Our Mountain Doth Protecteth Us

Like most of the mid-Atlantic and New England, it is quite windy here today. In general, the winds are from the WNW at 30 mph with gusts to 55. Well, that appears to be the case up on the mountain, but not down here in the Capon Valley. You see, our house is nestled up against the east side of a mountain, so the winds are reduced and misdirected down here today.

Here is some data from my Personal Weather Station out back (click on KWVHOOKS2 over on the right in the Riversdell Weather section for more data):

On the left-hand chart you can see the difference between the predicted (and apparently actual up on the mountain) wind speed, to the right of the line, and the actual, as-measured, down-here-in-the-valley speed this morning to the left of the line. The graph on the right-hand side shows the measured wind speed as running mostly 10-20 mph with gusts up to 25. It is also interesting (well to me at least!) that the wind direction down here is mostly from the east — the WNW winds bounce over the mountain and then swirl around down here in our valley.

It is still plenty windy, though. Gigi cat went outside this morning, got hit in the face with flying leaves, and did an immediate U-turn. Glad the power is still on, but we have plenty of water bottles filled, just in case — out here, no power = no well pump.

Addition Progress
(No, it’s not done. Sigh.)

The weather got quite warm earlier this week (Over 80°! In mid-February!) so I took advantage of it to work on the addition baseboard. I am very happy with my shop layout — just open up the overhead door and roll the table saw out onto the lawn.

My baseboard design is an attempt to emulate what’s in the 1835 portion of the house without looking fussy. The jig in the photo above is for cutting the offset at the top of the baseboard where it overlaps the wallboard. This step comes after routing the groove and round-over.

The taper at the bottom makes it easier to fit around the rough concrete that accrued at the edges of floor. The electrical outlets are in the baseboard rather than the wall so they blend in better (white outlet on white baseboard).

End of a productive couple of days:

This sawdust is what’s left from cutting the taper in 13 1×8 poplar boards (8' each) and the offset/overlap notch in 8 of them — enough to complete the loft. Note the outlines of the roller stands and the drip-line from the bow window above the shop door, which lets me open the door for sawdust control even in a light rain. Once the loft closet baseboard is done I can get to wiring my loft network closet and commence with the reconfiguring and repositioning of my various and very sundry computers & routers & wifi/routers & DSL modem & telephone answering base station & UPS & NAS.

I am multitasking by also working on the pocket doors on the main floor. They are hung, but need adjustments, then paint and trim. Pics when they are done. Also, too, still working on the loft bathroom fixtures.

Piano Deconstruction

Perhaps this could be a new cottage industry – carefully dismantling pianos.

My Mom bought this Yamaha spinet piano in the 1970’s, and it has served two generations. It underwent an expensive major overhaul a few years ago, but that did not last very long — the strings that connect the keys to the hammers weren’t up to the semi-controlled climate in this old house. I wasn’t up for another.

With the advent of self-tuning and excellent-sounding electronic pianos, it is hard to justify maintaining the old-fashioned kind. I have heard of people throwing them off of buildings to hear their death knell. I have heard of people burning them. I have even seen Harpo Marx pound on the keys until the piano falls apart and he has a harp to play.

We chose dismantlement.

There were many screws. Many, many screws, most numbered to match the key/hammer number.

I kept its harp, its sounding board, and its keys. They are things of beauty.

Still, I have fond and funny memories of this piano.

[Update 15 Jan 2018: Just noticed the serial number in the upper right corner of the harp: Yamaha piano serial number 859939 was made in Hamamatsu, Japan in 1969.

Weathering the Cold

Riversdell 2017 Season’s Greetings

Thanksgiving 2017

We had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving yesterday. Both kids were here, the weather was sunny and cool, and the food was bountiful.

The menu:

  • 14# Turkey, brined overnight then roasted at 500° for 80 minutes
  • Wild rice dressing with currants and walnuts
  • Pan-drippings gravy
  • Mashed potatoes (red potatoes with skin left on)
  • Brasied collards (from The Farmer’s Daughter)
  • Homemade cranberry chutney with orange and ginger
  • Three homemade butter-crust pies, 1 apple, 2 pumpkin

Was too busy cooking and eating and enjoying to take many pictures, but here are two:

Table centerpiece: Duck on a Mossy Rock

Steaming turkey fresh out of the oven

Heat, or Lack Thereof

Last night was our coldest one yet this season (actually, this morning at 8am — the temp always dips just after dawn): 28.4 °F.
The days have been mostly warm so we have simply been opening windows during the day and shutting them at night, but this morning the main house was dipping into the 50’s, the addition the low 60’s. Time to get the heating systems ready to go!

For the addition, I simply plugged in the underfloor hydronic heat control unit. Oh, I also switched our washing machine back to tap cold auto-sense water level; over the summer I had it set to hot extra-large to use up the excess hot water we did not otherwise need.

For the main house this means cleaning the two wood stove flues. I use a set of chimney cleaning rods and 6″ round wire brush, working from the fireplace up. The rods let me get all the way to the top of the flue:

Certain Amazon boxes are the perfect size to catch the nuggets of first degree creosote (along with some bonus stink bugs).
The stovepipe has some surface rust but is still quite usable. The rods and brush are the floor.

One down, one to go!

Update: Of course, after one cleans one’s wood stove flue one must have a nice hot fire. Roy and Gigi heartily approve!

Ashes to ashes

We have a number of dead American Ash trees that we have been having cut down over this summer. The Ash tree is on the IUCN Red List — Critically Endangered — due to the Emerald Ash Borer. As a result, we have a number of ready-and-waiting bonfire piles. We also added some Leyland Cypress branches left over from recent electric company trimming. Last night — the first evening in some time that was not breezy — we had a friend visiting so did a twofer with two piles that were about 40 feet apart.

These were well-constructed piles, so all it took was one sheet of newspaper, a small bit of cardboard, and one match to start each pile. In the lower left you can see our two fire-poking sticks leaning against an Ash stump.

They fully conflagrated quickly — within 15 minutes each 12-foot diameter pile was shooting flames 20-25 feet into the unseasonably warm early October sky.

They were so hot that we could get close to them for 45 minutes. Spent the next hour using our poking sticks to consolidate the outlying branches — short bursts, they were still mighty hot! A scant 2 hours later we had turned our Ashes to ashes. And embers. Hot embers. The BEST embers.

And, for those of you who can’t do bonfires where you live, we have an audio-visual tasty tidbit for you.

Morning Glories in the Morning Glory

The morning glories have taken full advantage of the dying corn stalks in the garden outside our living room window.

Roy says “Hey”

Addition Update, Dog Days Edition

In late July I was able to get back to work on the addition trim-out after an unplanned 2-month hiatus while my thumb healed. Yesterday I finished the guardrail for the entrance ramp (still needs a final coat of paint, though):

It is our own design. We were pleased that we were finally able to make use of the two newel posts that were originally used on the front porch of the main house (we did, though, have to make liberal use of Bondo in refurbishing them). We were also able to make use of some railing parts left over from our 2011 veranda replacement project — a lower rail plus a two-part upper rail that minimize nail/screw head exposure, made of mahogany to last:

Measuring and scribing the rail ends was a pain. You see the curve here in this pic of the pocket I made on the underside of the bottom rail to attach it to the fiberglass support post with a toggle bolt:

Each of the three panels is made up of six PVC 1x8s. After cutting them to approximate length I ran them four at a time through the table saw to cut the half-diamonds. Next, I cut them to exact length at an angle to match the bottom rail. (BTW, it was during this step that I cut my thumb.) Then a coat of primer and a coat of white gloss. Next, still down in the shop, I screwed the bottom rail to the boards using GRK trim screws (love ’em!):

Blocks and clamps assisted with attaching the top rail and final placement.

Summer Garden Bounty

We’ve been enjoying the fruits of our labors this surprisingly mild August. Our Chimney and Castle Gardens reflect their tenders’ somewhat disjointed comportment:

Corn dominates the Chimney Garden while Morning Glories and Black-Eyed Susans provide color amongst the Castle Garden’s chives, thyme, peas, and spinach.

Bumblebees have been enjoying the Sunflowers.

The red hair of the Shoepeg corn‘s ears peeking out.

And, of course, tomatoes! Both our Mortgage Lifter and Mr. Stripey tomato plants have been producing steadily for a couple of weeks now. Since the weather has been cool, we’ve been cooking them down into sauce that we then freeze.

For the first batch we started with about a half-pail (upper left) plus some loose ones (bottom). The pot was full before we used them all (leftovers upper right).

We used the pasta pot with strainer to scald the fruits to loosen the skin for removal.

The full dutch oven, ready for overnight simmering.

12 hours later, it has reduced down to a thick, intensely tomatoey ambrosia. It went another hour before I deemed it thick enough for pizza sauce.

For batches 2 and 3 we cooked in the pasta/stock pot and used more tomatoes. This pot is still simmering as I type this.

The finished product, in two convenient sizes: thin, quick-to-defrost pizza sauce (left) and a larger size for pasta sauce and stews (right).

More Home Canning, With a Story

So, after last Thursday’s peach canning, we followed up on Saturday with another 7 quarts from the second half-bushel.

Saturday afternoon gave us several good storms/showers, the best rain we’ve had here in weeks, and we were spending a quiet evening at home. Around 9 pm we heard voices out front, which is pretty rare. It was two young men who said they had been fishing and the driver had lost his keys in the river and would we be kind enough to let them use our phone to call for a ride (he lives only 15 minutes away). Well, we are nothing if not kind enough, so we lent him our phone. They were soaking wet from the rain, so we lit up the outside lights while they waited on addition ramp out of the rain for their ride. (Which drove our dogs, especially Roy, nuts!). We chatted a bit and gave them each a peach (we still had over a dozen left over after canning). They asked me where we bought the peaches, and we told them “these are John Boy‘s from Smith’s Orchard up on Cooper Mountain”. After about 45 minutes their ride came, and off they went.

Well, Monday afternoon one of them stopped by with a bag of gorgeous (and delicious!) tomatoes, various varieties of regular, and cherry/grape/pears:

It turns out he grows vegetables to sell at the more urban farmer’s markets to the east of here, and he had a bushel of tomatoes that had been left out in the rain and were no longer good enough to sell. But they were certainly still good enough to can and rather than just compost them as he would usually do could he give them to us? We said “Sure!”, though not really knowing if he would follow through. Well, he did, Tuesday at 8 am:

A half-bushel of regular-sized and 28 quarts of cherry/grape/pear tomatoes

It turned out that Tuesday was an unseasonably mild late July day, so we went to work canning the larger ones and simply freezing the smaller ones; apparently freezing does change the texture somewhat but they should still be good for cooking into a sauce.

We ended up with 7 gallon-sized freezer bags of littluns …

… and 10 quarts of bigguns plus 3 quarts juice:

In the lower right corner you can see our cat GiGi on the bench outside, waiting for all the hubbub to subside.

So all these tomatoes canned and frozen before August, and our own crop has not yet started to come in. Ain’t life grand?!

Added: And last night she made a peach galette (free-form pie) with some of the peaches left over from canning. Here it is before folding the “petals” over the peach filling:

And here is a close-up of it fresh out of the oven:

Yum, yum, yum!
Pie! (Oh My!)

Hot Dogs on a Hot Day

Different strokes: Roy prefers the bare floor with his head on the cool marble hearth, while Bearsheba favors the time-honored splaying out directly under the ceiling fan.

Eating Local

Yesterday, the hottest day of the year (94.1°F) we canned peaches. We were out doing grocery shopping yesterday and stopped by Smith Orchard’s stand on the top of nearby Cooper Mountain and we picked up a bushel of canning peaches. We put a serious dent in this half-bushel:

We went sugarless this year, just 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar (to help retain color) plus 3-4 whole cloves (for a bit of pep — plus we have a large jar of them!) per quart. After 3 hours of dunking in hot water, peeling, quartering, and tight-packing to squeeze up a bit of juice), we had these seven quarts:

We pressured-canned them for the recommended 10 minutes at 6 pounds (much quicker than the 25 minutes at 11 pounds needed for tomatoes). They took all night to cool off; here they are in this morning’s early light:

We’ll do another 7 quarts in a couple of days; the second half-bushel is not quite ripe.

And today’s main meal this afternoon was steak salad: local greens (endive), a local tomato (marinated with home-grown garlic and commercial basalmic viegar) commercial blue cheese, and — the star — leftover local, pasture-raised, dry-aged steak (grilled rare earlier this week):


And, I’ll close with an image from a favorite tee shirt: