Greetings from Tampa

Wow. It’s been a long time since the last post. It looks like a little over a year. Since that time we’ve moved to Tampa, FL and have really enjoyed the change of pace. To give you an idea of how things have been going, here are a couple of video from the past couple of weeks.

I don’t know how long I can keep it up, but I intend to post a new one each week.

An Open Letter To NASCAR


First I would like to thank you for hosting such a splendid event. Whoever originally decided to take an enormous engine, strap it to a frame, and then race it with an over-sized chassis at 200 mph was a genius of the highest caliber. The intellect of this person is only matched by the sadistic nature of the individual who decided to pass rules to restrict the racing speeds to just below warp drive but just above imminent fiery death. These standards result in exciting races where no one walks away with a lead, anyone in a pack of 40 cars could win, and there will most definitely be a hair raising crash every single weekend.


I cannot begin to tell you how my redneck heart quivers with delight to see this display of excess and ingenuity. Not too mention, like baseball, with a four hour event there is ample time to get excited, grab a snack, take a nap, take a leak, and then get excited all over again. So, once again, I commend you.

However, recently my viewership has ceased, unexpectedly, through no fault of my own.  Imagine my surprise on a recent Sunday when flipping through my local network television channels, I find no NASCAR event. Immediately my mind tells me, “Must be a night race.” So, I check the schedule only to find out, there is, in fact, a race this afternoon on TNT. TNT. Not again!

Yep, it’s that point in of year where poor folks and tight wads such as myself can no longer watch the season. How much are TNT and ESPN paying you? I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same, but you’ve sold off my Sunday afternoon! Things just aren’t the same around the house.

My wife would usually make snacks for the race, but now she has no reason to be in the kitchen. You’ve taken away her livelihood. Now she just sits around reading. I can’t have that. She’s liable to get ideas in that little head of hers.

And what am I supposed to do with myself? Go outside?!? There’s a cancer causing sun out there. Should I exercise? And lose this manly physique? I think not. I can’t play video games. I need a break. I’ve put 26 hours into Civilization 5 already this week. Also, I live in Washington, DC. Do you know how often I get to hear a true redneck voice to remind me of home. It WAS every Sunday.

Listen, NASCAR is a human right like Jeopardy or Sesame Street. It should be available to all. People depend on you to get them through the tough Spring and Summer weekends. You bring fellowship to friends and family, rest to the weary, and excitement to the working man.

For now I am stuck with NBC providing me with Indycar and F1. That’s right F1. I might as well be watching a marathon. There’s always a some guy with a name I can’t pronounce out front, everyone is in a long, boring line, people crash out on their own, and 3 lead changes is considered an exciting race. Please rescue me.

Your Desperate and Fading Fan,


Del Ray Halloween Parade 2013

Del Ray Halloween Parade

We heard that there was going to be a Halloween Parade right in front of our apartment today, however we didn’t realize it was going to start at our end of the street. Everyone, both 2 legged and 4 legged, was out in their costumes today. Thanks to the Alexandria Police Department for another superb job keeping things safe.

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Starting a Business in Virginia

Bank Stock

Things you should know:

  1. I am not an attorney.
  2. I am not an accountant.
  3. If you are not interested in starting a business, this article will most assuredly bore you to sleep.

Still here? Great! Carry on.

For the first time in my life, I’m going to try my hand at business. After reading books, listening to podcasts, and telling others what I think of their ideas, it’s time to make it happen.


I want to try something new.

A couple of years ago I decided to try and “advance my career” by getting all manner of computer certifications to supposedly make me more marketable. So for four months I knocked out the Network+, Security+, and CISSP certifications. How did it affect my work or pay? Nothing changed. I looked around at other jobs. I even applied to some but no traction. Honestly, I realized I didn’t want an IT or computer security job. Neither really excited me.

Last year I went back to school. MIT offered an electrical engineering class online. I, along with 125,000 people, signed up for it. Five thousand of us passed. I learned a lot and it  felt great completing the class. I like rigorous academia mostly because it gives me new thoughts to apply to the world around me.  I asked myself if it was the right time to go back to school. I decided that the timing was not right. Two to six years later I could emerge back into the real world with just a head full of knowledge working for a gigantic widget maker. No, it just didn’t feel right.

I want to make something, I want it to help me produce an income, and I want to make a difference while doing it. At this time I’m going to try and answer these desires by starting a low risk business. I’ll learn, plan, and give it a shot like I’ve done the past two years with my other ideas. I’m starting this new venture with a couple of things in mind.

Beginning Ideals

  1. I’m not quitting my day job to start a business. There will be none of this throwing caution to the wind insanity. I’ve never done this before and I’m not about to risk my family’s steady paycheck over it.
  2. I will not borrow money. There have been a few people telling me, “The best way to start a business is with other people’s money. That way if it fails, you aren’t out anything.” Bull. What I would be “out” is respect if I treated other people’s money that way. The only money I want to touch from other people is the money customers give me for superior service.

The Government

To start a business, all you really have to do in the Federal government’s eyes is sell something or provide a service for money. Ex: If Bob sells a set of pigs feet to his brother Darrell and his other brother Darrell, Bob can call that a business. It can be reported on his federal taxes as such. Bam! You’re a business.

Although the federal government would be mostly satisfied with this arrangement, the state/city/county likes to complicate things a bit. They want sales tax, fees, business property tax, etc. They are not satisfied until you’ve gone to a permit office or a court house and signed things, however in Virginia the government has simplified the process. You can get most of this process done by going to the Virginia Business One Stop.

For $20 they’ll walk you through setting up a business from choosing a business type, to getting a tax id number, to registering for collecting sales tax. It’s all fairly simple to follow.

A Business Type

Before you go through the One Stop process, you will want to choose a business entity type. There are 3 common types:

  1. Sole Proprietorship – This type requires a minimal amount of effort to establish and taxes are easy. Income taxes from a sole proprietorship are claimed on your personal taxes. The downside is if someone sues the company, they can go after your personal money because there is no legal difference between you and your business.
  2. Limited Liability Company – In this arrangement your business is its own legal entity. If someone sues your company then your personal money is safe. On the other hand, It costs more during the registration process to establish an LLC.
  3. Corporations – In a corporation the company is owned by shareholders. It’s a lot of paperwork.

For my first attempt at this, I’ve chosen the sole proprietorship. My products are low liability, so the probability of being sued at this juncture is low. Also, I’m not going to pay for an LLC when I don’t even know if this venture is going to work in the first place. One piece of advice I was given was to wait until I’ve made at least $10,000, to acquire an LLC.

EIN (Employee Identification Number)

As you progress through the One Stop process, you will find that your business is going to need a federal tax number. If you chose sole proprietorship, you have the option of just using your own social security number. Don’t do it. The tax identification number will be handed out to everyone and there is even a possibility that it could be published in a public government document. Also, getting an EIN from the IRS helps keep your business and personal finance separate. Just a quick note, for some reason the IRS will not issue an EIN on the weekend (even online).

County and City Documents

If you are doing business using a name other than your own, you must register a fictitious name with the state and with your local government. For instance, if your name is Bob Smith and you want to do business as Roadside Pig’s Feet, then you must register the name Roadside Pig’s Feet. Registering with Virginia is easy and is done in the online process. When you’ve finished registering with the state, they will give you documents to take to the city or county. These documents will allow you to register your fictitious name with the local municipality.

I had to go to two offices to finalize everything. First, it was off to the courthouse to register my business name and second, I had to visit the permits office to ensure I could run the business I wanted from the location I wanted. Two weeks later I received my business license in the mail.

Sales Tax

One of the last steps in the process is registering for sales tax. If you are providing certain goods or services, you are required to charge your customers sales tax. Certain customers are sales tax exempt such as government entities and other companies who are just going to resell your product. Virginia requires small businesses to pay this sales tax online through their website. After registering at, you will be required to file sales tax every month even if you sell nothing. During the registration process, you will be given a certificate that gives you the right to collect sales tax from a customer.

More to Come…

I expect the next few months to be crazy. I’ll be updating this blog from time to time with more details on the business. At the moment I’m learning about manufacturing but more on that later.


Red Lacquer Pew via Good Brown Gravy

Hello!  This is Brandy (Jason’s wife).  Jason is graciously allowing me to guest post here as today’s project doesn’t really fit in over on my page, One is Hungry.

So, if you have been reading this page for awhile, you know that this spring we moved into a new apartment.  In the intervening months we have slowly been filling that glorious new space with treasures lifted from Craigslist and second hand shops.  While scouting Craigslist recently I happened upon Donation Nation in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a recently opened haven for the redistribution of unwanted wares.  Anything that fits on the scale is a dollar per pound, everything else is negotiable.  It is fantastic; if you live in the DMV area you should definitely give it a look.  Long (but interesting) story short, I walked backward out of the store at the front end of a 100+ year old purple pew!

Here I have to state that I was taking a bit of a risk.  Jason is notorious for not liking the color purple.  I made a detailed plan of three options for the color.  Purple doesn’t go with anything in our home, so I certainly wasn’t viewing the proposal to change the color as a hard sell.  What is the first thing that contrary man said upon seeing it? “That is so cool.  Can we keep the purple?!”. . .So, negotiations ensued; I was all for natural, unvarnished wood or high gloss black.  Jason wanted “pop”.  In the end, we matched his new, extremely red, telephone.

Tools and Supplies:

  • 1 old purple pew
  • DeWalt 5″ Random Orbital Palm Sander
  • sanding pads and paper in medium, fine, and extra fine
  • sanding block
  • 2.5″ angled head paint brush
  • Rustoleum Gloss “Sunrise Red” 1 quart and a bit
  • 1/2 gallon paint bucket
  • paint stirrer
  • 0dorless mineral spirits
  • canvas drop cloth, three plastic drop cloths
  • painters tape (and in an emergency, thumbtacks)
  • vacuum
  • rags
  • water, salt, vinegar, saucepan
  • Martha Stewart  Liquid Gilding Brass and Black Satin paint
  • small paint brush
  • paper bags


So, the inspiration for the red paint came not only from Jason’s favorite phone, but from a gorgeous, glossy, knock-out of a dresser on a blog called Natty by Design.  While my project in no way attained the liquid luster of her piece, her tips, and those of one of her commenters on another post (see Wende in the comments section) were immensely helpful in pulling this together.

First the hardware had to be removed.  The small history that came attached to the pew said the hardware was solid brass. . .  Be wary of such statements.  It turned out that only the aisle number plate was solid brass, the rest was brass plated.  Tarnish had all but destroyed the plating and cleaning washed it utterly away.  The great tip from Wende (mentioned above) about using boiling water in combination with salt and vinegar did wonders for the one actual brass piece.  I combined 2 inches of boiling water with 1/2 c. white vinegar and 1/4 c. kosher salt.  There was still a bit of discoloration that I touched up with Brasso; the other pieces, frame, hat clips, and screw heads got a lick of liquid brass gilding.pew hardware before and after via Good Brown Gravy

So, sanding.  Do it well, do it with multiple coarseness-es of paper, and, if ever in doubt, go with the grain of the wood!  Wear eye protection, a breathing mask, and, if using a power sander, ear plugs.  If you are sanding inside, consider building a tent by taping or tacking plastic drop-clothes from the tops of the walls or ceiling.  It keeps the dust confined to one easily cleanable space!  This was my first time ever using a power sander, and I liked it!  On the straight aways it saved loads of time.  I did an all over sand with medium and then fine paper, using sandpaper and a block for the detail work and tight curves.  When you’ve finished sanding vacuum the piece thoroughly and wipe with mineral spirits or water dampened cloth.Pew Prep via Good Brown Gravy Pew Prep Details via Good Brown Gravy


First, be prepared to open all the windows in your house or you will slowly asphyxiate.  On the first coat I chose to thin the paint to the maximum recommended amount of 5% with mineral spirits (I neglected to do this on the second and regretted it).  For a first coat it was beautiful.  After waiting overnight for it to dry I did the sanding.  Sanding between coats of paint, especially gloss paint, is highly recommended.  Unfortunately, no one told my new power sander that this twixt-coat sanding was supposed to be more of a buff than strip.  Even using fine grain paper it still took off far too much paint.  Live and learn, right?First Coat Sand-down via Good Brown Gravy

So, with a disheartening amount of purple showing through I moved on to coat two, and quickly realized there would be a coat three.  Between the second and third I did a light hand sanding with extra-fine grain paper.

Finish:detailduo verse via Good Brown Gravy pew profile via Good Brown Gravy Detail via Good Brown Gravy Red Lacquer Pew Full via Good Brown Gravy Pew Accomplished via Good Brown Gravy dining pew with table via Good Brown Gravy

Well, it is by no mean perfect, but it is finished, we are pleased, and we can now start inviting friends over for dinner since we have somewhere to seat them other than the floor.

What I learned (or “What I knew but didn’t take the time to think about because I was super excited to get this done!”):

  • When painting indoors always make sure that you have a waterproof drop-cloth on the floor; if using a canvas drop-cloth, put a plastic one underneath.  This will save you clean up time (and if you have carpet this will save you flooring from utter ruination!).
  • A smaller paintbrush is an extremely useful thing to have on hand for details (I ended up requisitioning my gilding brush, but a short handle, 1 in. would have been heavenly).
  • Lacquer thinner is an evil, evil joke produced by someone who knew how well mineral spirits works, and encouraged an unsuspecting world to use a product guaranteed to cause anxiety as  skin washed away while the paint stayed intact–use mineral spirits!!
  • Primer.  Use it.  The End.


Mexico Trip Part 5: Prescriptions, Power, and People

Day 8: The Reckoning

When people recount to me stories of their visit to Mexico there’s quite often a part when someone says, “…then there was that day(s) we were sick.”

Sunset at Playa Viva

I consider myself a reasonably seasoned traveler and have a few simple rules.

  1. I don’t drink the local water. Incidentally, while on a trip a colleague once was advised to only drink water from the designated plastic water coolers stationed throughout this particular overseas embassy. Later that day he saw the local staff refilling the giant, plastic jugs from a hose hooked to the local supply.
  2. I try to stick to fully cooked food. If you turn the temperature up hot enough and let it sit long enough, anything will die.
  3. Stay away from Typhoid Mary. If a group of five to ten are on a trip together, one will get sick. Stay away. Offer to help out of courtesy, but when in close proximity to the afflicted, breathe through your collar and throw relief supplies at no less than 10 feet away.

At Playa Viva all drinking water is put through a reverse osmosis filter. Check. All the food is prepared by an awesome chef, Abraham, or several other incredible cooks. What doesn’t come out of the garden, comes out of the refrigerator and is well cooked. Even the seafood in the ceviche is blanched before served. Check. Finally, a few people had some rough hours from time to time but nobody had been seriously ill since we had arrived. Check, check, and check.

Little did I know, but for several days my body had been harboring a nasty stow away that I had picked up from some wary traveler and several hours into the evening I was to experience Petatlán, Mexico’s local town healthcare system.

Donde es el bano?

…is one of the only Spanish phrases I remember from high school and probably just grammatically butchered. However, when I stepped out of the back alley and into the waiting room of the 24 hour clinic, the phrase’s English equivalent was the only vocabulary I could utter.

I had come to the decision that I needed a doctor by use of a self test I’ve perfected over the last 10 years. If after vomiting I use the sentence, “Wow, I didn’t know there was that much liquid in my body,” it’s time to go. Through experience I have learned that when I am surprised by the volume of liquid exiting my person, that staggering amount of fluid is no longer in my body and must quickly be replaced.

The office wasn’t much to look at. The waiting room had an old couch and their were a couple of chairs here and there. After entering the doctor’s office (his literal office), I laid beside his desk on a single cot that was directly below the only air conditioner I had seen in a week. I answered a few questions about my health through my gracious translator Julia, the manager at Playa Viva, and then the magic happened.

This doc and his nurse fixed me up quick. Before I could blink there was a needle in my arm and within an hour’s time they filled me with antibiotics, anti-nausea, fever reducer, and two bags of IV fluids. As I listened to the lady one room over giving birth, the cold liquid pumped through my veins at an incredible rate. When I finally stood up and walked out, my body was in a weird limbo of confusion. He told us to come back the next day and as we drove away I realized, no one filled out a single document.

Day 9: Recovery

We did go back the next day. I was prescribed an antibiotic and Brandy got some because she had started to feel a little under the weather. So, doctors fee, two bags of fluid, intravenous drugs, two visits, and prescription meds … Total: $240 USD and still no paperwork.

As we arrived back at the resort, I crashed on the couch and was to remain there for the rest of the day.

Day 10: Power

I slept well that night and woke the next day a few pounds lighter but with more color and feeling a lot better. David, one of the co-owners, had shown up two days before and after breakfast we found ourselves chatting about the power system and several minutes later I was given a personal tour.

Playa Viva Solar Panels

Playa Viva originally had a 36 solar panel system and later they stepped it up with 24 more panels. David said that because of the advances in solar panels, the 24 they bought most recently produces the same output as the original 36. As the system has grown, so has their knowledge of producing energy more efficiently.

Case in point is the implementation of a diesel generator for backup power. In the beginning the backup generator would turn on to feed power to the complex whenever the batteries were running low. The generator would burn diesel while the batteries charged up from the solar panels. Over time, however, they modified the system a bit. Now when the batteries get low and it’s not a particularly sunny day, the generator only kicks on to charge the batteries. This type of system, which is similar to a hybrid vehicle, proved to be more efficient and saved on diesel.

David commented that not only are the solar panels eco-friendly but they are also economically helpful. To get power from the grid would require a sizable payment to the local utility company. The costly line would have to be run from the local village several miles away but for now the existing  solar system supplies the energy needs for the complex. The resort would have to scale up dramatically to make the investment even worthwhile but David commented scaling to that size wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.

Correction 7/21/2013: I have been informed since the publication of this article that the current generator at Playa Viva is powered by LP gas but future plans call for a bio-diesel system. The diesel will be made on site.

Wonderful, Fantastic People

When Brandy and I travel, we pick spots for a reason. We don’t generally stay at hotels. We prefer a bed and breakfast. We don’t like huge crowds but we do enjoy a few friends. We like to meet people and hear about their lives and on this trip we were not disappointed. Below are just a few of the interesting people we came across.

Playa Viva Bondfire

  • The cab driver and his wife that met, how else, but by him picking her up in his cab one day.
  • The fireman and nurse who decided for their tenth anniversary that they were going to run an Iron Man.
  • The hard working lady from Michigan that happens to know everything in the world about sea turtles.
  • The hospitable lady that raises her young son herself and finds time to take a sick, skinny American to a 24 hour clinic.
  • A rock star, lead guitarist that toured Australia and the US with his band and several years later became a rock star, environmental engineer.
  • His girlfriend that wanted nothing else but to become a fashion designer at a young age, studied fashion in Italy, and now works at a fashion house in Melbourne.
  • Her Dad who works in New York at a drug company and on the side is a semi professional jazz musician.
  • The family man who has been on the same farm in the mountains since the 1930’s without electicity and grew the chocolate I will be consuming throughout this coming winter.
  • The yoga instructor who is traveling the world and overcoming obstacles to follow where her heart leads her.

To all the people we met, we would like to say You Are Inspirational! You all have made our lives richer. May God continue to bless your endeavors and may your lives keep motivating and enriching others.

DSC_0594 DSC_0177(c1) DSC_0168(c1) DSC_0157(c1) Amy ZScrabble with the Boys Dinner Three-hatted Australian Sunset at Playa Viva


For those wanting to read about our full adventure, I’ve listed the articles below.

Mexico Trip Part 4: Turtles, Hiking, and Mythical Mexican Creatures

Playa Viva Lake

Day 5: Turtle Release

Nothing gets the crowd going like a turtle release. Part of Playa Viva being an eco-resort is that they have a turtle sanctuary on the property. One of the perks of being a guest is getting to see the little guys being released in the mornings. When a new batch hatches, they are freed on the beach in front of the resort area.

Playa Viva Turtle ReleaseAs soon as they are poured out of the bucket, the race is on. What impressed me most about these little guys is how tough they are. After flailing their way through the sand, they finally reach the surf where they are violently sucked out to sea, spun around in a couples of waves, and sometimes pushed back onto shore. Inevitably they find a way to get some distance from land, come up for a few gulps of air, and push on into the ocean.

Day 6: R&R

We read, we relaxed, we drank coconut water. Ahhh….vacation.

Day 7: Hiking Through the Mexican Wilderness

“Are you going on a hike? You must go up by the lake. The birds are out today.” Julia, the manager at Playa Viva, had been on a hike earlier in the day and was enthusiastically recommending to us a route we were sure to enjoy. You can drink only so much fresh coconut water so we decided it was time to explore the many trails cut through the green landscape. We strapped on our sandals and headed up the trail for an adventure.

The first thing we noticed was that there are a ton of lizards in the area. As we walked along the dirt road, they darted out everywhere. Every 20 steps we took, the bushes would shake and out ran a critter.


We eventually made it to the small lake Julia referred to us and she completely undersold it. The lake and the trees surrounding it were covered in cranes, storks, and flamingos. As we approached, one quarter of the lakes population decided I was too close and began circling overhead looking for a new perch. It was fantastic.



Along the rest of the trail we met a horse that we were later to learn is called “Horse.” We also came across some beautiful mango trees and finally the beast.

While walking through a particularly thick, green part of the trail around the backside of the lake, we saw the beast dart into the undergrowth ahead of us. At first I only caught sight of the hind quarters. It was orange (Brandy description: Red/Gold) in color with fur and had a fluffy tail. It had the build of a medium sized dog but it moved like a cat. I could see evidence of strong muscles as it moved through the forest.

Not knowing how to react, we waited several seconds and continued on only to find another specimen of the same variety ten minutes later. This time Brandy caught full sight of it. She described the face as being halfway between a cat and a raccoon. At the time we labeled it the exotic Mexican cat-bear and went, all be it more cautiously, on our way.

Upon our arrival back at the resort we describe this beast to several of the locals and we were told it was this:,tejon/Interesting

The pictures you are seeing are of a Mexican Tejon. It’s looks like the mix between a badger and a raccoon and it is definitely not what we saw. When we returned home we still couldn’t shake the fact that what we saw was different, so to the interwebs we did go. After about 20 minutes we found our animal.

We immediately sent an email back to the resort and here is the actual reply.

Well, I just showed this pic to Julia and she screamed. These are endangered. The fact that there are any is a very good sign. Serafin saw these about two years ago, we showed the pic to him too, and no one believed him!!!! This is amazing. We are going to forward the pics to David and hopefully get their pics in the book! This is also really great because it means that Playa Vivas preservation efforts are bringing animals back to the area. Yay!!! Thank you so much sharing this!!! -Amy

The animal you see is consider in danger of extintion, jaguar, Serafin the maintenance guy see them 2 years ago, may be the same. It´s so exciting I´ll check more when I walk around Playa Viva. It´s very nice to see that this Jaguars chose Playa viva as their home. -Julia

Although Wikipedia does not show the animals as being threatened, in this part of Mexico the animal’s habitat has been steadily shrinking and sightings have become less frequent. The staff was very excited that all their hard work is paying off.

While we were there a farmer had started clear cutting the land around Playa Viva to make way for cattle. As a result much of the wildlife was taking refuge on the resort’s land. Also, a developer came to look at the property. We had a side conversation with his architect. The developer wanted to put a 200 room hotel further down the beach on the land he owned and the architect was trying to convince him otherwise. As the architect put it, “This is the country. You shouldn’t do that sort of thing out here. It doesn’t fit. It’s not sustainable. You have to build to your surroundings.” Wise man.

In the next post I’ll be showcasing Playa Viva’s solar power grid and will introduce you to Poncho the Frog. Also, I’ll be sharing some of our best memories.