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Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Resolutions



The end of the year is as good a time as any to reflect on any needed changes or improvements in our lives. Considering how many people rarely assess their lives, the New Year is a least one time each year for them to do it.

Personally, I self-reflect and make new plans a lot more often than that. If a person never takes inventory of their life and never makes changes, things just happen to them. Isn't it better to take life's helm and chart your own course?

I am fond of lists. Every now and then I'll make a list of things I want to do or things I want to change. Writing things down does wonders for turning plans into actions. It's more real than vague notions of improvements drifting around in your head. Recently I rediscovered one of those lists in an old notebook. About 75% of the things I listed to do or change actually happened. As for the other 25%, sometimes something better turned up. Only a small percentage of the list never got resolved. That came as a surprise to me, as I didn't realize how much stuff I'd actually accomplished. Pretty neat to see it in black and white.

Avoid a major resolution mistake. Do not join a gym with the intent of getting in shape. For the first few weeks of the year the gyms are going to be crowded. After a month almost all of the new people will be gone. Instead of joining a gym, start exercising at home. It doesn't have to be anything major. Just going for a 30 minute walk five times a week is a good start. If at the end of that month you are still serious about the gym, go right ahead and join.

This year my list is pretty short. I resolve to be kinder towards my fellow humans. Don't underestimate the power of kindness. Assume everyone is going through a heroic struggle in their lives and could use a little kindness. It's both easy and tough. How hard can it really be to cut someone a little more slack? Should be easy, but fear makes it hard. Those who are fearless can walk the warrior's path of kindness.

There are worse resolutions.

Have a happy New Year!


-Sixbears

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Weather Awareness



We've gotten used to having pretty good weather forecasts. It's on TV, there are apps on our phones, it's available on the Internet, and radio forecasts are a constant. They are trained professionals, so we've come to rely on decent predictions.

Never lose track of the fact that weather forecasts are only educated guesses. Really educated guesses, I grant you, but guesses none the less.

I grew up and live in the shadow of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Major weather systems meet over the mountains, giving us the worse weather in the world. This week it's been colder in New Hampshire than the Antarctic, Iceland, and Siberia. That's nasty weather. I've learned to take what the weather person says with a grain of salt.

The further out in time, the less reliable the forecast. Most of that are aware of that fact. However, I've seen drastic changes between the evening forecast and the morning forecast. Personally, I think it's even worse for marine conditions. Often a predicted 15 knot wind with 2 foot chop turns into 30 knot wind with 6 foot wave height. True wind direction can be 180 degrees from what they said it would be. That's really annoying in a sailboat. A nice expected downwind sail becomes a bash against the waves with the engine.

Micro climate conditions can be very bad in a very limited area. If that's the area you happen to be in, it really doesn't matter that conditions are good a half mile away. You might be in a notch between mountains that creates a wind-tunnel effect. On the water, a sudden squall can pop up out of nowhere and damage your boat.

That's the situation now, under ideal conditions. Imagine if something knocks out the weather satellites or takes down the broadcast towers. It doesn't even have to be that drastic. Something as simple as water damage could render your electronics useless.

It won't take too long before you are on your own. Situational awareness is the key. Never mind what the weather person says, what does the sky tell you? For thousands of years, people have had to figure out the weather themselves. Usually they didn't have a lot of warning. When conditions started to look bad, they'd head for cover.

Of course, some things don't give you a lot of warning. Anyone remember how nice the weather looked just hours before hurricane Irene struck? There's a good reason the waters around Florida are full of wrecked sailing vessels from the old days. Heck, there's a lot of new wrecks, but usually people heeded warning and left their boats.

Listen to the forecasts, but also trust your eyes. Weather can and does kill.

-Sixbears

Friday, December 29, 2017

Travel Planning Chores



Before hitting the road there are a number of things that have to be done ahead of time. Of course, preparing the house to be shut down is a big one. Plumbing has to be drained. Traps need a good dose of RV non-toxic antifreeze. There's a whole checklist of physical stuff to do.

Just as important is sorting out the paperwork. It's a sad fact of modern life, but it has to be done. There are on-line forms from the Postal Service to have mail forwarded. It costs a dollar to do it on-line, but it saves a trip to the Post Office. It's pretty straight forward.

Then there's the joy of trying to make sure my debit and credit cards are not shut off. If they are deactivated, calling them on the phone usually gets them reactivated. However, you really don't want to have to do that while in the middle of trying to pay a bill.

I've noticed that in recent years banks have gotten more restrictive on their permissions. It doesn't help that every bank has different rules. For example one bank will only activate their travel note for three months. Another one limits the number of states where they'll allow transactions. If those limits are to be exceeded, it takes more phone calls.

Of course, I travel with some cash, but that can be a problem too. Sometimes law enforcement will confiscate your cash as just having a sizable wad of money is considered a crime. Even if you are not convicted of anything, it's almost impossible to get your money back. Some states, Tennessee for example, are worse than others. It's a nice state, but because of their cash confiscation polices, I don't vacation there anymore.

The last thing I do is to suspend my Internet service. My provider will not bill me while I'm away. Before coming home, it's a $15 service fee to reactivate it. That saves me a few dollars so it's well worth doing.

Contacting all those companies is a pain, but better to do it in the comfort of my own home rather than sort it out on the road.

-Sixbears

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Glitches in the Plan



Wednesday morning the water froze up again. I'd put too many power loads on an electrical sub panel. The breaker tripped, killing the heater for the plumbing. Still trying to thaw that out as of the writing of this post.

The woodstove is barely keeping up with the subzero temperatures. It's been a lot colder than average for this time of year. We still are not sure exactly what we'll do. While my wife and I can get by without running water for a while, it's hard to host people. Fortunately, my daughter in town can put up visitors from away.

Our house situation could cause us to leave earlier than planned. Then again, it might be too cold to run the diesel engine in the van. My lovely wife and I are figuring things out. One way or the other, we'll find a way to head south.

I decided to spring for a minimum load of heating oil for the furnace. That will make it possible to leave the house for more than six hours without it getting too cold. It will also be more comfortable in the basement when it's time to drain all the systems.

Right now it'll be nice to experience some warm weather: you know, anything above freezing.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Moving Along



Christmas part one is over, part deux is on the way. More family are coming up in a couple days.

We definitely had a white Christmas. The snow was deep enough that I decided to take the van into town rather than the little hatchback. The car has good winter tires, but the snow was higher than the bumper. The van has a lot of ground clearance so we would not be plowing snow the whole way into town.

Tuesday, the van passed inspection. It's ready for the road. My only concern is that it may be too cold for the diesel to run. We are due to have a series of sub zero days with gusty winds. When going into town for the inspection, the van started running rough. I had some additive for that, but the compartment it was in had frozen shut. Fortunately, the compartment that had tools was thawed. I picked out a pry bar to help open the frozen door. The additive sorted out the fuel situation. In the winter, everything is harder and takes longer.

My lovely wife decided to do some laundry. The water lines were not frozen, so that was good. Unfortunately, when the machine tried to drain, the water backed up into the laundry room. That was sorted out by pouring a large kettle of boiling water down the drain. Yep, everything is harder and takes longer.

We are doing our best to sort out our little projects and to get things ready for our trip. Looking forward to warmer weather.

-Sixbears

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas



I'm taking a couple days off for the holiday. Hope everyone has a good Christmas.

Peace and Balance.

-Sixbears

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bug Out Bag Food



I was doing some research, looking into emergency travel foods that don't require cooking. It would make sense to have something like that in a bug out bag. There's a subset of long distance backpackers who go stoveless. They save weight and time by not cooking any of their foods. They seemed like a good resource.

At first I was a bit horrified to see what those hikers lived on. A good portion of their food was what we would call junk food. They carry things like pop tarts, beef jerky, snickers bars, those packets of crackers with orange cheese stuff in the middle. They also eat a lot of dehydrated foods by adding cold water to them and letting them soak until they are less crunchy. That includes things like dehydrated soups and mashed potatoes.

Some ideas weren't so bad, like peanut butter in tortilla wraps, gorp, power bars or hard boiled eggs. Those foods seemed to be too much bother for a lot of stoveless hikers. They were more likely to eat Nutella right out out of the jar with a spoon.

I was wondering why hikers, who you'd tend to think are health conscious types, would eat so much junk food. Then it occurred to me; they are all about the calories. Long days on the trail burn a lot of energy. After a few weeks many experience what they call “hiker hunger,” and they really feel the need to pack in the food.

Another consideration is the restricted resupply options along the trail. Often they are limited to the food section of gas stations. Next time you are in a gas station, see how well you do picking out trail foods. No doubt you'll end up with snickers bars and mystery cheese cracker packs too.

Hikers go many hundreds of miles on pretty crappy diets. When they do come into a town, most look to gorge themselves on burgers and pizza. For me, the take away lesson here is that calories and ease of preparation are paramount. You don't have to spend a lot of money on special foods. Get something calorie dense, long lasting, and cheap. Just make sure you have a enough of it to get you through days of high level activity. Worry about vitamins and a balanced diet once you get to your bug out location.

-Sixbears

Friday, December 22, 2017

Hydro Alarm



The old style woodstoves didn't keep a fire overnight. The same could be said for the old coal stoves. Someone had to get up in the middle of the night to stoke it up. Setting a clock alarm would wake the whole house up. If you've ever had a baby in the house, that's the last thing you'd want to do. A common solution was for the man of the house to have a big glass of water before going to bed. The “bladder alarm” would get them up in the middle of the night.

It was a real plus if old granddad lived with the family. He was probably going to get up in the middle of the night anyway. He could stoke the stove while everyone else got some sleep. It also gave the old guy something useful to do in his later years.

My airtight fire chamber on my modern wood cook stove holds a fire better than the old free burning stoves. Unfortunately, when the stove is turned down like that, it doesn't quite keep up with the subzero temperatures we've had lately. If I'm up and can feed the stove regularly, it does heat our sizable house. In the mornings it sometimes takes three hours or so for things to get back to temperature. We tend to huddle close to the stove early in the morning.

I've decided to get a minimum order of heating oil. That way we'll be able to leave the house for a day without coming home to an ice castle. The order should come in just before we have a really cold spell, when it doesn't get above zero during the day. Winter can be a struggle.

Looking forward to heading south.

-Sixbears

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Getting his life together



Back in early summer I was hanging around the local medical clinic waiting for my lovely wife. A guy I knew from way back was waiting to see the doctor. This guy had some ups and downs. Generally a nice guy but with serious mental health issues. Once he tried to take the commander of the local National Guard hostage. There was a big standoff with the police. The guy ended up jumping in the river to try to escape and had to be rescued by the fire department.

Due to his disturbed mental state, he never served any prison time, but he was under serious medical supervision. Since then he's been pretty heavily medicated and living on public assistance. When I saw him in the waiting room he was encouraged. They'd sorted out his meds and he said he was feeling normal for the first time in decades. He told me he was going to get his life together.

Recently I ran into him at the gas station. He looked great. He was working at an electronics place a few towns over and had just gotten a promotion to shift supervisor. He was driving a newer car that he just bought. He reminded me about our conversation in the waiting room. The guy really did mange to get his life back together and was feeling good again.

Mental health is no joke. My friend's mental health issues caused problems for him and his loved ones for many years. I believe it's a serious problem that doesn't get the attention it needs. A lot of people are suffering. Our medical system is pretty messed up and the mental health segment is the most neglected. There are times when I think our mental health system is a total crap shoot. Throw drugs at the problem and hope something sticks.

Maybe part of the problem is that we are living in a crazy world?

At any rate, I'm glad that guy is doing well. Hope he holds it together. He's just lucky he wasn't shot or drowned in the river years ago.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Trip Prep



Back when it was below zero Fahrenheit I thought I'd start the diesel van. It didn't like it at all. The engine stuttered a few times but kept dying. The battery was getting weak so I didn't bother trying any longer. I reached up with my shovel and removed most of the snow off the roof solar pane. It's wired so that at the flip of a switch it can go from charging the house battery to charging the starting battery.

A few days later the temperature rose to 30, the battery had a fresh charge, and the van kicked right over. Once it was running I shoveled the snow off of it. I was able to make an appointment to get it inspected next week. After that the van should be set with registration and inspection until April 2019.

While in town I went over to the local bicycle shop. I'm bringing my bicycle down to Florida with me and wanted it tuned up. Hadn't been to this guy before. I didn't even know if he'd be open, but there was a nice big open flag flapping in the breeze.

Apparently, there's not a lot of bicycle work when the snow is on the ground. Half the shop is closed off so it doesn't have to be heated. To save money the guy lives in a small efficiency apartment in the back. He does some business in the winter from people who ride fat tire bikes in the snow. However, there are only so many nuts that do that. The good news is that my bike should be serviced within 24 hours. Not only did he seem happy for the business, he seemed happy to have someone to talk to.

My lovely wife and I are looking forward to camping. We feel pretty good about leaving the boat behind this one time. Today we found out that one of the places we would normally would have anchored is so full of debris that everyone is using mooring balls. Hope they sort it all out by next year.

-Sixbears


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Build it or buy it?



Building boats is fun. My lovely wife tolerates my obsession. There are other places where our limited funds could go, but she doesn't seem to mind me working on boat projects. Maybe she figures it's a cheap form of mental health care? Just guessing.

However, my lovely wife has set a 16 foot limit on the size boats I can build. Beyond that length, it's usually cheaper to buy a second hand boat than build one. While the length limit is somewhat arbitrary it's a reasonable cutting off point.

I must admit I'm tempted to build something bigger to get exactly what I want. However, I'm not a kid anymore. The bigger the boat build, the longer it takes. Do I want to spend my years building or sailing? As much as I enjoy building a boat, I enjoy using one more.

Of course, any boat that I can afford is definitely going to need work. There's a balancing point when used boat shopping. The price is just the starting point. A cheap boat that needs too much work is no bargain. However, there are cheap boats that look bad but have good bones. Much depends on what work you can do yourself and what needs to be hired out. Ideally, nothing gets hired out.

There are good books and Youtube videos on what to look for in a used boat. At my price point I wouldn't normally pay for a professional boat survey. Because I'm cheap, knowing the basics about how to do a survey is essential. However, if for some reason I was buying a more expensive boat, I would be more likely to pay for a survey. It doesn't make sense for low end fixer-uppers.

So why am I thinking about this at the start of the winter? Soon we'll be heading south to warmer temperatures. While we aren't specifically looking for a boat while down there, we just might bump into one that catches our attention.

-Sixbears

Monday, December 18, 2017

Counting Down the Days



Kids count down the days to Christmas. As an adult I'm counting down the days until we skip town. Right now that looks like January 3rd.

Sure, it's nice to see people around the holidays. The problem for me is that the cold air is hard on my damaged lungs. We've had a lot of sub-zero days and my lungs can't handle it. Just going outside sets off a coughing fit and I feel like I'm going to die. It makes it impossible to enjoy the outside and get some much needed exercise.

As much as I love the Great North Woods, I have come to admit to myself that it kills me in the winter. Spring is fine. Summer is wonderful. Fall is beautiful. Winter is only good if you can hit the ski trails, go snowshoeing, or even go ice fishing. Being stuck inside feeding wood into the stove all winter is a drag.

I'm admitting to myself that I pretty much have to live the life of a snowbird. Plenty of people move to retirement villages down south. My parents enjoyed living in a retirement park and I had a good inside view of the lifestyle. It's really not for me.

I truly love living on a sailboat. Nothing beats the feel of a boat under sail in a favorable wind. This winter, for various reasons, we don't plan on sailing. Camping in the converted van will be fine for this winter. After that though, sailboats are in my future -one way or the other. It's going to have to happen.

-Sixbears

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Jolabokaflod



Jolabokaflod, a Christmas tradition I can really get behind.

In Iceland they have a tradition of giving books for Christmas. On Christmas Eve they give each other books. Then they spend the evening reading and eating chocolate. What a wonderful way to spend the holiday. It sounds so mellow and civilized.

It sounds so low stress and pleasurable. Books are fairly inexpensive, so it doesn't break the bank either. Of course, Iceland has a literary tradition going back all the way to the Middle Ages.

Recently I read a statistic that only 30% of US adults read books. That seemed pretty low to me. Then someone pointed out that we tend to surround ourselves with people who love books. Fair enough. People who never read just aren't as interesting as those who do.

-Sixbears

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Money Saving Tips



You see those articles in the press, on TV, and all over the Internet: how to save money and finally get ahead by doing a few things differently. You know the articles. They tell you to avoid buying a fancy coffee on the way into work, or to make your own lunch instead of buying it.

Sure, those things save you money. However, they don't make up for your health care costs tripling, your income suddenly dropping by $25,000, or your company doing away with its retirement plan.

Politicians can be the worse. They say that the reason people can't buy houses is because they are spending money on avocado toast. The real problem is that people have to go into debt to get degrees for jobs that don't pay as well as manufacturing jobs did 30 years ago.

Sure, and we can pay for health care if we don't buy a fancy cell phone. Not buying a top of the line cell phone would almost buy me one month of health insurance -almost. In the real world, I'm starting my third year with a $99 phone with a plan that costs me less than $13/month. I'd be more than happy to pay that for health insurance. As it is I don't have health insurance.

Saving money can cost you money too. If your clothing is not up to “professional standards,” you are less likely to get promoted and more likely to get fired. Those people who got out for lunch with the boss are more likely to get promoted than the guy eating lunch at his desk. Even in blue collar fields, it matters. Not having quality tools or even really good work boots makes a big difference.

There was a time when I was injured, out of work, and had taken a huge income cut. We were so tight that I found uses for potato peels. That's right, I wouldn't even throw out potato peels. Then some monthly bill would shoot up. It was depressing. Those money saving articles were of no help at all. When you can't even afford to throw out potato peels, articles on how to save money on airline tickets weren't cutting it. I used to joke that garbage was for rich people. We threw almost nothing away.

In my case, what actually made a difference was winning my case against the retirement system and getting four years of back pay. Amazing how getting more money can improve your financial situation.

-Sixbears

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wear and Tear of a Blue Collar Life



One of daughters owns a massage therapy business. She sees people from all walks of life. A lot of her clients are retired people.

Those who've worked white collar jobs are usually in much better condition. They tend to have active retirements. They go on cycling trips, cross country ski, hike and are in pretty good physical condition.

Those who've worked blue collar jobs all their lives tend to be worn out. Their retirements are not nearly so active. Most are suffering from injuries sustained from a long life of heavy labor. In retirement, their activity level is lower as they are in more pain. Because of their enforced sedentary lifestyle, they get out of condition. It's a vicious circle.

I think of my friends who've worked hard all their lives. Their knees and hips are shot. Many have had them replaced. Shoulders have bad rotator cuffs. Backs are messed up. They are living with a lot of pain. Shift workers have a lot of weird problems associated with messed up sleep schedules.

I think about how politicians want to raise retirement ages. They've got nice cushy jobs and often “work” into their 80s. They can't imagine how different it is to work 40 or 50 years in blue collar jobs.
We seem to be operating in a two tier system. Those with soft jobs who can work until they retire, then have many more good years. Those with hard physical jobs will either work until they die or go on disability.

-Sixbears

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Snowed in



We received over a foot of snow in the last storm. Fortunately, I'm retired. I remember having to get up super early on work days. The car would have to be dug out of a glacier. Extra time had to be allotted for the slow crawl to work.

The day of the storm, since we didn't have to go anywhere, we stayed home. I didn't even think about shoveling until the next day. The worse thing about shoveling during a storm is that it goes on forever. By the time you've shoveled everything out, a few more inches of snow filled in behind you. Then the snowplow comes by and buries you again. It's a labor of Sisyphus.

I've never owned a snowblower. While I've thought about after those storms that drop three or more feet of snow, I've stuck to shovels and scoops. Snowblowers are loud, smelly, and prone to breaking down. Once I figured out the cost of ownership and operation, I stuck to my shovel. Turns out I'm too lazy to own a snowblower.

The new electric snowblowers powered by powerful lithium batteries do tempt me a bit. They may be just about ready for prime time and eliminate much of what I hate about snowblowers. Then I remind myself that most winters I do the snowbird thing and avoid snow for most of the winter.

You can tell when you are below the normal snow line. Up north, houses, especially older houses, are built next to the road. That keeps shoveling down to a minimum. As you travel south you start to see houses set far from the road down long driveways.

During years when I stick around for the holidays, there's a darn good chance I'm going to shovel. I do pace myself. Every year people get heart attacks and die from the exertion. So I shovel for a bit, then warm up with a hot coffee next to the woodstove. Repeat as needed.

We didn't even lose power during this storm. The Internet would occasionally go out for a few hours at a time, but that happens all the time anyway. Such is life at the end of the line for everything.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Travel and Snow Days



Monday at six a.m. I left the house to drive down to Massachusetts to pick up my lovely wife. She spent the night at my daughter's house. She and my daughter had flown to Texas to surprise my wife's father on his 80th birthday and just got back last Sunday.

I lucked out as the weather was still good. A snowstorm was predicted to arrive either late Monday or early Tuesday. Traffic was light and I made good time. After a short visit we slowly made our way north. Christmas shopping along the way induced delay. That was to be expected.

I am responsible for delaying us even more. We drove by my cousin's place in the town south of us. His lights were on and it was pool night. I decided to stop in and shoot a few games. One thing led to another and we barely got in before midnight. It was a long day.

While I was happy to see my lovely wife again, our dog was even more excited. She was pretty confused while my lovely wife was away. The poor dog would get up in the middle of the night and wander the house looking for her.

Tuesday morning the snow was coming down. I hauled in more fuel for the woodstove and noticed the pile was getting low. The local lumber yard had free delivery of the pressed fiber fuel blocks if you buy it a pallet at a time. They will be able to deliver it tomorrow. Beats the heck out of cutting up trees with a chainsaw. We'll be heading out at the beginning of the year, so I won't need any more after this next load. In fact, there should be plenty left for when we get back.

It snowed all day Tuesday and I didn't even bother shoveling. Since we didn't have to be anywhere, I decided to wait until the town was done plowing. That way it only has to be shoveled once. During the winter, my vehicles are parked in the upper driveway, just off the town road. Most of my lower driveway is abandoned and only a walking path gets cleared.

I hope I don't regret staying until after the holidays. At least this snow makes it look like Christmas. It may even help keep my water line from freezing when the really cold temperatures move in. Snow is actually pretty good insulation.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Day Off

Monday was a long long day so I'm taking a day off.

-Sixbears

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bitcoins and Rai stones



Rai stones were carved circular stones Micronesian people's used as currency. The stones were too big to move. Transactions involved oral agreements on who currently owned the stone. The history behind a stone set its value. If people happened to die during the construction of the stone, it's value would increase.

I used to think it was the weirdest form of currency ever -until I took a really good look at Bitcoin.

At first there were a number of things that attracted me to Bitcoin. It's a currency free from government sponsorship. Unlike a fiat currency, it's value was established outside of governmental control. It's value could not be inflated away at the whim of a politician. In that respect is was like precious metals. Gold has value all over the world. The catch may be getting it across International borders.

That's one area where Bitcoin shines. By memorizing a simple numerical code, your Bitcoins could be accessed from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. While that feature is attractive to freedom loving people, it has proven to be a boon mostly to criminals.

I could live with that. After all, there are plenty of laws against criminal activity. The thing that really flipped me out is the discovery that Bitcoin “mining” uses more electricity than the whole country of Denmark. That's insane. Bitcoin gets its value from wasting electricity and computer power. We might as well go back to Rai stones.

Mining gold and silver can be hard on the environment. The quest for precious metals has caused much grief around the world. Wars have been fought, cultures and people's destroyed. However, there are some real uses for gold and silver, especially in modern electronics. Heck, if nothing else you could form a gold bar into a frying pan and cook an egg. Try that with a Bitcoin.

Electricity to run Bitcoin mining computers has to come from somewhere. Fossil fuel plants create pollution, nuclear plats have nuclear waste products, even windmills and solar panels have to be constructed so resources are used. The thought that some destructive power project may be going forward due to increased power demands from Bitcoin drives me nuts. What a waste of energy.

While I'm a strong believer that the human race has to change the way money works, Bitcoin isn't the answer. Just as an aside, I believe Bitcoin is in a huge bubble right now. It would not surprise me if its value would suddenly drop 90% or more. Just a heads up from some dude living out in the woods.

-Sixbears

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dashing through the snow



Well, not exactly dashing. More like crawling at half speed through the snow. I was debating with myself if I should go into town or not. The snow was just starting to come down in force. There was a special dinner for retired firefighters so I thought I'd attend. Dinner was nice, but by the time it was over there was already 3 – 4 inches of heavy wet snow on the ground.

Going home I never felt like I was in any danger, but only while traveling no faster than 30 mph. It took a little longer than normal, but I did get back.

Two of the guys I used to work with have moved back to town. One was a good friend who moved out to the west coast years ago. Now that's he retired he decided to move back to the North Country where housing is much more affordable. He and his wife have family here too, so that works out. They bought a house just a few houses down from their son and his family.

My old fire captain is back from Colorado. He and his wife loved it out there, so I was surprised to see his return. The doctors in Colorado recommended he move. The guy got a bad blood clot in his lung. Trust me, those are painful. Apparently the high altitude of Colorado was not good for the condition. They reopened their cottage on the lake. However, they plan on spending a part of the winter in South Carolina with family.

It was great to get together with the other firefighters. We worked and lived together and saved each other's lives a bunch of times. It's worth going out in the snow to get together with a crew like that.

-Sixbears

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Home without adult supervision



My lovely wife flew all the way to Houston Texas to visit family. She happened to arrive just in time for a rare Texas snowstorm. She could have stayed home if she'd wanted to play in the snow. I see that a good swath of the south is getting hit with snow.

Snow up north is no big deal. We expect it and have the equipment and skilled operators. When it hits in areas where people aren't used to it, things get dicey.

While she was away I decided to do some work on the woodstove. After letting the fire die I took it apart for cleaning. Soot builds up in the stovepipe and needs to be removed to do a good job. There was soot past my elbows. My clothes needed a heavy duty wash. The floor could use a good mopping to get the last bits of soot that the broom missed. Wood heat is nice, but there's a few dirty jobs that have to be done now and then.

My goal is to have the house cleaner than when my lovely wife left it. There's nothing worse than coming home from a long trip to a mess.

Back at it.

-Sixbears

Friday, December 8, 2017

Just me and the dog



Thursday we got up bright and early to drive into town. My lovely wife took the bus to Logan Airport in Boston. She's flying out to Texas with my oldest daughter for her father's surprise 80th birthday party. It's been quite a few years since she's gotten together with her parents and sisters at the same time. She'll be gone for a few days, so it's just me and the dog.

I'm getting a few things sorted before we head out on our camping adventure. The pin number for our bank card did not work, so I went into the bank to sort that out. While I was at it I changed the number to one that I can remember. That took two attempts, which is pretty normal for that sort of thing. At least that's been my experience.

Just before we leave we notify the banks that we'll be traveling. If you don't you stand a pretty good chance that they'll shut your cards down at some point. Even with prior notification, there's no guarantee that there won't be card problems. A few years ago my credit union shut down my debit card for no apparent reason. Three times I attempted to get them to reactivate it. They always assured me it was fine, but then the every time I tried to use it, the card was rejected. Good thing I had backup funds.

There are plenty of little projects to keep me busy until my lovely wife gets back. Also, the dog informs me that there are squirrels in need of chasing, but she'll handle that.

-Sixbears

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Life on hard mode



Is life a game?

A good chess player will sometimes spot an opponent a pawn. That is, they give up one of their pieces before the game even begins, just to make it interesting. A really good player will spot a more important piece like a knight or a bishop.

I've seen right handed pool players play left handed. At the shooting range there are those who will use their off hand in competition.

Video game players have different levels of difficulty to chose from, everything from easy to hard.

Sometimes I think life is a game. Some days it's on easy mode. The challenges of the day are almost no challenges at all. Then there are days when it seems like the level of difficulty has been cranked all the way to hard. It's a struggle.

One thing about playing the life game on hard mode, you sure feel good when you win. Just like in a game, you don't really stretch your skills and talents on easy mode. Much of life is a matter of perspective. You can look at challenges as a change to really develop yourself rather than as a burden

Of course, nobody starts out as an expert. You have to develop your skills on easy mode first. That's why doing everything for you kids is a disservice. They never learn what they need to know when life suddenly switches to hard mode.

If life is a game, make sure to have fun, even if you have to play on hard mode.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Small steps in the cold north



In a previous post I mentioned that the nice looking step bumper on my van pretty much just fell off. All the internal steel was heavily rusted. Fortunately, the support beams were in excellent shape.

The quick and dirty solution was to build a step bumper out of wood. We had some days that got into the low 40s so I was able to work outside. First, all the pieces were cut, screwed and glued together. Then everything had to be brought inside where it would be warm enough to for the glue to set. Pretty much the same operation for paint. Applied it outside, then brought it back in before the temperature dropped below freezing.

Installing it wasn't a lot of fun. It was pretty simple job -some drilling and stainless steel bolts. Unfortunately, the weather had turned bad and we had mixed precipitation, a lovely combination of snow and rain. It wasn't much fun to lay on the wet and cold ground to tighten the bolts.

I'm glad I pushed through and did it. The mix turned to heavy rain, but I was done before the puddles got too deep. Nothing like a rainy day with the temperature just barely above freezing. After the job was finished, I stoked up the woodstove, got out of my wet clothes, and went back to bed.

It's been a long slow process to build up my stamina since my leg injury. Months of inactivity really took its toll on me. It doesn't help that I've got a small cold right now, so everything aches more than it should. There's no help for it but to push on. I'm also getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids. Even taking off a few pounds. One step at a time.

Mechanically, the van should be ready for our trip. It will need to be registered and inspected before we leave. I've been slowly loading it with our gear. By the time we are ready to go we should be able to just hop in and start driving south.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Sound of Bursting Bubbles part II



Yesterday I went into some of the factors leading up to the next economic crash. Today I'd like to kick around some ideas about strategies for surviving the upsets. We don't know the exact timing or exactly how things will manifest. However, collapse has some factors in common.

Collapse is rarely caused by just one factor. Usually it's a number of problems that come together at the same time. For example, a country could have an unpopular war, civil unrest, and a food shortage, then a plague breaks out causing everything to unravel. I don't expect things to unravel for us that way, but it will be a number of cascading factors.

There is definitely going to be an economic component. Stock market crash, bank failures, major loan defaults, any number of speculative bubbles could burst. Lots of people will lose their income. Since many people live paycheck to paycheck, the effects will be immediate and hard felt. A quick response of beefing up the social safety net and putting foreclosures on hold could help. That ain't gonna happen. Panicky investors will try to squeeze every last penny out of the debtors as quickly as possible.

Expect a lot of people to lose their property. They may pass draconian laws against people who can't pay their bills. Already some states allow suspension of drivers and professional licenses. How foolish is that? Take someone who already is struggling and then make it impossible for them to work. It's not about logic. It's about punishing people for being poor.

So what's a person to do? Take care of the basics first. You want to have stored food and water. Your normal preparations to be self reliant during disasters should be squared away. That should get you over the initial panic. The last thing you want is to be part of the mob fighting for the last bag of potato chips.

After that it gets tricky. Do you invest time and energy on gardens and livestock? That depends. How confident are you that you'll be able to keep your land? Can a bank call in your loan and take it? Will your neighbors descend on your garden like a swarm of locusts?
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You don't want to be caught up in the first round of whatever happens. Should massive foreclosures occur, the first round of people will have it the worse. In a real bad downturn, there will be strategies to retain your property. They can't foreclose on absolutely everybody as there will be blood in the streets. Either some reasonable accommodations will be made, or people will just stop paying their bills and the banks will go under.

Actually, nonpayment can be a good resistance tool. For example, student loans already have a high number of people not making payments. If they all stopped, it would collapse the system.

Be aware of restrictions on travel. You may have a plan to bug out, only to find roadblocks set up on your escape route. One way to limit civil unrest is to shut down travel, so that could happen. Also, they could quarantine an area to prevent disease spread. That could be either a real disease problem or an excuse. Find out what is what. Do you hunker down or do you have alternative travel plans?

There are any number of ways to resist as governments become more and more totalitarian. People stop paying taxes, loans, and find clever ways to ridicule the powers that be. It might be wise to dodge the draft.

What draft? For the war, of course. Failing governments often look to wars as a way to unite the country. Don't fall for it. A government that requires a war to stay in power deserves to collapse.

Whatever you do, remember that physical violence is a bad choice. If governments know one thing, it's how to dispense violence. Don't mess with the pros.

You are going to need a tribe -friends and family that you can count on. After the Soviet Union fell about the only way to get anything needed was to “know a guy.” It was all about relationships. The money was no good so barter had to suffice. Sometimes the barter deals got quite convoluted involving many different parties trading a variety of goods and services.

The most important skill will be adaptability. Keep your eyes open to change and adjust accordingly. Doing what you always did in the past will not work. Also, recognize that the collapse will probably not happen in the way you thought it might. Observe the situation and deal with what is real, not with what you wish would be real.

-Sixbears

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sound of Bursting Bubbles part I



The next economic downturn is going to be an interesting one.

When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, almost none of the bad actors took their lumps. Even blatantly criminal financial criminal activities were rarely and only sporadically punished. In a demonstration of massive political power, the banks turned private risk into public debt. Politicians who voiced opposition to the take over had their political careers destroyed.

Since then the hold of corporations on the levers of government have only gotten stronger. That's how tax bills with 75% disapproval ratings get passed. Corporations and the wealthy one tenth of one percent are doing quite well.

It's not going to last. There are signs that we are in another financial bubble. The stock market is one indicator. High prices are not justified by real earnings. Bitcoin has grown at a rate fast enough to cause nose bleeds. Even some real estate markets have gotten out of hand. Just to make things interesting, the laws that are supposed to protect the public have gotten even weaker.

There are also some major disruptions to the markets that fundamentally change the way markets work. Two big ones are manufacturing and energy. Even the Chinese have embraced automation as it out performs their low wages. It's worse in higher wage countries. Good manufacturing jobs will continue to disappear.

Fossil fuel markets are in disarray. There are some huge changes happening. Fracking has hurt traditional oil producers causing political upset. It's one of the factors behind the shake up in Saudi Arabia and political tension in Russia. Right now it's about the same price to build a wind or solar farm than it is to build a coal plant. If you go with wind or solar, your energy is then free. With a coal plant you still have to buy the coal. Alternative energy is still getting cheaper too.

One of the last big hold outs for fossil fuel has been transportation. Most people don't realize it, but electric cars and trucks will take over the market much faster than predicted. The technology is just about ready for prime time. Lower operating costs is going to be the driving force for the switch over. Electric vehicles will prove to be reliable and inexpensive to maintain.

Another thing that will have to be dealt with is the fact that people have less and less disposable money to spend. Millenials get a lot of flack for “destroying” certain parts of the economy. They aren't buying cars or houses in large enough numbers. Even restaurant chains are blaming them for their troubles. The fundamental problem for young people is that they don't have any money. They are burdened by huge student loans for educations that fail to provide high wages.

That's just a quick overview of the situation. The point is that the world markets will go through some upsetting times. We may be looking at a time of change as unsettling or even more disruptive than the Russian Revolution of a hundred years ago.

Tomorrow: how do we cope?

-Sixbears

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Creeping Inflation



Living out in the country, it's normal to stock up on hardware and materials. Sometimes years go by before having to stock up again. My supply of a certain type of wood screw and some heavy duty glue had run out, so a trip to the hardware store was in order. The price had gone up about twenty percent since the last time. Dang. That's a hit.

It wasn't a huge bill, but those little increases add up. My firefighter pension takes an act of the state legislature to go up, and that hasn't happened in well over a decade. In fact, the last time they acted on my pension I lost a thousand dollars a year. It's true that no one is safe when the legislature is in session.

Things you purchase on a regular basis go up too, but tiny incremental increases aren't as noticeable. Inflation is also masked by changes in the size of packages. Sometimes prices have been kept low by a drop in quality. Personally, I will never buy another Stanley tool or another Maytag washer.

So what's a person to do about it? Good question. The first thing is to accept that it's real. If you don't recognize the problem, you can't find a solution. Over the years my first response has been to find some other way to do it. If that doesn't work, my next go to move is to find some other place to save money. Then there's the third option, and I hate to go there: earn more money.

So why is that my third option and not the first? I place a huge value on my time and freedom. Think about it. All we have in life is time. We trade our precious life, in the form of working time, for money. It's one thing to do that because it's what you need to survive. It's something else to trade your life, energy, and freedom for cheap plastic trinkets. Talk about a bad deal with the devil.

In my case even small additions to the budget make a difference. If I can generate some occasional income, on my own terms, it's acceptable. Don't get me wrong, if there's an emergency I'll do any sort of honest work. However, if I can avoid such emergencies in the first place so much the better.

Sometimes I have to put a lot more mental and physical effort into a project. Take for example the time the well needed a new cover. It would have been simple enough to go to the lumber yard and pick up the materials. Instead, I went down to the swamp with a chainsaw and harvested some cedar poles. Those were used to frame the cover. The rest was made from plywood salvaged from a custom truck bed cover and a cargo rack for a car I no longer have.

Inflation is like an undeclared tax on your income. It will destroy your wealth as surely as anything else.

-Sixbears

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Coming Back North



I was having a chat with a neighbor the other day. He just spent 30 hours driving a moving truck up from south Florida. His cousin moved back north to die. That seems to happen an awful lot.

People leave the north and retire to a warmer climate. They tend to be still in pretty good health. They move south, play a lot of golf, do a lot of fishing, and explore the opportunities of their new home. Many split their time between the north and south. Those folks tend to spend more and more time in the warmer climate. It's tough to readjust to the cold. Many sell their homes up north and only come back for short visits, if at all.

As they age and health problems creep up on them; they don't got out very much. Many decided that they might as well be back where their old friends and relatives are. Then there are those who just want to die back where they grew up.

Of course not everyone does that. My mother, once in Florida, never came back north, not even to visit. Dad came up for short visits, mostly to go hunting. It did help that I went south and visited them a lot while they lived down there. Both my parents passed away while in Florida. However, their ashes are back here in New Hampshire.

It's said that you can never come home again. While that's true in the sense that things change while you are away, not everything changes. If there are still people there who love you, it's still home. Some just want to live in the mountains again before they die.

-Sixbears



Friday, December 1, 2017

Parts falling off the van



Just when you think you are done with vehicle repairs, something falls off. In this case it was the back bumper of the van. The van started life as an ambulance. Wheeled Coach built a nice wide heavy duty aluminum bumper. EMTs could climb up on it to get in and out of the back.

Unfortunately, the metal framework under the aluminum plate was steel and rusted away. It looked good, but didn't take much pressure to rip sections of the bumper off. Good thing it didn't fall off in the road and cause an accident.

The good news is that there was a very solid frame under the bumper. This will give me an opportunity to build a platform suitable for holding a bicycle or even a motor scooter. While it's annoyance to have one more project, a bike rack will be nice.

My lovely wife wants to learn how to drive the van. It's not really that hard, as it has an automatic transmission. The thing that intimidates here is its size. She's not too comfortable completely relying on mirrors either. There are few idiosyncrasies having to do with it being a diesel that can run on waste veggie oil. I'm glad she wants to learn as it can be a pain being the only driver.

-Sixbears