Flag Karma

2016-01-04 15.25.09

Kensington, Maryland, January 4, 2016 — I got myself in big trouble the other day.  The Christmas season was over and it was time to change the banner we habitually fly from our front porch.  More on how much trouble I’m in a minute.

I didn’t give the next flag much thought.  We have so many that I usually just grab one that is seasonal and we haven’t flown in awhile.

We have a storage container full of awesome banners. In total there are more than two dozen. We get them from master flag makers Carole and Mark Bisgrove in Massachusetts.  Some we’ve had for 20 years.  They are indestructible.

By way of full disclosure, Mark and I fished together as kids in the Ashland, Mass. reservoir when I’d pay an occasional summer visit to my cousins who lived across the street.  More on Carole and Mark’s flags here. Continue reading

Is Facebook Killing Christmas Letters?

What a difference a year makes.  On the left 2015.  On the right 2014.

Kensington, MD, December 1, 2015 — It can’t be December already.  Part of me wants to ‘say it ain’t so’ while another part can’t wait for what promises to be a joyous holiday season.

It’s a time of year when everyone tends to contemplate meaning.  No matter what your faith tradition, or even if you are only driven by the astronomical calendar, this is a time of reflection and renewal as we close one chapter in life, anticipate for longer days and turn to next year.

As I contemplate what to write in our holiday newsletter, my mind is flooded with jumbled thoughts ricocheting inside my skull.  Generally I prepare a newsy and positive recap of the past year’s highlights without looking forward too much. I just have to get it organized.

It occurred to me though, as I noodled on how to craft the story, that Facebook is killing family Christmas letters.

I mean, what could anyone write that their Facebook “friends” don’t already know in much greater detail than they could pen in a 250 word essay?  Worse, readers can now fact check my (usually) glossy facsimile of the year gone by.

Seriously, I could get busted for sugar-coating.  As a former spin doctor, I would be automatically suspect.

Oh oh! Could it be that software has disrupted our lives yet again?

The fact is that not everyone on my holiday card list is a Facebook “friend.” That alone, will ensure the existence of my traditional holiday letters.  After all, even buggy whip manufacturing, black smiting survived profound technological disruption.

As for what to write, my head aches with thoughts of our nation’s political discord, world problems, climate change, poverty, ignorance, violence and just plain stupidity.

On the other hand, There is hope.  The sun rises every day, our family is together and healthy, our lives have purpose and meaning, and we have a lot for which to look forward.  Isn’t that what this season is all about?

2015-11-26 18.45.24

We shared a special multi-cultural Thanksgiving with three of our daughter’s co-workers from India who are working here for six months. It was a wonderful way to jump start the spirit of Christmas.

Now to write that letter.

It’s For the Birds

The days are shorter now.

The days are shorter now.  Storm clouds are on station.  The times, they are a changin’.

November 6, 2015 — Daylight savings time has come and gone, a signal for mother nature to turn down the thermostat and show us who’s boss.  Look around your neighborhood and let the warm cheery window light launch your imagination in the direction of turkey, punkin pie, sugar plumbs and presents under a tree.  After that, winter becomes a black hole the lucky enjoy from a Caribbean vacation or the clamp of ski bindings. The rest pray for spring.

These changes also signal us to help our feathered friends.  Last week the first dark eyed juncos arrived.  These brave members of the sparrow family are among my favorite flying friends.  They breed in the arctic and winter in more temperate climates.  These little guys kept me company on the Appalachian Trail as I marched northward from Georgia all the way to New York.

Dark eyed junko. Courtesy flickr.

Dark eyed junco. Courtesy flickr.

Juncos are ground feeders.  In fact, I’ve never seen one perched on one of our feeders.  As such, they must compete on the ground with squirrels, chipmunks, doves, cardinals and other birds much larger then themselves.  Fortunately for them, birds are messy feeders and there’s plenty of dropped seed to be found under our feeders.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark-eyed_junco

2015-11-05 13.19.34

This year we decided to add a second feeding station across the yard near the aucuba and holly that screens our yard.  Our feathery customers snatch a seed and dive under cover of the evergreens to munch in safety where the neighborhood hawks can’t get at them.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We've identified 35 different ones over four years.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We’ve identified 35 different species over four years. The most common are sparrows and house finches followed by mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, and tufted titmice.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

Customers in the house.

Customers in the house.

A little art found on the front walk.

A little art found on the front walk.

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.

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

Seasons Change

Kensington, MD, October 21, 2014 — Today, for me, the seasons changed. Fall came a knocking. The doorbell dinged and frosty pressed the button.

For the first time, a long sleeve shirt was a necessity on my morning run. Mind you, no frost, but the atmosphere registered ambient air in the low 40s (F) and that was enough.

I always look forward to this permanent break with summer heat because from now until the first snow, the weather favors the runners. Less sweat means longer runs, faster times and more fun.

IMG_1674.JPG
Today the fallen leaves on our deck also confirmed the message of my early morning run. Could they be casualties of summer’s excess?

Living in the mid-Atlantic region has its benefits. We enjoy all four seasons without the extremes of northern New England and the Deep South. Having resided in both Boston and Atlanta provides special insight into splitting the difference between the hell of summer heat and winter’s cold dead hand.

Can’t wait until tomorrow’s run.

Away we go

IMG_1627

Kensington, MD October 9, 2014 — This is the beginning of my new blog about active retirement, adventure, life, people, places and things that are mundane. This is your invitation to come along for the ride.

As with my previous blog about my 2014 thru hike of the Appalachian Trail entitled “A fork in the road,” (www.jfetig.com) I will try and write with humor, find absurdities, offer occasional social commentary or when my experience, background or expertise allows, share my take on issues of the day.  The latter will be rare, however.

Thoughtful, well-reasoned and criticism/comment expressed with civility is most welcome.

Early tomorrow I’ll saddle up my car and ride northward to the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association’s (AHLDA) annual “Gathering” which this year is at Williams College in Williamstown, MA.  This is the world’s largest gathering of so called “hiker trash.” The Gathering features seminars, networking and social opportunities and recognition for the Class of 2014.

2000MilerPatchI received this week my official ATC recognition for completing my hike.

During my AT hike, we camped one night with a group of Williams’ student leaders in training.  They were as sharp as one would expect and we enjoyed their company. Hope to meet some of them again this weekend.

Since completing my AT hike on Aug. 6, I’ve been majoring in goofing off for the most part.  So, following the Gathering, a practical exercise in high jinx is in order with my friend Ed in Kennebunkport – at least for a couple of days.

This week is a busy one.  After Maine, it will end with the Hoodlums trail crew’s final work weekend of the year in Shenandoah National Park.  The pot luck theme is Oktober Fest.  Prost!

More to come from the Gathering.

“Come along for the ride.”