The Sweet Family in 2011

Updated: 18 April 2012


A Non-Snowy Winter

After a cold, snowy winter in 2009-10, this past winter was relatively mild and virtually snow free. A 5-inch snow in December did hang around for a bit but the largest snowfall of the winter, 6.7 inches in late January, melted off in just a few days. The whole season produced only 23 inches compared to nearly 80 inches last winter. Kathy and Jeff gave me a set of snowshoes for Christmas but I never got a chance to use them. December 2011 has produced only a few flurries.

We opened our sugar trees on 13 February and finished up our last batch of syrup on 20 March, a relatively normal season. Quantity was modest but the quality was very good. We replaced several sections of tubing while putting things away, so we should be all set for the coming season.

More Land

In March we bought an adjoining tract of land. Since we already owned 340 acres, buying 50 more was not something we really needed to do, but I have been eager to fill in this gap on the east side for a long time and Irene McAllister was finally ready to sell. She lives on the east side of the highway and we bought all of her property that extended across to our side. The maps below show our complete property outlined in black and the new tract outlined in red. It seems clear why this was a useful acquisition. The complete property will be protected under our conservation easement.

Property Boundary-topo


Property Boundary-photo


Family Reunion

In July we hosted a family reunion and party celebrating Char’s 75th birthday. Char’s actual birthday is in December but that is a lousy time for a family reunion, so we postponed it for seven months. July is much better for camping, hiking, and generally enjoying the country. Sadly, the appointed weekend was one of the hottest in memory so we mostly just sat around with our feet in the kids’ plastic wading pool. All of the immediate family was here, as shown in the photo below, and a good time was had by all despite the heat.

Family Reunion

Char’s Family Reunion, 24 July 2011, names keyed to the photo below:
1 - Jeffrey Smith, son-in-law to be, married 8 Oct 2011   2 - Kathlyn Gregg Smith, daughter
3 - Lynne Stanley Bertz, granddaughter   3.5 - Kirsten Marie Bertz, great-grandaughter to be, born 13 December 2011
4 - Ryan Bertz, grandson-in-law   5 - Douglas Stanley, grandson
6 - Char Sweet, The Matriarch
7 - Charles Stanley, son-in-law   8 - Beverly Stanley, daughter   11 - Evan Bertz, great-grandson
10 - Kevin Brondani, grandson   9 - Nathan Bertz, great-grandson   12 - Curtis Stanley, grandson
13 - Julia Brondani, grandaughter   14 - Andrew Mone, Julia’s boyfriend
15 - Stephanie Brondani, daughter   16 - Altair Brondani, son-in-law

Family Reunion-names


Fence Construction

2011 was the year of the fence project that would not die. The job was to replace a deteriorating, rusty, temporary fence that confines our cattle to the west side of our place. They have access to all of the pasture area on Stark Ridge, along the western boundary, and can come down as far as the barn and equipment shed. Referring to the topo map (above), this section of fence starts near the pond and follows the edge of the woods (the green tint on the map) to the west and then almost due north to join our property line at the head of the hollow, a distance of about 600 yards. By the way, the pond does not show up well on the photo map because the aerial photography was shot in 1997, while our dam had been washed out by big floods the year before. The remaining puddle is a dark spot in the middle of a brown area. We completed reconstruction in 1998 but then had a new problem the next year.

Before After

18 May 2011: The plan was to first cut back a lot of trees that would be too close to the fence and which excessively shaded the road. The photos above show before and after, looking opposite directions. The fence will run along the steep bank above the road. Below we see Shane sawing a small tree and Chris and Shane hooking up the logs to be dragged away.

Shane Chris-Shane
Log piles Chris-Isaiah

Above left shows the log piles created by the clearing job. It took just a couple of days to complete and another day or so to reduce those logs to stove lengths. That done, we took a break for hay making and some other chores, getting back to the fence in late May. I decided to split the job into two parts, so we drove posts up to the halfway point, built end braces, and ran the wires. Above right shows Chris and Isaiah getting ready to pull a wire. After completing that section we took a longer break for bigger chores.

15 August 2011: Finally back to work on this. Driving posts for much of this section was a lot harder, since it was steep and rocky and in among trees. We were lucky to be able to drive at all in August — 3 inches of rain the day before we started made it possible. As soon as we got the last post in the ground, Chris left for college and shortly thereafter Isaiah injured his hand and could not work. Fortunately I was able to hire another high-school boy for a couple of weeks after school and we got the upper section finished by the end of September.


Char’s New Bathroom

The second big project for the year was remodeling Char’s bathroom, known as the Red Bathroom for its dark red wallpaper. For some reason I did not take any ‘before’ pix so a description will have to do. The ceiling was acoustic tile, the floor linoleum and the counter Formica with a drop-in sink. Badly deteriorated tile board covered the walls above the shower enclosure. The room was rather dark because of the wallpaper and there was no exhaust fan.

Tile Setting Top Cabinet

27 June 2011: Joey Pappalardo helped us with the drywall and tile work. We replaced the ceiling tile with drywall and had to do major refinishing of the walls due to damage caused by wallpaper removal. Here Joey is setting tile above the shower enclosure.   6 July 2011: The linen closet had a flat top about a foot below the ceiling, leaving an open space that collected dust and was not useful for storage. I built an extension to close it in, creating a somewhat inconvenient but protected storage area.


7 July 2011: The old counter was very low so I raised it 3.5 inches by adding a 1x4 on edge to the existing frame.


8 July 2011: Now nearing the end of the project, Chris is painting the trim. We can still call it the Red Bathroom, though it is sort of an off shade of red. Char was frantic to put this project to bed, what with our family reunion only two weeks away and Stephanie planning an early arrival. She was also eager to get out of my bathroom and to quit using my outdoor shower.

11 July 2011: The two photos below show part of the finished project. The medicine cabinet, light fixture and towel rods all came from the old baathroom, now cleaned and refinished. The mirror was shortened to fit over the higher counter and it got a new frame. The new counter top is HiMacks composite with a built-in sink. The photo at right shows the tile floor, using the same tile as on the walls above the shower. The old baseboard heater was cleaned up and repainted. One cabinet door remains to be installed. Not shown anywhere, we added a combination ceiling light / exhaust fan and ran the duct across the attic and out through a wall to avoid a roof penetration. After completing that bit of attic work we added six inches of fiberglass insulation to bring it up to R38.

Cabinet Counter


Two Summer Jobs
JRS-Dock Chris-Dock

27 June 2011: We built a new dock for the pond to replace the floating dock that was falling apart. That’s me doing carpentry while knee-deep in water (Photo by Chris Moore) and Chris driving the last screws on the deck.

16 July 2011: We repaired a section of the Valley Pike that washed out whenever the creek ran high. While Shane was here in May we placed a line of large rocks to hold the fill. Then a load of field stone formed the base (left), followed by two loads of creek gravel, and finally a load of shale (right) to make the road surface. Darn near up to state constuction standards!

Rocks Chris-Shale


Painting the Cabin

18 July 2011: Our third big project for the summer was painting the cabin, which was badly needed, as shown in the before photo, above. Stephanie arrived on the 17th to help get ready for the family reunion and Chris, Isaiah and I started painting on the 18th. Since it was all outside work and we did not start until 1000 and quit by about 1600, I don’t think we made life too hectic for her. We were about half done by the end of the week, when the rest of the folks arrived for the reunion. We pretty well finished up by the end of July and got the last of the trim done in early August. It sure looks a lot better now!



Kathy’s Wedding
Kathy and Rachel Sisters

8 October 2011: The biggest event of the fall was Kathy’s wedding to Jeff Smith at Braeloch along the Blue Ridge Parkway east of Roanoke. The link is to a two-minute slide show of the facility. Above left, Kathy with her Matron of Honor, Rachel White, before the ceremony. At right, three sisters, Stephanie, Kathy, and Beverly. Below left, Char Sweet (mother of the bride) looking a little startled, and John Sweet, stepfather, with Kathy. And at right, Jeff and Kathy dancing after the ceremony. The newly-weds took a honeymoon trip to The Netherlands while Char stayed in Roanoke to house and cat sit for them.

Parents Jeff and Kathy


St. Anne’s Belfield Field Trip

15 October 2011: While Char was away house sitting, our good friend, Patti Reum, brought a group of students from St. Anne’s–Belfield School in Charlottesville here for a biology field trip. They were interested in testing water samples and looking for unusual flora and fauna.

Lunch Water Test

They arrived in late morning and ate lunch at our cabin. We then explored the nearby calcareous fen and ran water tests (right). Near this spot is a large Viburnum lentago, which is known at only a couple of sites in Virginia. One of the boys in the group is planning to come back in the spring to do some investigations and write his senior paper on the ecology of our place.

Group Beth

The whole group is shown at left with one of the two buses they came in. After leaving the fen we hiked up through the pasture where they got to meet Beth, our aged, horned cow, who passed away three months later.

Leaving Beth, we hiked across the dam and on up the Valley Pike. Just past the pond is a spring which is home to a rare species of blue crayfish, reported here on our 2009 News page. I have updated that page to include the name of the species, Cambarus monongalensis, which is a species of upland burrowing crayfish. These are links to the web site of Roger Thoma, the biologist who identified the critter. From the spring we went on up to the Meadowground to look at a sphagnum bog, which hosts sundew and cotton grass among several other unusual species. One of the girls spotted several garter snakes in the grass of the meadow.

Snake Crayfish
Wrapping Up

Photo by Kate Hansen, 6 October 2012

This page has been languishing “under construction” for three months so it is time to finish it up. We have already covered the highlights; this section will touch lightly on other things.

My caving activity was minimal this year. We pretty much finished up the Wishing Well cave, which had been the focus of major activity in 2010, with just shy of 5 miles mapped. A few leads remain to be checked. The annual BCCS digging weekend in March opened up a couple of small caves but nothing significant so far. Work continues. I spent a day in May with tractor and truck working on the road to the BCCS fieldhouse at Butler Cave.

Char has continued her violin lessons. She participated in two recitals, along with all of the students (mostly school age) in the Highland music programs. One of our neighbors, Bill Harman, plays guitar and has come by on several Sunday afternoons to play old-time music with Char. I prefer to listen to her fiddle tunes than the classical stuff from her lessons.

We had lots of rain in April, which set us up well for the growing season. We had bumper crops of fruit — apples, pears, peaches, raspberries and currants. We had a good hay season too. Catching a lucky break in the weather, we started on 1 June and finished up first cutting on 7 June, the quickest and earliest hay season that I can remember. Shane was here for a few days in May, between college and summer job. In addition to helping with the fence (above) we built a new enclosure for our compost, replacing one jerry-built out of old pallets. In the fall we hired Bill Harman and his crew to pour a concrete floor outside the basement door, which helps reduce the amount of dirt tracked into the house.

Concrete Char, recital



Happy New Year to All
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