles on it.  The price was great, and my first experience with Carmax was excellent.  We subsequently sold our 1999 Malibu to them (120K miles), leaving us with the Equinox and a 2003 Impala (135K miles).

Flash forward to the little vacation we took out in the Valley early this month.  We were on our way to check out the new brewery in Woodstock when we hit a buck.  Mary and I were both okay, but neither the buck nor the Equinox (116K miles) made it.

I took a few photos of the car that night in the darkness.  You can make out that it was a serious accident and that we were fortunate to not be hurt.  But you still don't get the impression the car is totaled - and it took State Farm about a week to figure that out for us as well.

Meanwhile I rented a car from Enterprise for a week and checked in with State Farm.  When they finally told us it was going to be totaled, I started shopping for a replacement - a late model Chevy Equinox.

The one I eventually settled on is a 2012, at the same Carmax where I got the old one.  This time the car only has 24K miles on it.  We've had it for a week now, and everything seems just great with it.

We'll be taking it out to the Valley next weekend...maybe we'll make it up to that brewery in Woodstock at last.  But we probably won't take it out much at night just now, not while the rut is on!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Momcat the Barncat

Sitting out on the brick terrace with a cup of coffee is one of my favorite weekend activities at Hawksbill Cabin.  As the winter comes on, the angle of the sun combines with the house’s orientation to make it fairly warm, and I’ll light up the fire pit for good measure to add some comfort.  Also, Momcat likes to hang out there.

This little cat has been hanging around the place for four years or so – she’s the definition of an outside pet.  I think she had two litters of kittens before we had her spayed (we worked with Cats Cradle in Harrisonburg – her clipped ear is the sign for this) and we ended up adopting her daughter as an indoor cat (and Buster!).  We invited Momcat to join us first, but she lives on her own terms.

Instead, we’ve provided a couple of little shelters out by the garage for her and some of the other barncats to hang out in when it is cold.  We recruited a neighbor to help out with feeding them – we provide a couple of bags of food per month for the four or five barncats around here (all fixed by Cats Cradle).

Momcat did give us a scare last year – she disappeared for a while.  I took a photo of her in May 2014 before we went on our vacation to Mendocino and the Bay Area, and then we didn’t see her again until last winter.  Our theory was that she had been chased off by an unaltered male stray that hung around here for a while, who’s moved on now.

In any case – this little mouser is a good friend of ours.  We’re always happy to find her hanging around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Brewing with @hawksbillhops

Since the hops harvest last August, I have worked on various experiments combining some of the hops varieties in a black IPA recipe I put together.  As an ode to “The Big Lebowski” I’ve tried naming the output on variations of “a black steer’s tuckus on a moonless night” – because the beer is quite dark. 

Some in the craft beer writing crowd actually call these beers over-hopped porters, which may be fair.  The current recipe I’m working with offers hints of toasted malt while leaving a reminder that it was brewed by a hops farmer – I’ve used 6 to 8 ounces of hops in each five-gallon batch so far.  The hops bill features either CTZ or Chinook bittering hops and Cascade for aroma; in addition, I dry-hopped the first two batches with either Cascades or some commercial Chinook pellets.

The batch in the photo here is still in primary as I’m posting this, but will be moved into secondary over the next few days.  It was done with the CTZ hops as bittering.  I don’t plan to dry hop this one.
On the ABV front, the two finished batches have gone at 7.2% (CTZ) and 6.8% (Chinook), I expect this batch to come in somewhere near those numbers as well.  The IBU calculations were around 60 for the CTZ batch and 45 for the Chinook, this most recent one will be closer to the original CTZ batch.

This kind of experimentation is a new stage of my homebrew experience.  I’ve had solid results with Porters, and the honey lavender kolsch was well received.  I could probably stand to try some lagering experiments and it goes without saying I should be looking into all-grain brewing, but I am not ready to make the time commitment for mastering those processes, especially while I am doing all of this in Mary’s kitchen!

To sum up the batches I’ve brewed to date with the Hawksbill Hops harvest, there are:
  • Batch 1: CTZ and Cascade, with a Cascade dry hop, delivering 7.2% and 60 IBU;
  • Batch 2: Chinook and Cascade, with a commercial Chinook pellet dry hop, delivering 6.8% and 45 IBU; and
  • Batch 3: Same recipe as batch 1 but no dry hop, and I substituted Maris Otter extract for part of the standard I'd used before; ABV/IBUs TBD .

There will be a batch four, it will be all Chinook, but I won’t brew that one until January.  I have in mind to make another go of a whisky barrel porter in the meantime; it will be bottled by the holidays but not ready for drinking until February 1.  My goal on that one would be to offer a near-stout experience that can be enjoyed in front of the fireplace. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hawksbill Summit - November 2015 edition

Besides hitting a deer midway through my vacation in the Valley, I had the opportunity to get out for a little day hike, choosing Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park as my destination (link here).  

As I drove to the park and then along Skyline Drive, I calculated in my mind that this was the first time this year I had been in the park – so I resolved to savor the trip and see if I could get a few good photographs.

Included in the post are some panoramic views of the Valley, taken from the drive as I passed milestones on the way to the trailhead – including Stonyman (wikipedia link), and the approach to Hawksbill (wikipedia link).  I’m including the shot I always love to get of Old Rag (wikipedia link)from the summit, as well as one of the evergreens that can be seen along the trail.  

We’ve had a stretch of unseasonably warm days, Indian summer style.  The change left the air clear of haze, and gave unusually clear views of the valley below.

The Hawksbill Summit trail I most often take starts at the upper parking area and is a 2.1 mile out-and-back route with 520 feet of elevation change (there are a couple of up-and-downs, so the net gain is less, around 400 feet).  I consider it an easy day hike – it’s a leg stretcher I enjoy whenever I have the time for a short hike in the park, with some incredible views from the summit.

I was really glad to check the box on a trip to the park this fall.  I hope that I’ll have another chance later this month or early December, weather permitting!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Seasons of the Road Kill: The 9-pointer

In my last post I mentioned the pace at work, which had been deadline intensive since the summer.  We’re in the process of delivering our new 200K+ SF building, with construction finished in August and interior fit out in progress through December - then the 300+ tenants will move in.  I needed a break, so I scheduled a week of vacation at Hawksbill Cabin last week to get in some hiking and enjoy the change in the weather by sitting outside on the brick terrace.

Mary joined me after a few days, and we planned a scouting trip up to the new Woodstock Brew House, one of the Valley’s newest craft brewers.  To get there, we climb over the New Market gap on US 211 and then take the Valley Pike, US 11, north for 20 miles or so.  Maybe it is a long way to go for dinner, but here in the Valley, the drive is worth it for the unique experiences offered.

As we exited the town of Edinburg headed north – and less than five miles to go to our destination – a very large buck appeared ahead.  We caught sight of him just as he crossed the center line into our lane, I saw how big he was and barely made out the right side of his rack – seeing more than four points. 

What a beautiful buck, I thought to myself, while stepping on the brakes.  It is hunting season and rut is on, so they are on the move.  This guy ended up being a 9-pointer, really in his prime, and confidently strolling across the highway.  We ended up catching him square between the front and rear quarters.

We limped the Equinox off to the side of the road and began taking care of the logistics of the accident – neither one of us were hurt and the air bags didn’t deploy – so we called 911 for assistance and to report everything.  An EMT from the fire department was dispatched, followed by a state trooper.

Meanwhile, the folks in the car behind us had seen the whole thing.  They are hunters, and called a friend to be at the ready to take the deer if he’d survived, which I doubted at the time.  They got permission from the trooper and went to put the buck out of his misery, telling us their plan was to take the meat and donate it to a food pantry.

Eventually the car was towed – a punctured radiator and no headlights had rendered it inoperable.  We’re still in the process of working through the insurance issues, but we did go back and clean out our personal items, and took the tags, as instructed.  

We’ll see where it goes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Good to be Back

I’ve slowed the pace of blog posts lately.  That means I have a few things to catch up on here – so I have a few posts coming up over the next few weeks. 

First, though, a thought or two about the state of the blog.  Back in 2008 and 2009, when I started the blog, I used to try and post 12 to 16 times a month – 3 or 4 times a week, but as my activities at Hawksbill Cabin have settled into routines, I adjusted that down to where my goal is now 8 posts a month, or 2 per week. 

I attribute this to a combination of an intensive round of day job work deadlines, coupled with all the effort it took to bring off Hawksbill Hop Yards this year.  That’s enough for excuses:  I just read the latest issue of Outside magazine, a favorite, and I found myself inspired.  So with this post I will start getting caught back up.

Now, a few weeks back I took a business trip to speak at a conference in Orlando.  This is the same conference that has taken me to Las Vegas in the past – their new strategy will be to alternate between the east coast and Vegas every other years, so I will try to keep up.  There is always something interesting happening in my field as new technologies are incorporated into the built environment.

I grew up in Orlando, so a part of me was looking forward to the trip.  The photos accompanying this post were taken from the flight – first, on takeoff, as we flew over the Pentagon; and then on descent, when I was surprised to look out the window and see Cape Canaveral stretching off to the south down below.  Just to the west of the southern end of the Cape - the view is to the south - is Melbourne, the town I lived in for two years until I decided to move up to the DC area in 1990.

Another highlight of the trip was the hotel I stayed in, the Doubletree at Universal.  It used to be known as the Sheraton Twin Towers - long before Universal was built - and it was the location for our high school prom!

The Orlando trip was a success, and I followed it up with a week of vacation at Hawksbill Cabin.  The next few posts will be about that experience.

It’s good to be back!