Ghost peppers

A year or two ago, Isaac and a bunch of his buddies discovered hot peppers.  They each grew various types and took them to school where they traded, challenged each other, did nerve damage to their tongues, etc…you know, guy stuff.  Most of the guys had run of the mill peppers…habaneros, thai chili, cayennes, etc.  To be sure, there are some good and hot peppers in that bunch and they were a lot of fun.  This year, we decided to step it up a bit and planted ghost peppers, also known as bhut jolokia peppers.  In 2007, it was rated as the world’s hottest pepper…a mere 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.  For reference, a jalapeno pepper registers between 1000 and 4000 Scoville units.  A freakin’ ghost pepper rates at 1,000,000 (1 million) Scoville units!

Ghost peppers
Ghost peppers

Anyhow, we grew a beautiful crop of ghost peppers this year.  They grew nice tall plants and this week, started ripening into their beautiful red color.  Isaac picked them on Sunday and ate the end off of one of them.  We watched as his face turned red and he immediately had to get a tissue as his sinuses drained.  He drank a ton of milk and had that goofy look on his face when you know you’ve made a mistake.

Eating a ghost pepper
Eating a ghost pepper

Not to be out done, I decided to step it up a notch.  I chomped the remaining pepper, including the seeds, and within 10 seconds, knew that I had really screwed up.  It took no time for my sinuses to clear and then my lips and tongue felt as if they were swelling…I imagine they probably were.  I could feel it down my throat and all throughout my mouth and nose (watch the video link).  Finally, and this is the best part, within 3-5 minutes, I had to deliver my supper to the porcelain altar.  Luckily, my mouth was so hot that I couldn’t taste a thing!

Eating a ghost pepper

Eating a ghost pepper
About to cry…but I ate the rest

A video of my reaction

So, if you find yourself in need of something stupid to do on a Sunday evening, find a ghost pepper and eat it all in one or two bites…it’s for the teenage boy in all of us!

By the way, Isaac took a few to school to share with his buddies…sharing is a good thing, right?

My bumblebees

About a month ago, I got a call from a local woman who had a bee problem.  As a flower gardener, she knew she had bumblebees rather than honeybees, my usual bugs of choice, but she hoped I could help her.  In her gardening efforts, she was getting stung as she worked near their colony.  You see, in her beautiful flower garden, a nest of bumblebees had taken up residence in one of her birdhouses.

Bumblebee house?
Bumblebee house?

I’ve never kept bumblebees, but I like all of the flying creatures with the word “bee” in their name so I said I would come and take a look.  From talking with my grandpa a dozen or so years ago, I remembered that bumblebees do indeed make honey.  As a kid, he said he and his siblings used to follow bumblebees back to their nest to collect the small caches of honey they made.  Grandpa described their unusual-looking nest (better pictured here than my trying to describe it) and talked about the fun he had chasing after them.

07_20_2015 084

A bumblebee nest
A bumblebee nest

Isaac and I entered the woman’s garden and found, on an eye-level shepherd’s crook, a little birdhouse filled with a bumblebee nest, just as she reported.  I told her I didn’t think I could get the bees out and she said, “Oh no, of course not, just take the house and all if you want to.”  Of course, I wanted to so Isaac and I wrapped it in a sheet, returned home and placed it on a shepherd’s crook in my yard where it remains, still full of bumblebees.

A bumblebee nest

Bumblebee helping my raspberry blooms
Bumblebee helping my raspberry blooms

I am not sure how/if they will winter there, but I am inclined to leave it alone and see what happens.  They have been a delightful addition to the yard and garden and we have enjoyed seeing them on blooms all over the yard!

We did finally make it to the Potomac

For a summer that doesn’t feel like we had any vacation, it occurs to me that we have done some pretty fun things.  Earlier in the summer, we had planned to tube on the Potomac River.  Of course we were rained out and altered our trip some.

Family time!
Family time!

A month ago, we actually made it to the Potomac, but rather than tubing, we spent the weekend boating.  My brother and sister-in-law have a river house along the river and invited the family for the weekend.  My parents and aunt came from PA and my crew drove in from Charleston.

The dock and watercraft
The dock and watercraft

Rock and roll!

So, their place has a dock which was begging for something to be tied to it.  My brother has a saying:  “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.”  We use that all the time, but in our case, it’s usually when we screw something up…we go all-in.  Anyhow, my brother goes all-in also but not usually in the screw-up department.  My point is that when the decision to buy a boat came up, he decided not to settle for a mere 16 foot boat, but rather to buy a 30 foot long pontoon and two jet-skis that will knock the tears out of your eyes.

07_21_2015_Em 434 07_21_2015_Em 410 07_21_2015_Em 425 07_21_2015_Em 447

When I was a younger man, I had a motorcycle that I rode everywhere in all weather…even once in the snow…don’t ride a motorcycle in the snow…it’s cold and really really hard to not slide.  Anyhow, I loved riding my bike but as newlyweds, we really needed a washer and dryer.  I sold my motorcycle and never got another.  So, the jet ski was a perfect sort of hearkening back to my motorcycle days.  I could go crazy fast, do stupid stuff and have a much lower risk of getting killed compared to a motorcycle.  It was perfect!

07_21_2015_Em 334 07_21_2015_Em 437 07_20_2015 207

 

Anyhow, we had a great time at the river house and boating and eating all sorts of food.  My brother cooked bacon outside on an electric skillet and my kids raved and raved about it.  It’s hard to beat camp food or anything cooked outside for that matter.  And of course, anything cooked by their uncle is good too.

That's the bacon
That’s the bacon

I love these family times and boating and the Potomac, at least where we were, was absolutely beautiful  There were eagles and lots of fish and turtles and ducks.  People were nice and we all had a wonderful time sharing each other’s company!  I’d call that a good trip!

The rest of the trip

So a few days ago, I mentioned a trip we took and how it changed because of rain.  As you may remember, we had planned to tube the Potomac River on day 2 but the rain was so bad that the river was not going to be fun.  Still, we wanted to save the weekend so we decided to visit Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, WV.

Cass Scenic Railroad
Cass Scenic Railroad
At the Company Store
At the Company Store

The Cass Railroad used to service a series of lumber camps on top of the mountain.  The town was a company store kind of town which has been pretty well restored.  The rail line is also well maintained and has covered train cars so it was perfect for a rainy day!

At the Company Store
At the Company Store

The trip to Cass requires a winding trip through some beautiful scenic territory in the Eastern Mountains of WV.  It’s amazing getting to Cass and even cooler once you get there.  We wandered about the town waiting for trip up the mountain.  I love trains and this trip reminded me of the several trips my family took when I was a kid.  We rode several steam engines around NY and PA on trips just like this one.

Shay locomotive at Cass
Shay locomotive at Cass
Ready for our trip up the mountain
Ready for our trip up the mountain

I think I irritated Emily, but I just couldn’t get enough of looking at the trains and the dirty coal-men and the company store.  I know it was a hard life and definitely not a romantic era for working folks, but for some reason, I sort of visualize the turn of the century as a special time that is intriguing to me if I had a time machine.  Goofy, I know.  Anyhow, I stared at the trains and imagined the people who used to live and die in the forest cutting massive trees with hand saws.  I imagined the raucous parties when the men had a chance to go to town and I wondered if the life that seems so simple in my mind was something I would want to live.  And then I remember that the average lifespan was poor and the time between birth and death for many of those guys was no dream…at least not a good dream.

Huge drive arms
Huge drive arms

Anyhow, we rode the specially built train up the mountain where it traversed an 11% grade.  For modern locomotives, a 2% grade is steep.  The train travels a series of switchbacks to climb and descend the mountain and I cannot imagine the guys who used to haul huge loads of timber down the mountain, counting on the brakes to keep them from rolling down the hill out of control.

One of the switchbacks
One of the switchbacks
Selfie on the ride up
Selfie on the ride up

06_30_2015 257

Almost to Whittaker Station
Almost to Whittaker Station
Touring the logging camp
Touring the logging camp

I guess this train ride will be one I won’t ever forget.  It was just special.  The kids and I sucked on hard candy we bought at the company store and found ourselves chatting about…stuff.  We took silly pictures and had absolutely no cell service at all so had to resort to conversation and our imaginations.  We jabbered and day-dreamed as the scenery passed us by on the trip.  In my mind, it was just perfect and without the rain, we would never have seen this part of WV!

The family at Whittaker Station
The family at Whittaker Station
CassVideo
Click for a cool video with the train whistle…wait for it

(If the video above doesn’t work for you or if you want a smaller but lower quality version, try this link)

After the train ride, we decided to go to Snowshoe Mountain Resort which is a well-known ski area in the winter.  In the summer, it is sort of nothing I guess.  There aren’t too many people around, but the mountain and scenery remain beautiful.  We were fairly near the Greenbank Radio Observatory, a national radio quiet zone.

Greenbank Radio Observatory
Greenbank Radio Observatory…in the rain

Cell service was sketchy and the resort facilities where we stayed were even sketchier…summer visitors have to endure repairs and upgrades from the ski season I guess.  Anyhow, the technology-free weekend was a lot of fun.  Of course, the rain continued and storms rolled in as well.  We jumped into the pool at one point and 5 minutes later, they booted us out because of impending lightning.

In Lewisburg

In Lewisburg
In Lewisburg

We survived the night, had a great and greasy breakfast and drove to Lewisburg, WV where we ate lunch and walked around in town a bit.  Lewisburg is an awesome town and we love visiting, even if we just walk up and down the street.  It has a small-town-America feel…back to that romantic vision of a different time I guess!  Anyhow, we ended up having a fantastic trip, even though our plans were so significantly different from what we originally planned.  I think those sorts of trips may be the best kind!

Change of Plans

A little over a month ago, we took a trip with our aunt and uncle.  We all like to get outside and kayak, hike, swim, etc, so this was going to be a great trip doing a little of all of that.

Dam at Stonewall Jackson Lake
Dam at Stonewall Jackson Lake

The plan was to head to Stonewall Jackson Resort in Roanoke West Virginia (not Roanoke, East Virginia) Friday morning, where we would rent a pontoon boat and tube/swim/boat on Stonewall Jackson Lake.  The next day, we planned to drive to the Eastern Panhandle of WV where we would spend all day tubing down the South Branch of the Potomac River.

Does anything ever go as planned?

Nope.

Carp at Stonewall Jackson Lake
Carp at Stonewall Jackson Lake

Well, we did leave Charleston on Friday morning, but it was raining as we pulled out.  Still, we drove to Stonewall Resort, about 2 hours away.  Just as we pulled into the resort, the clouds parted, the sun came out and our day was saved!  Stonewall Jackson Lake, we discovered, has a carp population, to say the least.  So, we watched the carp a little and headed out on the boat.  It was an absolutely great time and we trolled around the lake taking time to swim here and there.  The water was nice and we just had a wonderful time.

Trust us...we have a map
Trust us…we have a map

06_30_2015 065

06_30_2015 086

We returned the boat and decided to use the bicycle rental pass we got for staying at the resort.  The lady at the counter warned us of a coming storm and that we simply had to be back by 8pm.  She was certain that at exactly 8pm we would be under fire, so to speak.  We looked that the radar and sort of figured she was crazy.  Sure a storm was coming but it was a ways off.

It fits...I guess
It fits…I guess
I love this pic!
I love this pic!
And this one too!
And this one too!

So we rode our bikes and had a lot of fun.  We decided Abigail was not quite ready to drive a car as she was a bit wild.  Poor Emily got the only non-mountain bike so she worked hard on the hills.  She chose the bike though so…

And this one too!
And this one too!

Anyhow, our time was up so we returned the bikes.  At 8:03 pm, I’ll be darned if the storm didn’t drop!  We sat in the library at the resort and played cards while the storm raged a bit.  The outdoor wedding on the patio below the library was sort of…ruined I guess.  It was impressive and the rain was substantial.

Planning for the next day!
Planning for the next day!

With as much rain as we got and with the forecast for Saturday to be full or rain, we sort of figured that the plan to tube the Potomac was out of the question as it would be raging.  We worked out plan b which ended up being a blast…stay tuned…

Great raspberry year!

Probably my all-time favorite fruit is raspberries.  As a kid, we had a patch in the yard where we could stroll by and get berries any time we wanted.  Raspberries tend to get a little wild and spread like crazy.  Of course, that makes them wonderful but they can be a bit much for a smaller yard.

Red raspberries!
Red raspberries!

Red raspberries!

Of course,w e have a smaller yard in Charleston so we were unsure whether we could have raspberries.  At some point, I stopped caring whether a patch looked good or not so we planted a dozen or so starter canes and our patch was born.  Actually, we started a patch of red raspberries and a patch of black raspberries and then we added another red patch.  All of them have thrived and produce probably 25 pounds of berries per year.

Black raspberries!
Black raspberries!  (some were frozen)

We have made jellies and jams and syrups with them for several years, but Emily found recipes for black raspberry pie and for red raspberry muffins, both of which are to die for (yes, I said that).

Raspberry muffins
Raspberry muffins

We freeze a lot of the berries and use them as we need them.  My word they are just like fresh and so much better than the flavorless ones that cost too much in the stores!  Thank goodness for backyard raspberries!!!

By the way, here are the recipes for the pie and muffins…Emily found these somewhere on the Internet so these are not our own…

Raspberry muffin recipe

Raspberry muffin recipeRaspberry muffin recipe

Raspberry pie recipe

Black Raspberry pie

 

A Hugh Jass Truck

So, our anniversary was last week and it is bound to be one of the more memorable ones we’ve ever had.  We didn’t tour an exotic foreign country or watch the sunset from a hot air balloon while eating wine and cheese.  We didn’t even go fishing with a 6-pack of beer.  Let me back up and tell you the whole story…

Preparing for departure
Preparing for departure

My parents have lived in Tionesta, PA for 42 years, 41 of which were in the same house where my brother and I were raised.  In the last year, they decided it was time to move to WV to be nearer to us so they bought a house here and listed their house there.  About 6 weeks ago, their house there went into contract and they were given a closing date range of July 23-August 3.  Mom checked around for moving companies and settled on one based in FL.  They took her deposit and scheduled their move for July 23…our anniversary.  That’s perfect…we could enjoy our anniversary and help them after as the movers unloaded the truck the next day.

On July 20th, the closing date was set…July 23rd.  That date was tight for the move but the lawyer was leaving the next day for vacation…it was pretty much set in stone.  Mom called the movers and confirmed that they would be there on July 23rd.  They promised they would but did not have a time set.  She called daily in the week leading up asking for the time.  As late as the evening of the 22nd, they promised they were coming on the 23rd but didn’t know when.

Hugh Jass Truck
It was a big truck…compare it to my Honda Pilot which is not a small suv

As you might have guessed, the 23rd rolled around and the movers didn’t show.  They did call at 8:30 am telling my parents they weren’t coming after all.  To be clear, the night before, they confirmed they were coming; the day of the move, they told her they didn’t service their area.  This is after taking their deposit and promising repeatedly that they were on track to move them.

So, I get a call around 9:30 am on the 23rd with the bad news.  Of course, the closing still needed to happen but they had no movers.  I said I could drive up and return in a rented truck and let my Mom drive my car back.  It was certainly not ideal, but was workable.  My parents called around local rental truck places and even called the state-wide dispatcher in Pittsburgh for one company.  Basically, all companies reported that there were no trucks available in the state (or at least the western part of the state) until August.

So, I called around Charleston and found a 26′ Ryder truck here.  My father-in-law, a real trooper volunteered to ride with me.  So, I rented a Hugh Jass truck (say it out loud) and headed 350 miles north to PA….at noon…on my wedding anniversary.  My wife is a real trooper also of course as she is the one who suggested renting a truck here and driving it up empty.  This truck rode like…well, a truck.  It had air brakes so made all of the cool big truck sounds and I bounced around the captain’s chair that was on air shocks itself.  It was not a comfortable ride.

Unloaded...and worn out
Unloaded…and worn out

Anyhow, I got within probably 6 miles of my parents’ (former) house when I saw a sign for the upcoming bridge…clearance was 13’3″.  I remembered that my truck had a clearance of 13’6″.  I stopped 20 feet from the entrance to the bridge and it was clear I couldn’t make it through.  This bridge has a blind curve leading up to it and is on a narrow state road so there was very little space to turn around.  (Check out the first pic at this site. I was coming in through the forest at the left.)  Luckily, another driver went and blocked traffic while I performed a 27 point turn to head back the other direction.  All told, I probably had to add 45 or so miles to my trip to back track to a route I could successfully navigate.

Finally, we made it to my parents’ house where they had a small crew of dedicated and awesome people to load up their stuff (which fortunately they had already boxed up).  We finished up the next day with the help of some young men from a local group and were on our way back to their new home in Charleston.  Fortunately, the new owners were very understanding and even came to help move boxes and stuff.

Emily’s family came to help us unload on the WV side and we had the truck unloaded in no time!  We were exhausted but everyone was safe and my parents are now in their new home in WV.  I drove 735 miles round-trip and loaded and unloaded that truck (with others of course) in a 36 hour period.  I am not sure I want to name the company but if you get ready to move, holler at me and I will tell you one company to avoid!

Happy Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe, but 21 years ago today, I married my best friend!  We were young and foolish but the best decision I ever made was marrying Emily.  We met during the first week of college and started hanging out regularly over hot chocolate around Christmas of freshman year.

OUR_WED WED_KISS

I struggled and worried and acted all weird trying to work up the nerve to kiss her on the last week of freshman year and that sort of started it all.  What a goofball I was…it was easy!

07_20_2015 205

Fast forward a few years and I struggled and worried and acted all weird trying to work up the nerve to ask her Dad’s permission to marry her.  What a goofball I was…it was easy!  We were watching Spartacus which was intense enough, but he simply asked for a number of goats and sheep and it was a done deal!  I’m still trying to collect enough to pay off that debt, but some day…

07_20_2015 003

So, here we are 21 years later with 2 wonderful kids and a life I never would have dreamed of!  I couldn’t be happier!

Backyard garden

A couple of years ago, we decided to convert a crummy section of our backyard into garden space.  We used to have a gigantic garden but with all of our running around, we found that we could not adequately manage such a large plot.  Still, we really liked having fresh vegetables to eat.  And honestly, I really enjoy seeing stuff spout and grow regardless of whether it feeds me.

Our garden in the backyard
Our garden in the backyard

Anyhow, with chickens this year, we found that we had to fence off the garden area.  I would love to have a really polished fenced in garden, but when it came down to it, I just needed my seedlings protected so we drove T-posts into the ground and hung welded-wire fence on that…done!

Garden bounty

So, without chickens interrupting growth, you can see that our garden has gone nuts!  We planted a few varieties of peppers, tomatoes, yellow squash, zukes, potatoes, green beans, onions and a few herbs.  WV has had lots of rain this year so we haven’t watered a thing and it’s really doing great…in some ways, maybe too great.  Stuff has grown together more than we expected so that’s not ideal but it it generating food!

Patent leather beetle
Patent leather beetle (I think)

I found this guy roaming around also.  He has enjoyed the garden as well and somehow, has avoided the chickens.  As it turns out, we discovered that the chickens like Japanese beetles that have taken up residence on the raspberry plants by the house more than any other thing I have ever tried to feed them.  I hate those beetles so am happy to pick them off by the dozens to feed them as a treat!

A few finishes on the cabin

I was just looking over the progress we made on the cabin over the LAST 4 YEARS…geez…it has been that long.  It seems like we progressed by leaps and bounds at first but now we are crawling along.  Of course, I also cannot tell you the last time we were out there so it’s hard to expect progress from afar.  Anyhow, a month or so ago, we made it out for a few hours and got a few things done.  Pictures aren’t great but we added a few finishes to the place.

Ceiling fan!

If we need cooling, we will use window units but so far, the white roof and thick insulated walls have kept the place pretty pleasant on all but the very hottest of days.  Each room has a few fans now and that makes a huge difference in moving air and keeping us comfortable.  It should help with heat int he winter as well.

Ceiling fans in the sleeping area!
Ceiling fans in the sleeping area!

Speaking of heat in the winter, we are nearly finished with the rock behind the wood stove.  Of course, the wood stove puts off a lot of heat so the rock will act as a heat sink and also shield the wood in the walls behind it.  I love the way the rock looks and it is easy to install.  We have a bunch of wood from a tree we recently cut down so in a sick way, I am sort of ready for a cool day when we can light up a fire to test our new chimney and rock.  Hopefully that will all go well!

Rock behind the wood stove
Rock behind the wood stove

Most of the drywall and ceilings are up and ready for finishing now as well.  There is a lot of stuff that is almost done but just not quite.  I hope that this fall will, if nothing else, result in a more predictable if not less busy schedule so we can get out to finish our work.  I’d like to be able to really enjoy this place some day!

Our field in Spring!
Our field in Spring!

The field in which we built this place is just beautiful!  I cannot wait to sit on a porch swing on the front deck and just look at the beautiful scenery!