Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Story

Over on the right, the link for "Quiet Tales" is my other website for fiction and other artistic outlets.

I've been toying with an idea for a 'universe' where I can set stories, and I posted a short and as-yet-untitled introductory tale. Give it a look and leave feedback. Good, bad or indifferent, it's always welcomed.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Highly Recommended

Veil War. Us vs. Them, taken to the extreme. New chapters each Thursday. Up twinkles.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

One Thousand Ships

It's a goofy little song, but my toe taps each time I hear it.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Now if only there were three wolves on the back...

Get yours here.

Um, Ok

It's raining to beat the band. That makes no sense, but it's what they say.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Trip Report - Shenandoah NP - Corbin Cabin

Spent four days in Shenandoah National Park, from last Sunday to Wednesday. Above is one of the highlights, the climb up to and views from Mary's Rock.

Other highlights were spotting a black bear and several deer, and the very cool Corbin cabin.

Check out the photos.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Feasting in the Great Outdoors

I have another backpacking trip planned for week after next. A co-worker and I have reserved a primitive cabin in Shenandoah National Park for three nights. We'll be using it as our base camp as we spend the days hiking in the area.

By primitive, I mean it has a wood stove and fireplace, and there's a privy outside, but that's about it. We'll get our water from a nearby creek and cut our own firewood. I'm really looking forward to it.

This trip is a little different, in that I don't have to carry everything the whole time. With the cabin, we can leave most of our gear behind as we traipse up and down the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. This definitely made a difference when it comes to packing food.

Here's a picture of (most of) what I'm going to take for four days.

I've divided it up with a grid to make a little sense of it. Each column is one day. Along the topmost row are breakfasts, next down is morning snacks, next comes lunch, afternoon snacks and finally dinners. Empty grids mean I don't need to pack for it, for instance, the first day's breakfast will be eaten at home before leaving. Not everything is there, I'll wait a few more days before picking up fresh fruit, and the tortillas will be eaten over the course of the whole trip.

So the first day - Sunday - I've got some dried cranberries, then a couple of tortillas with peanut butter and honey for lunch. Powdered gatoraid is a staple for lunch to help replace those electrolytes. Gorp* for my afternoon snack, then for dinner I'll heat a pack of Chicken taco meat. Wrapped in tortillas with some cheese and sliced avocado (not shown) and I'll be one happy camper. There'll be an orange there too, if I want desert.

Later in the evenings, there's always tea, hot chocolate, instant soup or good scotch to top off the day.

Ok, day 2. Breakfast looks scant, but it's an illusion, because there will be two hard boiled eggs and an apple to go along with that cheese and tea. Snacks will be cookies and gorp, and lunch is a walking taco, which is instant rice, dehydrated ground beef and taco seasoning. I'll add water at breakfast and it'll be ready by lunch. If the day is warm, I'll just eat it cold after adding some diced cheese and a handfull of fritos. I'll be eating Thanksgiving dinner that night, with a pouch of chicken going into stuffing mix with extra dehydrated veggies added, plus a handfull of dried cranberries. Cookies for dessert. I don't usually eat dessert when camping, but it's nice to have the extra pick-me-up if needed, and it certainly can be a morale booster during a crappy day.

Day 3 - Tuesday. Breakfast will be dried hash browns with some dehydrated red and yellow peppers, and a diced spam single mixed in. Tea makes it civilized. Snacks are the ubiquitous gorp and a Rice Crispy treat, and lunch is the aforementioned peanut butter and honey on flour tortillas. Dinner will be homemade dehydrated chili mac, followed up by instant vanilla pudding and cookies.

For our last day I'll have some rice pudding with raisins, and tea. Gorp and gorp for snacks if needed, and lunch will be cheese and an apple (not shown), maybe wrapped in the last of the tortillas. We'll be home in time for dinner.

That looks like a lot of food, and it is. I tend to pack too much anyway. But also remember that this is to fuel me for eight hour days of hiking, plus chopping wood, etc. Also, I wouldn't carry a lot of the fresh food and pre-packaged stuff if I had to haul it on my back all day long. So this is pretty indulgent too.

We leave next Sunday and get back Wednesday. A trip report with lots of pictures will be posted.

* Gorp - "Good Ol' Raisins and Peanuts". I make mine 1:1:1 with salted peanuts, raisins and regular M&M's. Sometimes add in a like amount of Honey Nut Cheerios, and occasionally dried cranberries, blueberries or pineapple finds its way into the mix. Almonds too. Really, gorp is so customizable that everyone has their own favorite mix.

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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vacation Recap

For our 30th Anniversary, Liz and I booked a cruise over a year ago. Finally the day arrived and we enjoyed our first cruise ever.

I really didn't want to go to the Caribbean, so instead we headed north on a 9 night New England and Canadian trip. Leaving out of Baltimore, we made stops in Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine, then stops in Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the way back to Baltimore we spent a day in Boston.

I like cruising more than I thought I would. We really hit it off with our table-mates for dinner, which helps. We had one very rough day at the beginning as we sailed into the remnants of hurricane Katia, and one mildly rough day at the end as we grazed another that stayed well out to sea (Marie?).

In Portland, Liz and I hit the LL Bean flagship store (in Freeport, not too far away), where I got to eyeball a bunch of gear up close to perfectly prioritize potential purchases. Say that 3 times fast.

In Bar Harbor, I did a bus tour of the stunningly beautiful Acadia National Park, including to the top of Cadillac Mountain. My hike on the Ocean Trail was cancelled. Apparently not enough people are crazy enough to think walking outside is fun. Dammit. I bought maps and guide books, Maine isn't *that* far away from here.

In Saint John and Halifax, Liz and I just headed into the towns and enjoyed exploring on our own. In Boston, I took the "Freedom Trail" walking tour, where we visited the burial ground where Paul Revere (among others) is buried. Then we went to the site of the Boston Massacre, then the North Church (one if by land, two if by sea) and Paul Revere's house. Lots more along the way as well. Pretty cool.

Of course, as soon as we got home, the flu kicked my ass. I still went to work most of the week - self-quarantined - and I'm just starting to feel better.

Here are a couple watercolor paintings I did while on vacation.

A buoy in Portland, Maine:

This was inspired by a lighthouse in Nova Scotia:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Advantages to Big City Life

Here's an email I got from Kremer Pigments, located in New York. I highlighted the coolest part.

Making your own paint can be fun and addictive.
It is much easier than it seems. I want to show
you how! Instructors like to talk about
historical facts about processes and provide
recipes with precise ratios to achieve an ideal
medium or paint. Similar to cookbooks you read
today, one should not take these steps so
literally ? you can come up with new ?flavors?
if you experiment a little. I believe this is
the same with paint. I will provide historical
processes and some modern ones as well.
The following courses though, are meant to
provide you with a firm grasp on the materials,
so you can then manipulate paint the way you
want - for your own personal aesthetic.

I invite you to follow me on the investigation of
raw materials and learn how to control them
for your purpose.

All classes will be approximately an hour and
half long, with Q&A relevant to the topic.
Seating is limited to 20 per class; first come
first serve basis, no fee. Reservation is
required. All classes will be held on Saturdays
at 3 pm.

Colorful regards,

Roger Carmona

Gotta love a company that will do something like this. I already do a bit of business with Kremer, and this is the sort of thing that keeps me coming back. Now if it wasn't for the whole 'having to be in New York' thing, I'd love to attend the third class on Watercolors.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Break Time!

I'm outta here for two weeks for a long overdue vacation. No internet and spotty cell phone service sounds like heaven to me.

Take care, I'll be back soon.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Like A Zoo Out Back

We survived hurricane Irene with little trouble. Daughter Robyn and granddaughter Lorelei came up from Virginia Beach "just in case". Their street flooded, but the water never got higher than halfway up their driveway. Other than a rain gutter downed by the wind, they did fine too.

While Lorelei was here, I took her out back to see the garden and to meet the spiders. She was fascinated by them and got a kick out of blowing on the web to make them scramble around for safety.

She also noticed the eggshells in my garden and asked if I were growing eggs. As we got closer, she saw they were broken and marvelled that Grandpa hatched birds in his garden!

This morning, I had already gone out to harvest tomatoes before the rain arrived. I left the back curtain open wide and while working out it started to rain. As if on cue, at least three big frogs started jumping around in the garden. I hadn't seen them before, but once they hopped they were pretty obvious.

Next came the big surprise.

This handsome devil was racing up and down the fenceline (well, racing as much as a turtle can race), trying to get into the next yard. When he climbed up on top of an old push mower close to the door, I opened up to snap some pictures. He tucked in for a while, but finally came out enough to pose for the above.

Definitely a big guy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Heh. Bush's Fault

Someone tweeted that the east coast earthquake originated on Bush's Fault, just like everything else according to some.

So I'm at my desk, seven floors up, and the building starts jumping up and down and rumbling. My first thought is 'earthquake' because I'm a California boy. I immediately dismiss that thought and think 'something blew up'. I stand up and look out the windows (I'm in the corner so have a decent view in two directions) but don't see any smoke rising.

Thinking to get a better angle, I start walking towards the windows when the second shock hit. This time, filing cabinets are rattling and fixtures are swinging. I moved away from the cabinets that might fall on me, back to my desk and start throwing stuff in my briefcase.

A quick look around to make sure I had everything and it was to the stairwell.

I was pissed at the number of people who were more interested in calling or texting than paying attention and getting the hell out of the building. I filed a formal complaint afterwards too. Stupid assholes.

Walking to our assembly area, I heard no sirens and saw no smoke columns, so I figured that it was indeed an earthquake.

We were cleared to re-enter the building about 45 minutes later, and soon after I left for home (my regular time).

I haven't seen traffic that bad since a big mid-day blizzard a couple of years ago. DC was gridlocked. Two hours to get home, and most of that was spent navigating the first five miles.

Heard that the National Cathedral took some damage, and I'm supposed to check online tomorrow to see if I'm supposed to report to work. I'm sure I will, it wasn't that big a quake.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Someone's In The Kitchen With Dinaaaaaaah!

Tonight's dinner was homemade tomato soup. I had a boatload of tomatoes ripen all at once in the garden, plus a few other goodies, so I looked up a couple of recipes online, then basically winged it.

Tomato Basil Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
10-12 fresh basil leaves, shredded
4 cups diced tomatoes (I used a Beefsteak, 3 Roma and maybe a dozen cherry)
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

I'm all about simplicity, so I didn't peel or de-seed the tomatoes. I also grabbed a handful of shredded carrot, chopped it and called it diced.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot, when it's shimmering add the onion and carrot. Cook for 10 minutes or so.
Add the basil leaves, tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally for 45 minutes or so.

Turn off the heat and let the soup cool for a bit, then run the soup through a blender or food processor. Do it in a couple of batches if you have to.

Back on the heat to simmer. Add the half-and-half a little at a time while stirring. Don't let the soup boil.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful, mine wound up on the verge of too salty!

This was gooooooooooood!!! Next time, I'm going to try heavy cream instead of half-and-half, and maybe butter instead of the olive oil. I'll also give this a try with canned tomatoes.

Linky Stuff

A placeholder for places I want to remember.

Mark's Daily Apple

Nerd Fitness

Ikea Hackers


43 Folders


Zen Habits

Girl Genius

Jess Fink - Chester 5000 XYV

Khan Acadamy


Pear Tree Pens


Printable Paper

Funny Stuff, But You Gotta Clicky Clicky

It's too short to excerpt, so just click here. Trust me, it's worth it.

While you're at it, check out this apt portrayal of our blamer-in-chief.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Simple Rubberband Gun

As kids, we used to make these as needed every summer, although occasionally someone would fashion a more elaborate one and keep it from year to year.

And no, none of us ever put an eye out with one of these. Then again, we were bright enough not to intentionally aim at the face. We also did a lot of target shooting with 'em. That's what I recommend: target shooting at cans or flies or plastic army men. Don't be dumb, and I'm not responsible if you are.

Wood - length of broomstick or dowel, or a 1"x2" or even a 2"x4". Whatever you use, you need a piece about 12" long (more for a 2"x4" rifle).

Clothespins - tradition says use the wooden spring type, but the plastic ones will work just fine. The simplest gun uses one, we usually used at least two. They come in bags of 100 or more, so borrow from a neighbor if you don't have your own. Or make lots of guns, you politically incorrect brute.

Rubberbands - in our house, we kept rubberbands around the doorknob on the furnace closet, and had plenty because you got one with every newspaper delivered. They're cheap, so don't go mugging the paperboy for his.

How To
Take sandpaper and round off any sharp edges to eliminate splinters.
Use a file to cut a shallow "V" notch in the end of the wood.
Use one rubber band to fasten a clothespin to the wood on the opposite end of the wood from the notch.
That's it!

Here's a picture of a fancy store-bought model that works exactly this way. It's a good view of the clothespin and notch setup.

To Use
Hook a rubber band around the end of the wood so it's in the notch.
Stretch it back with one hand, use the other to open the clothespin and catch the rubberband.
When ready to shoot, press on the clothespin and zing!

You can cut out pistol or rifle shapes from the wood, mount multiple clothespins (and make extra notches), and do all kinds of custom coolness with the basic design. Often we'd grab a piece of scrap wood, use a rock to gouge out the notch, grab a clothespin from the clothesline out back and a handfull of rubberbands from the doorknob. Within minutes you had something that worked, and sometimes the ugliest thing was the straightest shooter (my best was from an old yellow broomstick with two clothespins attached). Showing up with a store-bought rubberband gun was tolerated - barely - mainly because we'd closely examine it to see how they managed multiple shots if it worked that way.

Something Old, Something New

I'm going to be bringing over the "Build It" series from the old Rocket Jones blog, so if you want to know how to make your own rubberband gun, box hockey, or model rocket (for starters), well, you're in luck!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dirt Watch - Midsummer Update

Rather photo-heavy this time around, but if you recall I use this blog as a journal to keep track of how my garden project is going. All pictures are clickable for Jolly Green Giant size.

But before getting to the yummy pictures, I'd like to introduce you to two ladies who have been co-existing peacefully with me out back.

This little lass has kindly relocated after I walked through her first attempted web without realizing it. She was trying to weave it across the area right outside the doorway, which of course just wouldn't do. I swung a length of her web towards the fence, and since then she has rebuilt (beautifully) between the fence and one of the trellises. I make a point of going the long way around now so as not to disturb her further.

This is the other lady. She lives by the spigot that I reach for daily. When she's agitated, she vibrates her web so that she's swinging back and forth, so fast that you can hardly see her. Pretty amazing.

Long-time readers know that I'm phobic about spiders, but can manage a truce as long as no startling goes on. These ladies help out by keeping the intrusive insect-American population at bay, and seem to be doing very well at it too. Other than one aphid infestation of one pea plant top (easily removed with scissors) and the vicious broccoli worms, I've had zero insect problems with the garden.

So far, I'm loving the Square Foot Gardening method that I'm trying this year. Here's a picture of the original boxes when I built them.

And here they are today:

The key point to remember is that I've been harvesting pretty steadily for the last month and a half, and the garden is still going strong.

Above are the cucumbers climbing the trellis. Buried inside this jungle are a half dozen ripening cukes, with another dozen or two just budding out. I've also harvested four (so far) that would make the Mayflower Madam blush.

Roma tomatoes. I made fresh spaghetti sauce with some of these a couple of weeks ago, along with some basil from the garden that was out of this world. I served it over grilled squash.

Here are the second crop of green beans in the ground (along the front). They're about two weeks old. I found out that there are two kinds of green beans; bush beans and pole beans (the kind that climb). Bush beans mature faster but you only get one crop, then you can get rid of them. Pole beans take longer to produce but they'll keep growing new beans until frost. It's a trade off, and this year I went for bush beans. Mainly because I didn't want to have to deal with another trellis crop.

Lots happening in this picture. In the back are my two green pepper plants. They're healthy but not really doing much. You may notice the white things on the ground, those are eggshells. Peppers really like extra calcium, so I just tossed some broken eggshells around them and hopefully they're leaching calcium into the ground. They keep slugs away too. To the right of the peppers are the start of my second snap pea crop, just getting tall enough to reach the trellis. In front of the peppers are two squares I just re-seeded with lettuce. And in front of them are my parsley and basil plants.

This is today's harvest. I finally got more carrots, including one larger than "baby" sized. Just as importantly though, the bunnies are going to be feasting on carrot greens tonight. On the right are the last leaves of the spring lettuce. The bowl of beefsteak and cherry tomatoes, along with a cucumber make a pretty centerpiece, and hidden in with the carrot greens is a huge bunch of parsley that I snipped.

A lot of people seem to think that gardening means you spend vast amounts of time tending the plants. With this Square Foot Gardening method, I water every evening for about 15 minutes, and weed once every couple of weeks for maybe 10 minutes. The whole thing is designed to be low-maintenance, and it is.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Logo

London, 2012 Olympics.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Congrats Are In Order

Jennifer Pharr Davis completed a speed-hike of the Appalachian Trail yesterday. Maine to Georgia (2,182 miles) in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. She now holds the record for fastest AT hike. Not the "women's" record, mind you, but the record.

She averaged almost 47 miles a day. For 46 days.

She wasn't wearing down either. Her second to last day was 62 miles, and she finished up with a 36 miler.


Green Thumb May Be An Understatement

I can grow things. It's an unexplained knack I've always had. But even this kind of makes me go 'wow'.

This is that cherry tomato plant (one, each) I keep talking about. It's growing in a large plastic pot, maybe 12" or 14" across. The bottom part is almost completely bare because of the leaf rot that is working its way slowly up the plant, but, as you can see, the top half is healthy. As hell. Go ahead, count 'em. I did. This photo shows some 50 cherry tomatoes on the bush. There's at least 20-30 more not in the picture. And I plucked seven that were ready, plus we have a bird who's discovered a liking for tomatoes. He's gotten two or three this week.

Just damn.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


One can only hope.

Made me laugh.

Coolness. Owl in flight.

Bullseye. (see what I did there?)

Relax, this is for politicians.

Another cool picture. Rain from up in the air.

An alternative to stocks in our shaky economy.

Gramps always said that the newfangled technology weren't no good for kids.

Ah yes, good ol' school days.

Finishing up with the most badass thing you will ever see.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Links


YouTube videos: Smarter Every Day

How To Be A Retronaut

Guitar Racks

Marc and Angel Hack Life

The Simpler Life

Zen Habits

Simple Productivity

Organized Mom

Life Optimizer

Good Life Zen


Minima Soup

Tools for Thought

Simple Desktops

Shoe Comics

Standup Desks

Seating Experts

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dirt Watch - Quickie Edition

Just two photos. The first is misty because my camera lens fogged from being brought out into the humid mid-90's from the relatively cool house. It was too hot to stand there and let it acclimate. It's also sideways because I'm friggin' lazy.

So if you pretend you're squinting, you'll notice the many, many, many cherry tomatoes on this bush. A smut, or rust, or whatever the hell you call anti-tomato plant disease, is destroying this plant from the ground up, but damned if there aren't about 40 little tomatoes left with more popping out every day. I've been eating them every day with lunch for a week now.

Now this was today's harvest. Two Beefsteak tomatoes, five Roma (good for making sauce) and a handfull of those luscious little cherry tomatoes. The limp basil was cut yesterday.

Maybe more pictures this weekend. You should see the cucumbers!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Randomness from Left Field

Remember the song, "Oh Babe, What Would You Say" by Hurricane Smith? He was a one hit wonder to most of us, but quite well known and respected in the music industry.

Besides his hit song*, Hurricane (aka Norman) was a recording engineer and later producer for all of the Beatles albums up to Rubber Soul. Later he produced the early Pink Floyd albums, amongst others.

Now you have something to ponder while that song plays over and over in your head.

* which was written for another artist but the producer liked the demo so much they released it as is.

Dirt Watch - Confessional Edition

Let's get the bad news out of the way immediately, shall we?

There has been some clamor for a reprise of Nog Watch, and this Dirt Watch is a pale imitation. Long time readers were used to fine brandy, and now I regularly serve up flat Tab. I regret your disappointment.

A couple of weeks ago, Rachael's boyfriend was coming over for dinner, and we decided on home cooked Chinese: Beef and Broccoli, snow peas, homemade wontons, the works. While whooping up the filling for wontons, Liz asked if we had any teriyaki marinade in the fridge.

Understand now, we hadn't made Chinese in a long time, kinda fell outta the habit, you know? So imagine my surprise when I did, indeed find a bottle of teriyaki marinade in the fridge. It was even unopened, seals intact.

The "use by" date was 2008.

I immediately tossed it into the trash and we improvised for the wontons, they were yummy. Liz is a master at the fillings, and I'm the fry-cook who turns them out by the piping hot bowlfull.

During dinner, Rachael remarked that I could've used the teriyaki marinade as a new Nog Watch. I considered it, but rejected the idea on a couple of points. First, it was still sealed. That seemed to violate the spirit of the concept. Second, it had already been thrown away, and fishing it out to put it back in the fridge rubbed my inner-artist wrong. I think I made the right choice.

Whew! It feels *good* to get that off my chest!

Anyway, onward and dirtward. Last night I picked some basil and our first two ripe tomatoes and made a tomato, basil and mozzerella salad. Delish was the verdict.

Tonight we feast on fresh-picked green beans (first of the season) with dinner. I did a quick inventory and there are now a dozen Roma tomatoes in various stages of ripening, no less than 30 cherry tomatoes on that plant, and eight beautiful beefsteak tomatoes that we'll be munching on in the next few weeks. If you've toured the produce section of the supermarket in the last year, maybe you've had the same little heart-lurch as I when you see the prices on tomatoes. Tomatoes may be the only vegggie (fruit, I know) that's actually going to save you money by growing your own.

The cucumbers are starting to appear, ten or fifteen about an inch long at this point. I nibbled the last snow pea from the vine yesterday and pulled the peas from the garden and tossed them into the compost pile. Peas were a huge disappointment this year, as were radishes.

I expect the harvests will start getting better and better since I'm growing plants I've grown before and know (kinda) what I'm doing. Still though, I've really enjoyed having the garden this year. I seriously suggest it for everyone, even if nothing more than a cherry tomato plant in a big ol' pot on your porch.

It's good for the soul. And lately, I've felt the need for more of that kind of thing.

Friday, July 08, 2011

So Far, It Hasn't Collapsed

Daughter Robyn and granddaughter Lorelei came to visit last week, so we took a morning to hike out to the bridge I helped build on National Trail Day. As bridges go, it's on the small end of the scale, but I invested sweat in its construction, so it's special to me.

We went early enough to beat the worst of the heat, and only did a mile or two in all. Lorelei enjoyed the birds and pointing out the berries popping out on the various bushes, and as she rode on my shoulders (part of the time) she quickly learned to spot the webs that enterprising spiders weave overnight from one side of the trail to the other. A quick wave of the hand usually clears the way, and we stopped a few times to watch spiders do their little spider morning chores.

When I pointed out the trail blazes* to Lorelei, she quickly got into the game of looking ahead for the next one. This trail is blazed with an odd aqua color, which I think is supposed to be blue (see the tree above her).

On the way back we had to road walk a fair distance because the county had a crew trimming trees along the trail. We did a little bushwacking to get around them on the way out, but coming back it was just easier and safer to use the road. The flagmen even held up traffic in both directions for us as we walked a narrow part of the road.

All in all, a good time. Tick free too, which is always a bonus.

* A "blaze" is a small rectangle of paint, about 2 inches by 3 inches (I think), painted on trees along a trail to help you stay on course. Different trails have different color blazes. For instance, the Appalachian Trail is blazed in white for its entire length, whereas all of the intersecting trails along the way are blazed with anothe color (ofeten blue or yellow) to avoid confusion. In areas without a lot of trees, i.e. above the treeline or in a desert, a rock cairn is sometimes used instead.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Dear Product Container Designer

If the product in question is *chunky* bleu cheese dressing, putting it in an "easy squeeze" bottle with an opening the size of a sparrow's sphincter is just going to piss off the consumer, no?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Travelling Light

Just for fun during this long weekend, I decided to see if I could put together a super-lightweight overnighter gear list. For Fall through Spring, I have a decent set of gear, but I was wondering just how light I could go for Summer. As an added challenge, I wanted to try to fit the whole kit into a smallish day-hike backpack I bought at Wally World - the Outdoor Products Skyline 8.

By the way, I really like that pack, even if it's just a little too small for my gear setup. Big features for a stunningly reasonable price.

As I was saying, how light could I get it? I do have a specific trip in mind, something like that overnighter to the Chopawamsic backcountry area I did a while back. You may remember, I drove straight there from work and hiked in. Camped and then hiked out before lunch the next day. Short and sweet.

If you were planning for an all-day hike, then you can go lighter because you walk until dinner, then go to sleep. Not much need for comfort or luxuries. This is a little different, in that there's more camping and not so much hiking, although weight matters because you do have to backpack in to the campsites.

The old adage says that you pack for your fears. Some people are afraid of the dark, so they carry two or more flashlights (just in case) and multiple methods of making a fire (lighter, matches, another lighter, etc).

As you get more experience in the great outdoors, you learn what you need to feel safe and secure, but more importantly, what you *don't* need to still feel comfortable.

I managed to get my gear weight down to 16 pounds, not including water. That does include my tent, sleeping pad and flannel blanket, rain gear, food, and even a couple of goodies like a pillow and camp chair. I'm pretty happy about that, but like I said, it'll have to go into my regular backpack, because the Skyline is just a wee bit small to hold everything. Dang.

While I was playing, Liz asked me if I wanted to go out tonight and camp. Did I want to? Hell yeah! Was I going to? No way, Jose. Much too hot and humid, and right now I'm listening to mucho thunder as a line of strong storms moves through to clobber us.

I do have a couple few weekend trips planned over the next several months though, and I'm sure y'all are dreading my trip reports.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Evolution of the Idiot Light

Maybe one of my lovely readers can enlighten me, one that owns or drives a Honda automobile.

Is there a dashboard light that stays *on* until you're behaving like a complete asshole in traffic?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review - Clif Bars

Clif Bars are a brand of energy bar that seems to be popular with hikers and outdoorsy types. In the local stores, all I ever see are peanut butter and chocolate chip. I've never bought one because although I like those flavors, I already have trail mix that has those, and I wanted something different as a snack.

After having talked to several people that liked them, I added two bars to a recent Amazon order - a Carrot Cake and a Blueberry Crisp. Both were highly recommended, even among those who don't normally like Clif Bars.

I just tried them and have to say, no thanks! The flavors weren't horrible, but they were nothing to write home about, but the killer to me was the texture. They're sticky and flexible as a bar, but individual bites are uber-dense and chewy. Not pleasant.

There's a half of each left. I offered them to my son and his first comment was, "tastes like week-old oatmeal."

Yeah, I don't think I'll be spending any more money on these things.

Dirt Watch - Continuing the Micro-Harvests

I just harvested the two largest carrots and two largest radishes from the garden. They were all very, very tiny. But tasty! Bonus because the rabbits are going to love the fresh, fresh carrot greens and get to try radish greens for the first time.

I'm pretty convinced that I need a drip irrigation setup for next year and will need to add fertilizer too, because most of the early crops are running really late and not thriving.

Gardening is not an instant-satisfaction activity.

Tomatoes and cucumbers are going great guns, there's already fruit started on all three varieties of tomatoes (Roma vine, cherry and beefsteak). The cukes are starting to climb the trellis now and have tons of the little yellow flowers that mean it's ready to start putting out edibles.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sky Go Boom Boom

You know a story is going to be interesting when it begins:

First there was this gun ....

Oh fine, you need more than that to follow the link?

How's this?

Thanks to Ace for the pointer, and I saw it in other places but I forgot where.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

From Deep in the ol' Photo Folder

Lightening the load, so to speak.

Needs no introduction:


I have no doubt that the Japanese can top this.

Well, duh.

True dat.


All right, you caught me. By the way, I'm looking for models...

Nothing like a bit of the ol' Ludwig Von, eh?

Not quite Motivational material, but still...

Amazing photo.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dirt Watch - Attack! Edition

During last week's lunches, I packed a few snap peas picked from my garden. Yum.

Then one evening I went out to water and discovered that the garden was under attack by vicious things. One thing was certain, they loved broccoli, to the tune of completely deforesting one plant, damn near the entirety of a second, and were well on their way to devouring a third. I referred to them as "Broccoli Worms", for lack of any better name, but later found out they're called Cabbage Worms*. Go figure.

Normally, I'd be upset at the carnage, but the broccoli was doing nothing this year. Two of the plants pretty much bolted and went to seed almost immediately and the third was only just beginning to develop the edible head - way late and probably too bitter to eat. So I figured I'd live and let live.

Then this happened.

You can tell how quickly it happened by the blur, he was moving so quickly the camera could barely catch it!

That's right, the little peckerhead attacked me! He went from slow munch-machine on auto-pilot to bloodthirsty and life threatening in the wink of an hourglass.

I pulled the broccoli plants, death spawn and all, and tossed them into the compost heap.

And here's the rest of the garden beds.

In the two bottom left squares you can see the damage those worms did. Those stalky green things are the main stems of all the leaves they ate - overnight! Yowza!

Right above them are parsley and basil, then eight bush bean plants. Those bean seedlings are like two weeks old. I'm not a green bean fan, but the rest of the family loves them, so they're worth planting (have I said that before? Deja vu.) At the top are two green pepper plants. On the right, next to the broc-stalks are two Roma tomato plants. They're doing well and just starting to climb the netting. North of them are my snow peas. This hasn't been a good year for peas, and I'm not sure why. On the other side of the tomatos and peas are some spinach and lettuce, neither of which are doing so hot. I have theories to test.

In the top right sqare of this one are some lettuce, not doing great but getting there. To the left of them are two thriving cucumber plants, next to them are two squares of Swiss Chard I re-planted after the first did nothing. Bad seeds? Bugs? Dunno. Top left are two squares of carrots that are doing well. At the bottom are two squares of radishes that are doing good, and then finally snap peas. They look raggedy but have been producing ok.

Not pictured are two large pots with a cherry tomato plant and a beefsteak tomato. They're doing great, but they're getting more sun where they are.

So now you're caught up on... Dirt Watch, 2011!

* I originally called them Anthonys, because they're camoflaged, vaguely penis-shaped, and no one can identify them with any certitude. Topical! Git yer hot Topical right here!