SnowZilla – Flag karma’s a bi*ch!

A propitious time for thumb surgery!

Kensington, MD, January 22 – 23 – 24, 2016 — Snowpocolypse, snowmagedden, snowzilla. In the Washington, D.C. area we name our epic snow storms.

Maybe it’s because political exaggeration carries over to normal life, though you would seldom notice that by living in our very anodyne suburban communities.

In the Washington burbs, you might as well be in a normal place, say Minneapolis for example.  The miniapple – the metaphor is very apropos during a big snow.  We spent four winters there.  We know first hand.

I made a propitious marriage to a girl from New Hampshire.  Her snow throwing skills are legend having developed her technique from childhood. She’s had plenty of practice as I have usually managed to be thousands of miles away on business when the big ones have hit.

Her prowess was handy once again this time around.  The storm struck less than a day after a long scheduled Dupeytren’s release surgery on my left thumb.

There I was, forced into the unmanly role of spectator to an awesome display of sisu.  She shoveled almost around the clock for three days and pinned ole SnowZilla to the mat.  (The moral of this story:  Never mess with a full-blooded Finn, even if you are Mother Nature!)

If you recall from my previous post, my wife told me not to put up that flag.  Seeing the resulting karma in action is believing, so rather than write about it, here’s a down and dirty video I threw together to prove it.  Enjoy!

View Here

**I use cloud sharing services because copyrighted music is involved and cannot be used for public performance.  Thanks to Mannheim Steamroller for some great music.**

Last act.  Refill the bird feeders.

Jonas.  We kicked your butt!

Among the Joy$ of Retirement

Time to paint.

Time for momma to paint. (Photo altered with the Pencil Sketch app.)

When we downsized, we bought a “functional” house and remodeled it in a way that our real estate agent says is attractive empty-nesters like us.  It is a custom built three bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood with which we’ve been associated for more than 30 years.  We adore the convenience, setting and the nature associated with the Rock Creek national recreational trail that helps define our leafy ‘burb.

This is our “forever” house.  After a lifetime of moving, we’re dropping anchor.  Like any of the 13 houses we’ve owned, this one has its challenges.  You adapt them to you where you can and you adjust to them as needed.

On the plus side, we love the backyard and low-rise deck.  We moved the laundry from the basement to the smallest bedroom in a way that a conversion back to a bedroom would be little more than a few bucks and a couple of hours work.  We also vaulted the living room ceiling, installed a bow window and skylights and opened up the entry to a glass-enclosed sun room. This house was built in 1953, so kitchen and bath updates, new windows and doors were necessary.  Soy foam wall insulation added R-21 to our walls and drastically chopped heating and air conditioning bills which helped pay for the remodeling.

On the downside, the over/under stairs to the attic and basement made it impossible to open up the kitchen, a feature we miss.  An expensive elevator we couldn’t afford would have solved that problem, so you adapt.  There are other nits, but that’s the biggest one.

We got rid of enough furniture, but not enough junk before moving in.  Our daughter occupied the basement au pair suite for awhile and we still are harboring a ton of her “stuff” that doesn’t fit into her nearby apartment.  Storage space is at a premium.

Everyone’s excess is choking the utility portion of the basement.  We also need new furniture.  Ours has been moved nine times including once overseas.  We decided to wait to buy furniture and paint permanent colors until we had the house figured out.  After four years, we’re ready.

Here’s where the joy$ come in.  Retirement is expensive. Some things you can anticipate, like the need for long-term care insurance if you can afford it. Then there are the unwanted gratuities that arrive as bolts out of a blue sky.

2015-09-29 11.46.11My wife totaled her car two weeks ago.  Fortunately she was uninjured.  Ker-ching!  Okay.  Maybe we don’t want to and it’s going to pinch, but we can absorb the added cost of replacing a late model car after the insurance payout.  No sooner than we had the replacement home, the check engine light winked on in my car.  Oh, oh.

I drive cars until the wheels fall off, so to speak.  My Acura was 12-years-old with just under 100,000 miles.  It should have been good for 75 – 100,000 more. To that end, I plowed a ton of (unanticipated) money in it earlier this summer.

The little red check engine light proved to be lipstick on a painted lady.  Her price for going all the way was eye-popping. In a matter of months I would have “invested” a lot more than the car was worth, so I donated it to public radio.  I’d been coveting a sexy a Subaru Forester for my trail work anyway, so I didn’t need much of a nudge to breakup with an old floozy who overplayed her hand.

Naturally none of this was in the budget, especially buying two cars in two weeks.  Of course, there’s more work to be done on the house and yard.  We’ve begun repainting the interior and will be hunting for new furniture soon.  Hard to undo that.  Then, we always seem to need something like new glasses.  My hiking adventures aren’t cheap either…

Among other things, here’s hoping a pipe doesn’t freeze this winter.

UPDATE:  It was a buggy summer.  Progress on the landscaping has been slow, but there has been some.  The next big push on that front will be a pruning and transplanting just before spring arrives. Over the winter I’ll build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope pictured below.

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Backyard Chainsaw Massacre

IMG_2920Kensington, MD, July 16, 2015 — It has been the second wettest summer on record in our area.  According to the Washington Post weather section, we are 10 inches above normal.  That’s a lot of sop in a region that gets a respectable amount of rainfall in a normal year.  It’s also the reason not a lot of work has been done in our back yard this summer so far.

My excuses include wet ground, squadrons of mosquitoes, ticks (remember that the herds of deer that frequent out backyard salad bowl are a reservoir species for Lyme disease), and the simple need to come up with a valid plan of attack.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and you can see that we brought in some heavy artillery.

The first job was to clear out a lot of brush that included some deer-shredded azalea and aucuba japonica and a couple of ragged holly shrubs.  We did the second phase over the past couple of days.

IMG_2882Wednesday I felled eight volunteer saplings of various species.  Some may have derived from bird droppings while others are the offspring of more mature trees in our yard.  I bucked them up with my new Stihl MC 261 chainsaw and stashed them between our driveway and our neighbor’s to await the arrival of David Gregg’s Tree Service – folks we’ve been using for more than 20 years.

IMG_2887David Gregg and company are the heavy artillery.  They don’t mess around with saplings.  The take on the big boys that will crush your house if they fall on it.  They do it without harming anything nearby and you hardly can tell they were there.

We had two mature trees that had to go. One was a rotten silver maple and the other a locust that is growing too close to an ancient tulip poplar that our county would never allow us to remove without a good reason.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards.  If the tree is large enough, they'll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards. If the tree is large enough, they’ll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

IMG_2904It’s amazing to watch these guys work as they take big trees down from the top.

Timber!  Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut.  After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Timber! Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut. After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Yup it was rotten alright.  Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

Yup it was rotten alright. Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

The dead are carted away.

The dead are carted away.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck.  Nope.  They're smarter than that.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck. Nope. They’re smarter than that.


Done.  Now I can start more pruning and trimming to prepare for planting and transplanting season.

Winter Wonderland, North Georgia Style


Top of Georgia Hostel, Hiawassee, GA, Friday February 27, 2015 — A couple of days ago I marched into the woods to begin my duties helping hikers get through their first of the Appalachian Trail’s (AT) 14 states.

My duties are to educate hikers on Leave No Trace principles, which at its essence means that they are supposed to live in and leave the wilderness undisturbed by their presence.  “Leave only footprints” is the mantra.

We also hike out trash we find, help where we can and be a friendly presence on the trail as well as eyes and ears.

The first day began at 9 a.m. at about 70 miles north of the AT’s start point on Springer Mountain.  This section begins with a 1,500 foot climb right out of the door.  It took about a nano second for me to fully appreciate that the 2,200 mile-strong “trail legs” earned on my thru hike last year were past their expiration date.  Ooooph!

But I slushed on through the snow, stopping every 50 yards or so to cool down and catch my breath.  I’m packing about 35 lbs. of cold weather gear, gaiters, food, stove, first aid kit, water purification pills, tooth paste and the like.  Then there’s my trail saw, trash bags and bungee chords.  Oof Da, as the Norwegians say.

First stop was to check the Deep Gap shelter and pick up some detritus left behind by hikers.  Not much thank heaven.  Then to push on to the Tray Gap shelter, about seven more miles up hill and ahead.

A storm was expected to roll in about 5 p.m., so no day dreaming was allowed.


The snow was typically heavy and wet southern snow ranging from four to eight inches deep with some drifting to a foot.  My calves were screaming from pushing up hill and slipping back.  What would have been a five hour hike on dry trail unfolded in just nine hours.

Of course the storm hit around four o’clock, an hour early.  I arrived at the shelter covered in thick white stuff.  Three hikers were there.  They were strong and competent though the strongest among them told me that he’d been plowing Georgia snow for 12 days!  That’s normally five to six days for most people just starting out.

I ate and took a deep dive into my down bag and reached slumber depth before anyone could say it’s snowing.

Throughout the night the wind whipped snow across my face, waking me occasionally.  Who knew what we’d find in the morning.


The dawn sparkled with a fresh landscape of new snow, six to 12 inches adrift over everything.  At least it looks good, I reasoned.

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Now this has always been a family blog.  But hikers have to do their business in the morning.  Let’s just say that some mornings are easier than others.


The snowscape was inspiring.


Along the way I removed trail obstructions and noted some heavier work for later.


Wild pigs love to root and pillage.

Needless to say, the slogging was tiring.  The smart decision was to push on another 8 miles and over another 1,500 foot climb to Unicoi Gap where I could get a ride back to the Top of Georgia Hostel where I’ve set up my base camp.  I’d totaled only 20 miles.


Today is a zero day and the snow is melting.  Tomorrow it’s back to Unicoi and another steep climb up Blue Mountain.  We’ll see how far I get.

Back to the future


February 14, 2015 — I’m packing up and headed for some training in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has a base camp there used for training year round and for trail crews in the summer.

I’ll be joining a group of ridgerunners.  Ridgerunners patrol in season the Appalachian Trail (AT) from beginning to end.  The onset of thru hiking season is just around the corner,  and it’s time to get ready.

My role is to test the use of volunteers to augment the paid seasonal staff.  The difference is that I’ll be there only for the month of March.  Everyone else is there for the duration of hiking season – until autumn.

The need for the test is that AT (and other trails) is expected to see a large increase next year in thru hike attempts in response to the movies “Wild” in theaters now, and “A Walk in the Woods” which will be in theaters before summer’s end.


Historical data establishes a direct correlation between increases in thru hike attempts and popular mass media about hiking or the AT.  Books, television, videos have done it every time.  Now we have Hollywood to help drive up the numbers next year.

My patrol area is the AT’s 78 miles in Georgia.  We walk five days and spend four nights on the trail.  The sixth day is off.  Of interest, we hike southbound (SOBO) for the purpose of meeting as many thru hikers as possible.  Once we reach Springer Mountain, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club shuttles us back north to do it all again.

Among our duties is to help hikers as we can, educate them on Leave No Trace™ principles and trail etiquette, pick up litter, do minor trail repairs, and report issues we cannot handle.  These hikes are not about miles.  They’re about the smiles.

The forecast isn’t friendly, at least for next week.  It’s going to be colder than a well digger’s backside in the Smoky’s.  So much so that we’ve been told that we’ll be spending our nights at the basecamp and none sleeping outside. Yea!  No sense practicing being miserable.

The weather in Georgia will probably whip back and forth between ugly and nice with huge improvements toward the end of March.  Still, the southern Appalachians are high enough that snow can fall into April, even when the temperatures in Atlanta and points south are cooking.


I’m looking forward to some former stomping grounds.  Dick’s Creek Gap is just short of the North Carolina border and the northern edge of the patrol area.  Blood Mountain is in the center of the sector.  It’s got some interesting native American history with some ornery bear activity on the side.

I plan to blog daily, but publish them as every fifth or sixth day as time permits just like I did on my thru hike.  So stay tuned.  If anyone has read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods, you know this could be interesting.

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?