Wednesday, October 26, 2011


We have a screech owl living in the woods behind the house. I hear it once in a while during the night and man, is that thing creepy to listen to.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Road to Hell... Good Intentions... Some Assembly Required

Funny but sadly true.

Dear Mountain Room Parents.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Two In A Row!

Rocket-related posts, that is.

The Northern Virginia Assosiation of Rocketry held its monthly launch today, so I prepped a few rockets and headed out for a couple of hours. I haven't had much chance to fly this year, so I was amazed when I got to the launch and found probably close to 100 cars parked at the field. I pulled in, grabbed a rocket and headed for the flight line.

One the way I met the President of the club, and when I remarked on the crowd Joe told me that this had become the norm. When I started flying with them years ago there would be launches where seven to ten people were it.

A big part of the crowd were Cub Scouts and parents. I got in line (never seen a line this long to get a launch pad assignment), but moved up quickly because I needed a larger launch rod than the scouts.

Here's what I flew:

Barenaked Lady - E11-3J - my last blackjack reloadable motor, and it's still one of my favorite rocket/motor combinations. The Lady is a largish rocket, but built very lightly, so she really gets up there on this long-burn motor. Six fins keep her perfectly straight on the way up - no wobble, no spin - and the delay is perfect as she coasts up and over the top on a long column of dark black smoke. She recovered perfectly under a 20" yellow x-form parachute that my wife made for me. Beautiful flight.

YJ-218 - 2x C6-7 - This clustered rocket has made somewhere around 50 flights, and still gets oooohs and ahhhhhs. Both motors lit and the homemade yellow and black parachute opened perfectly right at the top.

I had brought a couple more, but the guys manning the safety check-in table had been working steadily for a couple of hours. I took a shift at the table and really enjoyed working with the kids again. I'm going to have to make more of an effort to get out there every month, if nothing else to pitch in and spread the volunteer work out a little more.

It was a great day for rockets.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rocket Jones, Decorating Guru

Suzette was waxing rhapsodic about the joys of spray paint, and in her comments I suggested decorating with rockets. Here's a shot of my den, where I keep a few of my big rockets on display.

Let me relate a story that illustrates why this is cool. My oldest daughter came home for a weekend with one of her college friends and they stayed in this room because the couch folds out into a bed. One night, looking up at my wall o' rockets, her friend said, "You know, that's kind of hawt."

I rest my case.

Someone's In The Kitchen With Di-Naaaaaahhhhhhh!

I've been making some gradual but drastic changes to my eating habits over the last several months. No more soda, more "real" food and less processed, cut waaay back on the carbs and grains, even trying lots of new (for me) foods. It's been helping. I have no idea what I weigh - I don't own a scale and only see the number when I go to the doctor, usually once a year for my checkup. What I do know is that my clothes fit much looser, I had to buy a new, smaller belt, and thanks to my semi-regular workout routine, I'm stronger and in better overall shape too. I didn't get where I am overnight, and I won't undo years of not taking care of myself overnight either, but I've made a good start.

On our cruise, there were a few times when I had to ask what was on my plate as side dishes and veggies. I noticed that cruise ships (ours anyway) loved broccoli and root vegetables, which make sense because they keep well. So I tried rutabaga and turnip for the first time that I know of, and I liked them and have added them to my menu here at home. I also found that my tastes had changed enough that I can eat brussels sprouts, but when I got home I found a different way to make them and these are now one of my favorites!

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts, get smallish, tight ones
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Shredded Cheese (I like Asiago, but Parmesan works well, or try your own)

Wash the sprouts and remove any loose, ragged leaves. You can trim the stem ends, but I usually leave them on to hold it together. Cut in half from step to top.

Heat a skillet with some olive oil in it. Before it gets too hot, put the sprouts in the oil flat face down. Season with salt and pepper, then cover the skillet and let the sprouts cook gently for a few minutes.

You can taste test a sprout, and when they're tender inside, remove the lid, turn the heat up to high and let those flat sides get brown and crispy. Give 'em a toss to brown the round sides too a little, maybe another sprinkle of salt and pepper, then transfer to a plate and immediately cover with shredded cheese.

These are heavenly while they're still hot. After they cool, they're merely very good. You can add some toasted sliced almonds and/or a little grated lemon zest to them too with the cheese.

Put this one at the top of the list of recipes I never dreamed I might post here on Rocket Jones.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Theoretical Physics Can Be Funny...

From a book on Quantum Physics that Richard, a co-worker, is reading:

“[T]he other forces of the Standard Model are not as well explored nor as easily visualized as electromagnetism. You will have to be satisfied with assertions in the following paragraphs supported only by suggestive ideas that almost certainly are not entirely wrong”.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Another Getaway

The first phase of my fiscal year end project at work went smoothly, but the final, scary part happens Tuesday night. I took advantage of the long weekend to grab another solo backpacking trip to de-stress.

The weather here has been spectacular for most of a week now, highs in the 70's, lows in the 50's and not a hint of rain in the forecast. I already had an appointment on Friday morning, so it was a no-brainer to take the rest of the day off. By noon I was on my way to Prince William Forest Park, more specifically to the "Chop", aka the Chopawamsic Backcountry Area.

I checked in at the Visitor Center and talked to Victoria, a ranger who was born in Australia and moved to the US as a child. I had already decided to camp two nights, so we set the permits up for that. I was told that nearby Quantico Marine Corps base was doing live-fire exercises that weekend, so the snap-crackle-pop-boom sounds would be audible in the distance. I was also advised for the first time at PWFP to hang my food since there had been several reports of bear activity in the area. Tres cool! I'd never heard of bear in the park.

There are only eight campsites at Chop, spaced around a loop trail. The trail is a little over two miles long, and you can only hike a circle like that so many times, so my plan was to hike in the main park during the day, then hike into Chop to camp at night.

Friday afternoon found me at the back of the park hiking the Farms to Forest trail. The trail loops through some old farmland that is being reclaimed by Mother Nature, with a swing down through a marshy area full of beaver. At one point I found myself in the middle of a large sunny meadow, knee deep in ferns that were turning bronze in response to the recent chilly nights. Gorgeous. After finishing the trail, I drove over to Chop and hiked (intentionally the long way around) to campsite #2. This campsite is up on top of a rocky little knob that catches any breeze there is. I set up camp, cooked and ate some dinner, hung my bear bag, wrote in my journal and read a little on my Kindle. I was asleep by "hiker's midnight", i.e. an hour after sundown. The weather was mild enough that I left the sides of the tent up for the fresh air.

The only wildlife of note that I saw were daddy long-legs spiders and dozens of these tiny brown toads, about the size of your thumbnail. They blended in so perfectly that unless they moved they were invisible. They hopped around a lot.

Besides the ferns from yesterday, the star of the flora show were a sort of fungus I started calling Zombie Fingers. They were little flesh-colored tentacles that were sprouting from the ground in clumps and clusters. The biggest were about 3" tall, and it reminded me of tiny undead hands clawing their way back to the surface. There were enough of them around to be noticed.

I broke camp the next morning and headed back to PWFP for more hiking. The plan was to tackle part of the South Valley trail, the longest in the park. This was the only trail that I'd never been on. Not long after starting out I ran across a trail maintenance crew who were relocating the current trail up a hillside about 50 feet because the old trail was causing some serious erosion issues and the land needed some time to heal. I thanked them for their efforts, then found out that they're volunteers who come out once a month to do their work. I got their contact info and am seriously thinking about joining them.

The South Valley trail is beautiful! It runs along the south fork of Quantico creek and is full of babbling brook and little rapids. A couple of hours along the trail I turned uphill along the old Taylor Farm road and climbed until I reached the group campground at the top of the ridge. I sat at a picnic table and had some lunch, then headed out again, this time downhill along the Turkey Run Ridge trail. When I got to my car again I headed out to Chop for my last night.

This time I had selected camp #4. It was across a creek and up a long, broad ridge full of old-growth forest. There was easily room for a dozen tents, but the rules allow for a maximum of four people or one family per site to minimize the impact. Once again I set up camp (sides up on my tent), cooked and ate, cleaned up and hung my food. I was relaxed and ready for bed shortly after sundown, pleasantly tired after a long day of walking through beautiful woods.

Despite being tired, I needed to wear earplugs to fall asleep because of the "rain". Acorns were crashing down through the trees and splashing into the leaves on the ground, making a helluva racket that didn't really let up all night. More than a few bounced off of my tent too.

This morning as I was getting ready to pack up I had a little problem. I pulled off my sleeping shirt and pulled on my hiking shirt, and noticed that my vision was fuzzy. I blinked a few times, then rubbed my eyes, but it didn't help. When I went to take off my glasses, I discovered that one of the lenses had popped out. I did a careful search of the ground around me - I was standing in front of my tent at the time - but didn't find it.

Rather than freak out, I went over to a log and sat down and calmly finished my tea. I suspected that the lens had fallen inside the tent, because I was standing right in front of it while changing my shirt, but I retraced my steps in my mind, thinking about where I had walked and *exactly* when I noticed the fuzzy sight. I finally went back to the tent, checked the ground again, then methodically looked through my gear. Sure enough, my lens was sitting in a little nook on my backpack, where it had fallen when I changed my shirt.

Problem solved, I packed up one last time and headed out. Back to the park to drop off the gate key to the backcountry, then home. Refocused and refreshed.

As usual, I made notes about what worked well and what didn't.

Worked: Dehydrated angelfood cake. I packed it with some frozen sliced strawberries and by Friday night the juices had rehydrated the cake and it was perfection. On Saturday, I made some instant vanilla pudding, tossed in a handful of crumbled cake and let it soak up some of the moisture. Mmmmmmm!

Worked: My new backpacking lantern. It weighs 4.6 ounces including 4xAAA batteries and was bright enough to read by. Not something I'd take when ounces truly count (like an extended hike), but for a few days it was well worth the weight.

Didn't Work: I need to pack extra batteries for the camera, or make sure there are fresh ones before I leave.

Didn't Work: I took 4 Groundhog stakes and 2 Spike stakes. The Groundhogs hold better but are almost impossible to use when the ground is rocky - like this weekend. I managed, but I'll suck up the extra ounces and carry extra Spikes just in case.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

*eye twitch*

The word is ARRR-te-sannn, not arrr-TEEE-shin. Different word, different meaning. "Artisan" anything these days means overpriced, period.


According to Roseanne, millionaires should be beheaded just for being rich. Steve Jobs, ahead of the the rest of us as usual, took the easy way out.

Head of the Line

So Oprah made $220 million dollars last year. Fit her for a guillotine.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Not Forgotten

The Dogs of 9/11.

Thanks to Ace for the pointer.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Freakin' Brilliant

Seen in the comments about the new fee Bank of America is charging to use it's debit cards (aka the Durbin Fee):

Dick Durbin Before Durbin Dicks You

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Dirt Watch - End of Season Recap

The garden is beginning to wind down now that Fall is here. Today I harvested a half-dozen cherry tomatoes, three Roma tomatoes, the last small handfull of green beans and two green peppers. There are still many tomatoes on the various plants, but now I'll pay close attention to overnight lows and bring in the greenies before the first freeze hits.

Overall, the garden broke even or maybe saved us a few bucks. This was primarily due to the fact that tomatoes cost a fortune at the grocery store, and I had (still have) tons of them. My neighbor has greatly benefitted from the excess.

Here's a rundown of what worked, what didn't, and next year's ideas.

Tomatoes - I need better cages for the beefsteak and cherry plants. You may recall that I grew these two in large flowerpots and they did great! It's no exageration to say that I harvested over 100 cherry tomatoes and more than a dozen each of Roma and Beefsteak. The Roma tomatoes loved the net trellis set up.

Cucumbers - Some insect devastated my cucumber plants. Slowly. A gardening friend at work had the same happen to his and claims that it's a leaf borer. Still, I harvested almost 20 cukes, some were enormous. All were tasty. There are three left on the vines, but I don't know if they'll ripen enough to harvest. If not, into the compost pile with them!

Green Peppers. Badly shaded by the cucumbers (will relocate to sunnier spot next year), I only got two medium sized peppers, with two or three small ones in progress that may or may not make it to harvest.

Basil - Still going great guns! I shall be making a huge batch of pesto in the very near future. I only planted one plant and it was enough.

Parsley - did great. I harvested from the single plant a few times for cooking and to give the bunnies an occasional treat.

Green Beans - I got two crops in this year from the bush beans I sowed. Not overwhelmingly prolific, but got enough for several side dishes. Incredibly easy to grow.

Onions - did nothing. Not a single onion plant grew from the sets I planted. Next year I will find a different source.

Carrots - Meh. Managed to get several smallish carrots out of all I planted, and they took forever to grow. The bunnies adored the huge masses of fresh carrot greens.

Radishes - fail. Like the carrots, I strongly suspect there just isn't enough sun during the day for them. I got a few. As in three.

Swiss Chard - fail. Supposedly chard is the easiest crop to grow, but I got nothing more than a couple of sickly leaves.

Lettuce - fail. Enough for a small salad and some bunny food. More sun needed.

Broccoli - fail. Worm food, you may recall.

So that's it. I learned a few things and have a few ideas for next year. The cucumbers are going up against the fence. They worked entirely too well as a sun shade over the lettuce. I'm also hoping that more spiders along the fence will reduce the chances of leaf borers killing the plants.

Something else Liz and I talked about is to build a few deeper but smaller boxes for carrots and maybe potatoes.

I'd still love to have that Maple tree removed from the yard, which would really open up the sunshine. Right now, I'm not sure I want to spend the money on it. We'll see how the job situation goes over the next few months. I've got time to decide.

Bottom line: the Square Foot Garden idea works, and works well. I'm looking forward to next Spring.