What Could Go Wrong?


Mustache checking out our new window.

Kensington, MD, January 31, 2015 — Whether or not you accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and know the effects are here and more are yet to come, putting money in your pocket by reducing energy consumption is  good policy.  Best of all, when you use less energy, you can immediately detect the weight of more duckets (ducats) in your pocket. The instant gratification feels good.

As retirement neared and we made the totally irrational decision to move from a low cost area back to our old neighborhood just outside the Washington beltway, we knew the cost of living here would smack our retirement budget like a sacked quarterback in the Superbowl.  Costs are a huge factor for most anyone who chooses to retire in any high cost area. Being near our only daughter was the deciding factor.

We chose our new house because it was in the right location among the miles of bike paths and trails which attracted us here in the first place. There is no cut-through traffic and you can safely run/walk for miles.  And, unlike many in the D.C. metro area, we don’t have to leave our neighborhood, or even travel on busy streets to shop for necessities such as groceries or to patronize some charming neighborhood restaurants.

Our house is a bungalow that was custom built in 1953 in a 1940s-era style.  We love the arched doorways and duplicated them when we remodeled. Our ultimate plan was to make the house as energy efficient as possible to help stretch our budget.

As we considered what to change, the period rectangular-paned wooden windows were in perfect condition having been protected from the sun and weather by overhanging eves.  Consequently, we initially hoped to save the ambiance the offered.

Otherwise, we determined that, besides the 12 inches of pink fiber glass insulation under the attic floor, there was limited insulation in the walls other than R 1.5 “Insulite” sheathing popular at the time.  The Insulite™ is hardly worth mentioning.

Always emulate others’ bright ideas.  When we lived in Boston, our neighbors added a family room, the walls of which they insulated with closed cell soy foam.  Soy foam has an R value of 5.5 per inch.  In an old house like ours which has full dimension 2 x 4 wall studs and Insulite, that’s four inches of foam plus the Insulite, equaling R 25.5 in our walls!  Not bad, so we did it.  At the current energy prices in our area, we calculated that the cost was recoverable in about five – seven years.  Those are good numbers.

The benefits of soy foam are that: 1) the R value is huge.  2) it doesn’t give off toxic gases.  3) it’s a vapor barrier.  4) it helps the farm economy. It can be added without much mess or damage through small holes drilled inside or outside of the house.

Soy foam has the additional benefit of being fireproof.  I tried to burn some.  No dice.

One welcome feature of our energy bill is a graph telling us how much energy we use compared to similar size/style houses that have been upgraded and those that haven’t.  We were delighted to learn that, with the new insulation, our house was more efficient than comparable upgraded houses.  Maybe the windows could stay, we hoped.

After the first winter, we realized that the architecturally correct, but exceptionally drafty windows we loved would have to go. We thumbed Consumer Reports to shreds before  ultimately choosing Anderson™ replacement windows that were a best buy comparing their cost to efficiency ratio.

Smug with confidence, we ordered windows for the entire house at the end of August with a promised installation by the end of October.  It’s still warm in the mid-Atlantic in October, so the windows would be in before cold energy sapping cold weather arrived.  What could go wrong?

Let’s spare the details other than to say Murphy’s Law was in full effect.  The past record of the orange-colored big box retailer through which we made our purchase had always been good, so we placed our bet.

Let’s not count all the screw-ups and lack of communication other than to say that the original order came in with the wrong color and the bow window we chose to help psychologically widen our narrow living room was the wrong size.  Take two wasn’t much better.

As Murphy would have it, installation day was months behind schedule in late January.  The weather conditions featured well below freezing temps with a thin blanket of snow on the ground! Perfect conditions to have all the windows ripped out of your house! Tracked in slush isn’t listed in any interior decorating style manual I’ve every seen, so it wasn’t an added attraction.  We could have changed the date, but by then, we just wanted the job done and over. I think bone-headed companies count on that.


Old window with the rectangular panes going out.


New window going in.


Finished product.

The installation crew were good guys and we enjoyed having them around.  It wasn’t their fault that the weather was unfavorable or that Big Orange had it’s head in rectal defilade, at least when it came to this job.

The work is now done and we can feel the difference.  Now to reap the savings.

The Great Northern Ruck


Experienced hikers helping another hiker decrease the weight of her pack.

Bears Den Hostel, Bluefield, VA, January 23 – 24, 2015 — What’s a ruck?

According to Webster, it’s 1a :  the usual run of persons or things ;  1b :  an indistinguishable gathering.  That’s what it was.

Each year the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) hosts a southern and a northern ruck with the hopes of helping prospective thru and section hikers improve their chances of success.  Think of it as a seminar for hiking nerds.

Around 30 – 40 folks gathered for the northern ruck this past weekend.  Fifteen of them were prospective thru hikers who came complete with all the common anxieties – Will I make it?  Is my pack too heavy?  What happens if it snows?  Will I run out of food?  Will I be able to get to town when needed?  What if I get hurt?  Bears?  Snakes? Lyme Disease? Ticks?  What if I meet a psychopath?  How will I navigate?  And all the rest.  I can only hope we were useful to them.

The two-day program featured a raffle and presentations on past hikes, the Grand Canyon, pack weight reduction, a bull session where folks could raise questions; all of which was capped off by loads of pot luck fixin’s.



Bears Den is one of the best hostels on the trail.  Dana and her husband John do a marvelous job of welcoming hikers and helping them get ready to press on.  Believe me, they’ve seen it all.


Bears Den in winter.

Bears Den and its surrounding acres was once a summer home for a wealthy doctor and his wife who was an opera soprano.  Ultimately the Appalachian Trail Conservancy bought it and contracted its operation to the Potomac Appalachian Tail club.  It’s ideally located following a strenuous section of trail known as the “Roller coaster,” a day-and-a-half south of Harpers Ferry.

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Several hostels post photos of past thru hikers.  These are several people I know from the class of 2013.


Each year thru hikers sign a poster.  Several years’ worth are hanging in one of the bunk rooms.


Lots of help in the kitchen.


This guy reminds me of my cat Mustache.

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Bears Den as few thru hikers see it.


Did I mention ice storm?

Winter Test Drive


Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail NOBO miles 917.2 to 937.2 (20 miles), January 19, 2015 —  Just like a new car, it’s best to test drive hiking and camping in the winter before buying in completely.  So it was with my friend and trail crew colleague.  She knows her trail craft and is quite comfortable in the woods, but she wanted winter experience.  She’s hoping to thru hike the AT in the future and knows that partying in the cold and snow is almost an automatic on an AT thru hike.  Unlike most guys who would not admit it, she embraces her desire to learn with gusto.



So, off we went this weekend on a 20-mile, three day/two overnight, trip along Shenandoah’s most scenic vistas and popular places including Hawksbill (the highest peak in the park), Big Meadows, Rock Springs, Skyland, Stony Man, the Pinacles and Mary’s Rock.

Though the sun smiled upon us most of the time, the temps averaged in the 20s with a biting wind entering stage right and left at cheek chapping intervals. The objective was not to cover ground.  It was to live in the winter weather for the better part of three days and two nights and see what we could learn.


So off we went… Enjoying the winter wonderland.


The first day’s walk terminated at Rock Springs Hut.  I stayed there on my thru hike last year.  It’s setting features a gorgeous view through the trees in front of a nearby cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail club.


Rock Springs Cabin

Four adult Scout leaders were using it – getting away from the boys for a weekend.

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After camp chores at the shelter, we went down to the cabin to snap some pics.

On the Appalachian Trail, shelters are called “huts” in Shenandoah and “lean-toos” in Maine.

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Would you believe it was cold outside?

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The view from the cabin.


Sunset behind the privy.

Overnight the wind snarled with gusto, but the dawn air was so still you could hear yourself change your mind!  We popped up, packed up, and after a quick meal of coffee and oatmeal, made a quick giddy up.  No sense wasting time when it’s temperature is singing bass notes toward the low end of the register.  Movement = warmth!

The scenery during the second day was worthy of being memorialized by the likes of Winslow Homer.

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Same scene.  Different vantage points.

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Winter is nature stripped down to its birthday suit.  Not much to hide.


Birds Nest 3, our final shelter is a party spot and not the most hospitable place.  The fireplace doesn’t do much good in a three sided enclosure.  The wind howled all night and occasionally spit enough granular snow to remind us who was boss.


The morning made for a quick get-away back to our cars.

All in all, a weekend marked by challenge and success.

Three Cat Night

January 8, 2015 — Who said cats are worthless?

We have three loyal cats in our household. Each has his own story. Each has special talents.

Please allow me to introduce them.


First there’s Mittens. He’s a Siamese, silver gray with leaden highlights. Absolutely the alpha male without doubt. In that role, he’s greedy, pig-headed and obnoxious. Even so, he can be needy and insecure in full appreciation of a warm lap and a tummy rub.

Mittens is our cat of contrasts. At the same time, he’s the best athlete of the bunch, but incredibly lazy. His narcissistic poses are legendary yet he loves to be touched. His throaty purr plays the tone of a worn out muffler. (Hearing protection recommended.)



Sophie is Ms. Priss. When Mitten’s mom kicked him out of her litter, Sophie’s mom took him in and they’ve composed a kitty pile ever since. At six lbs. Sophie isn’t exactly a giant among cats. As such, she’s more of a cheerleader on the sidelines as the boys roughhouse as boys tend to do.

Best of all, Sophie is my cat. She adopted my lap as her safe haven and home base. Together we watch the TV news and sports every evening in, what is for me, a soothing nightly ritual.

Want to know a secret? I’ll let the cat out of the bag: Sophie’s a Red Sox fan to the point where she’s become a popular meme on my Facebook page.


How about the clown prince of the household! This guy comes dressed for the part and believe you me, has enough talent to play Carson on Downton Abby.

Mustache was rescued as a flea infested kitten on the Gettysburg College campus by my soft-hearted daughter, and what a find he was.

This loving little guy is always searching for limelight; willing to perform at the drop of a bat for mere crumbs.


Nice publicity stills, huh!

What’s the point of this story?

Last night the thermometer plunged to 9*F. That’s cold anywhere, but here in the mid-Atlantic region that number psychologically equates to the Yukon or Klondike. Sgt. Preston would be impressed we think.

Now, the cats don’t normally sleep in our bed. I am allergic to cats and dogs, not to mention that they each have their favorite spots – all of them defined by an electric heating pad by the way. Yet last night, when the time came, there they were – all three of them hovering on or near the bed waiting for the humans to settle in.

Now it’s said that dogs sleep in your bed because they like you. Cats sleep there because they like your bed. Regardless of what the truth is, the kitty crew sensed that they were in for an especially cold night.

How cold was it? A three cat night! (Ba da boom)

Transforming the Past | Transforming the Future

This post is beautifully written and deep in meaning.

Catbird Quilt Studio

Four bulbs brighten my studio, giving ample light to work by. Yet as I press, cut, and sew, shadows darken the corners. The shadows hide spectres, whispering my name, nudging my attention their way. I turn, blinking. Sometimes I see nothing; sometimes I catch a glimpse of days gone by.

The spectres buzz quietly, muttering just under my hearing. Like lines of poetry, their words swirl slowly in the air, finally pushing their way into my consciousness. Many of the words are names, but the names all have their own stories, each story a memory.

The spectres and their memories arise as I pull pieces from my stash. Made from new fabrics and old, yardage and scraps, quilts are more than shape and color. A quilt becomes a literal scrapbook, full of memories both happy and sad. Each shadow of the past is firmly stitched in, just as Peter Pan’s shadow was re-attached with a few snug stitches. In this…

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