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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Break Time!

I'm taking a break from blogging for a bit. It's nothing too serious. I just need to focus on some other things for a bit.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The way I think sometimes



Across the lake from me some guy put up one of these signs, “drive like your kids live here.” Well, my kids are grown adults who know enough to stay out of the darn road. Maybe what he needs is a sign that says, “I failed to teach my kids to stay out of the road.”

When someone tells me they, “slept like a baby,” I offer my condolences. To me that means they woke up crying and hungry every two hours and then soiled their bed. I remember having babies.

Also bugged by the saying, “healthy as a horse.” So . . . you have a life expectancy of 25 – 30 years? Now if someone was healthy as a tortoise, that would be something.

Those signs on the higway that say, “construction ends.” All I can think of is, “destruction begins.” At that point I'm a lot more careful.

“Giving it the old college try.” This one isn't original to me, but I like it. So, “giving it the old college try,” means putting off the project until the last minute and ordering pizza while drinking cheap beer instead. If you've ever been to college you know it's true.

Sadly, “good enough for government work,” is still universally a way to say you are going to do a poor job of it and it doesn't matter.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Knowing that one guy



A friend of mine is pretty busy and sometimes hard to get in touch with. However, it's totally worth the effort.

In an evening's sort conversation:

He is going to weld one of my broken tools.
Fix the gasoline engine of a small generator I acquired.
We shared some information about good deals on solar electric batteries.
The guy may know someone who would like to buy my van.
He's going to set me up with some local maple syrup.
My buddy educated me on different boat trailer brake systems and gave me a link for inexpensive parts.

Of course, this is the guy who's house I wired and set up for off-grid operations, so it all comes around. Also may help him move a large propane generator he acquired.

Good to have friends.

-Sixbears

Monday, June 11, 2018

Battery Shopping



The battery bank on my solar electric system finally died over the winter while we were away. That came as no surprise as the batteries were pretty much shot last fall. However, ten years is a pretty good run for flooded lead acid batteries.

I was thinking of putting off buying new ones, but changed my mind. While it's tempting to pay down debt, it makes no sense to pay higher electric bills either. Buying batteries and getting the system up and running again is a good return on investment.

Battery development has been rapid in recent years. My hope was that they'd be economical for my storage needs. It turns out that good old fashioned lead acid is still the best bargain. While lightweight lithium batteries make sense in cars, light weight isn't necessary for a house. The only time when the weight of the house batteries matters is when they are installed. After that they just sit there.

Getting the solar electric system up and running makes sense economically, but it's more important to have them for grid down situations. Storms in the mountains still knock out power often enough to be a pain. Only makes sense to concentrate on getting the system sorted out once more.

-Sixbears

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tenting again



My lovely wife booked some camping time next month on the coast of Maine. We've been going to the same place since the kids were little. Now they have kids of their own. It's great to get out with family and friends. The campground has been owned by the same people the whole time, so they almost feel like family too.

Things have come full circle for us. We started out tent camping. Then we had a couple of vans that were equipped for sleeping. Now with the van dying we are back to tenting. Good thing we still like tenting. I've three two person tents in good shape. There is also a large eight person tent with attached screen house, and a big two room canvas tent. The canvas tent needs the poles repaired, but the others are pretty much ready to go. I'll take one of the big tents. If the weather turns bad it's nice having enough room to set up a table and chairs.

Our site is going to be one of those without electric power. That's not a problem as I pulled the solar electric components out of the van. It won't take long to set up a portable system. The non-electric sites are a lot less expensive in this campground, so it's all good.

One thing I recommend is testing out all your camping gear before heading out. You don't want to discover your tent has a big rip in it when you are setting it up in the rain. That would not be fun at all. Your camp stove is another item that could cause you grief. Nothing worse than being unable to make that first cup of coffee in the morning. While my lovely wife still thinks tenting is romantic, having a hot coffee in the morning keeps her mood up. No sense in suffering for nothing.

-Sixbears

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What's up with oil?



A Forbes article covers the fact that Venezuela's oil exports are heading towards zero. That's pretty dramatic for a country that once was one of the world's major exporters. So how will that affect the price of gas at the pump?

I have no idea. You'd think that taking a major player out of the equation would cause a spike, but I won't bet on it. I'm just some regular Joe who reads too much. What do the experts really know? Best I can tell, they don't really know for sure either. There are a number of reasons for that.

The big one is that it's nearly impossible to get hard numbers on things like production, storage, and even national consumption rates. A lot of oil is controlled by nationalized companies and they play their cards close to the vest. For that matter, the state of oil controlled by private companies is considered a company secret and they aren't honest either.

A couple of years ago my lovely wife and I were in the Bahamas. Did you know there are extensive storage facilities, oil ship terminals, and refinery capacity in the Bahamas? I didn't until I saw it with my own eyes. Talking to one of the locals he informed me that the tanks were full to the brim. They were holding back oil in the hope that prices would go up. As soon as they did they'd release their stockpiles and make a killing. The problem was that pries weren't going up fast enough and the cost of storage was starting to become significant. Somebody gambled wrong.

Governments will lie about supply for its own purposes. For example, once the pipeline that supplies most of oil for the East was knocked out. There almost was a major shortage that would have shut down sizable parts of the country. The extent of the problem was kept secret until much later, after things were normal again. To be fair, an announcement would have caused a run on the gas stations that would have wiped out supplies and caused shortages.

Most people don't realize how delicately supply and demand are balanced. Locally, one time a snowstorm prevented fuel tankers from delivering for a day. All but one gas station in the local area ran out of fuel. That was just from one day's disruption. Most people just shrugged and filled up the next day. Now imagine if the trucks could not come for a week? A month? How would things look then?

Modern civilization needs oil. It's a little disconcerting to realize that few people, if any, really knows the state of world supply. We could be swimming the stuff or about to run short. One thing you can pretty much count on, you won't know there is a crisis until it happens. There are too many vested interests keeping secrets.

-Sixbears

Friday, June 8, 2018

Just a reminder



You are on your own.

One thing last year's hurricane season demonstrated is that you are responsible or your own well being. That's especially true in the early days of a disaster. If a disaster is widespread, expect help to come much later and be much less effective. What you have left after a disaster is what you have to survive with. While response wasn't too horrible in most of Texas and Florida, the Keys were isolated for much longer. US possessions like Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are still a mess. The residents of those areas definitely know they are on their own.

I'm watching the weather closely this year. It's funny, I'm paying just as much attention to weather systems thousands of miles away as I am to local weather. Last winter my plans were altered due to the hurricanes down south. We'd planned on taking the sailboat to Keys, but decided to give them more time to sort out the wrecks, marinas, navigation aids, and the channels. I'm not sure exactly what we'll do if there's another bad season. Time will tell.

While hurricanes are fresh in my mind, I'm not forgetting all the other things that can wrong. All you have to do is to look at the rest of the world. Venezuela is a mess mostly due to poor governance. It goes to show that even a country with resources and smart people can be brought low. Brazil ground to a standstill by a truckers' strike. One of the things they were demanding was for the military to stage a coup. You can't make this stuff up.

Personally, I'm a big believer in bugging in, if you feel safe and have the resources to do so. On the flip side of that, being able to leave is if needed is a valuable option. I'm not just talking about having a bug out vehicle and a place to go. I'm taking about having passports and the means to the leave the country if necessary. That might sound extreme, but it gives you options. If you live near the border, going 50 miles to safety might involve an International crossing.

While I say you are alone, I only mean that in the sense that government aid might be slow in coming. If you have local resources like good neighbors, friends and family, your changes of surviving in good shape goes way up.

-Sixbears

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Round pegs and square holes



Those who live differently than the average person have some difficulties. In this world of standardized forms, being outside the box can be interesting. Recently I was watching a Youtube of someone who lives in their RV crossing from the US to Canada. Simple questions like “where do you live?” or “what do you do for work?” can trip you up. Saying you live in the RV and work on-line isn't what they are looking for.

Personally, I run into problems because I don't have a real job and don't pay taxes. Great fun if you want to get a loan or something like that.

A good friend of mine, who's self employed, was trying to buy a small house. The banks were giving him an amazing go around. He'd been successfully making his living that way for many years, yet they treated him like a panhandler. In the end, he didn't get the house. His wife got the house. She had a “real” job with a location, regular hours, and all the proper paperwork. They just dropped him out of the equation and went with the wife's income alone. It was enough, but made my friend feel a bit out of sorts.

Another friend was trying to buy a new tractor for his farm. They guy had no bills and had never bought anything on credit. As far as the bank was concerned, he didn't exist. They asked him if his dad could co-sign, but he pointed out his dad was even more of ghost than he was. Dad was even further off the grid.

The world is full of gatekeepers of one sort or another. They bar your access to everything from freedom of travel, access to financial services, education, medical services, and just everything else you need to live. Sometimes the only thing to do is to provide enough of a paper trail to get past the roadblocks. In a world of black and white, you might have to be a bit gray.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Good News, bad news



My lovely wife was finally able to get in to see a doctor. She was examined and X-rays taken. The good news is that nothing is torn in her elbow. It's tendinitis -uncomfortable, but doesn't need surgery. A two week course of treatment should do the trick. Considering she's had surgery on both shoulders, we were more than a little concerned. With that knowledge we can make plans for the rest of the year. Surgery would have required months of recovery time.

The trip to the doctors pretty much ate up the better part of the day. We were able to connect with friends and family in the evening. A friend's son is graduating from high school and there was a little celebration for him. This is one kid that needed to be raised by a village. Good to see he made it through school and survived to young adulthood. Glad to have been part of his village.

I also got to meet up with friends who were evacuated from St. Thomas island after the hurricanes. After the storm there was a three month grace period where people did not have to pay their mortgage. This is in Federal law. However, the banks are trying to say that people are in default and are trying to foreclose on people's property. That sort of thing is happening all throughout the islands.

My friend is going to be fine. He's educated, keeps track of all the paperwork, and can afford good legal help. Other people, without his means, will most likely get victimized all over again. Big banks stand to make a lot of money by stealing property and selling it to the highest bidder. It would not surprise me if one of these days predatory bankers get strung up on light poles. How more more can people take?

-Sixbears

Repair guy complaint



It's a common complaint among shady tree mechanics that you can't work on new cars anymore. Unfortunately, that applies to an awful lot of stuff. Much of our modern world has “no user serviceable parts inside.”

When I was a very young kid I remember tube testers in hardware stores. You could bring in your radio tubes and test to see if they were good. If they failed, you could buy replacement parts. Radios could be fixed. Sure, new radios are much cheaper and use a lot less energy. However, those old tube radios had a certain deep mellow sound that modern electronics just don't capture.

TV repair guys were a thing. My lovely wife's uncle used to be one. Times have changed. A guy I know had one of those really huge and expensive flat screen TVs. It had a display problem. While it might have been possible to repair it, the cost as almost as expensive as a new TV. As for myself, I buy smaller cheap ones and cross my fingers.

All electronics have pretty much become non-repairable disposable items. With that in mind, I still will open them up to see what's inside. It's surprising how often the problem is a simple internal fuse, bad switch, or disconnected wire. When I get modern electronics up and running again, people think I'm some kind of a wizard. Sadly, all too often the problem the problem is deep inside some circuit board buried in the innards and well beyond my abilities. At least I'm willing to try.

I feel bad for kids these days. They are growing up in a world where nobody gets their hands dirty repairing something. It's a waste of time to even try. That's a shame as repairing things is a great way to learn problem solving. You discover that you have some control over your environment. The age of tool using primates may be coming to an end.

-Sixbears





Monday, June 4, 2018

Free tow to Virginia?



One of my tentative plans for the fall involves sailing the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) from Virginia to south Florida. This trip would be solo. My lovely wife wants to sits this one out. That's fine. I could do the trip in our Oday 19. While it's a small boat, it's certainly big enough for one person. Plus, we already own it.

I won't have my tow vehicle anymore so something else will have to be done. One of my daughters has a nice truck and said she'd be willing to tow the boat down to Virginia That's really nice of her.

There's another possibility. A friend of mine was riding his ATV in the area and stopped in. Over coffee he mentioned that he's going to Virginia this fall to meet with his sister. He said his vehicle is perfectly capable of towing my boat down. That's a pretty sweet offer.

There's still the option of buying a bigger boat from somewhere in New England. The departure date would be moved up due to the longer distance. Then there's the little matter of hoping for a good weather window. The first part of the trip would involve a lot of open ocean sailing.

So the idea is that I'll be heading south on the ICE this fall in some sort of sailboat. However, a new problem just popped up. My lovely wife has been having problems with her elbow. She's afraid something might be torn and need surgery. If that happens, I'll stick around to take care of her. Imagine having to load wood in the stove with one arm in a sling. She wasn't going to ask me to stay, but is happy I offered to do so. Priorities.

-Sixbears

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Back to the motorcycle



I had a bad infection on my leg that's taken a long time to heal. It's still not 100% and I'm not sure it ever will be. There was some nerve and soft tissue damage. Whatever. It's good enough. One project in particular got put on the back burner: repairing my old KZ 900 motorcycle. Now I'm back at it.

Other projects have kept me busy since my lovely wife and I got home from our travels. With those under control, it's possible to get back to my fun motorcycle project. Over the last few days space has been cleared in the basement around the old bike. Tools, parts, and overhead lights were gathered together. The mechanic's manual was dug out of my office so I acutally knew what to do.

It was a simple thing, but I was able to finally change the clutch cable. There's still plenty more to do: install the gas tank, replace the rear directionals, new battery, oil change, and a new muffler. That should bring it up to state inspection standards. All the necessary parts have been gathered over time.

The seat cover is ratty. Paint and polish would help it's look. The bike will never be a restored show room piece, but it will run again. Rather than worry about using original parts, I was more concerned with getting free or discount parts. They will do the job.

Will I actually ride the beast? Sure, why not? That's the point, isn't it? Okay, I'm not a kid anymore. Maybe I'll end up selling it and putting the funds towards a sailboat. That would be the smart thing to do. Of course, I have a new helmet and decent safety gear, so I might just keep it.

Right now it just feels good to tinker with the old girl.

-Sixbears

Saturday, June 2, 2018

One More Trip



The van successfully completed another trip stuffed to the gills with firewood. I'm lucky my friend had a lot of oak to take down. My guess it that it's going to save me something like six or seven hundred dollars in heating expense. Definitely worth the trip. I've got a few more things to move, then the van goes up on Craigslist. Better to sell it while it's still running well.

On the way home I stopped in at a building supply place. My sledge hammer and splitting maul both needed new handles. Instead of the poor quality wood handles that I've had to use recently, I'm trying fiberglass replacements. They are about fifty percent more expensive than wood, but should last longer. We shall see. Splitting and piling wood is going to be a good workout.

I'm glad I'm saving money somewhere. The budget has been stressed lately. It's one thing to end the month broke. It's another thing to get paid, catch up on bills, and be broke at the beginning of the month. Oh well, so it goes. At least I caught up on the bills. Maybe I'm being too aggressive on paying down debt?

While at the store I piked up the plumbing I needed to move the washing machine. There are some rainy days predicted for next week. That would be a good time to do inside projects. Anyway, life goes on.

-Sixbears

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Next Crash



I started getting one of the early warning signs of an impending economic crash. Apparently, while I wasn't paying attention, local property prices have skyrocketed. When my new neighbor told me what he paid for his place, I thought he was robbed. Only later did I learn that it was in line with similar properties in the area.

The financial collapse warning sign, for me, is when my mailbox fills up with letters offering me money. My income is pretty static. I haven't gotten a raise in my retirement pension in many years. They aren't offering me money on the strength of my income. The offers are for home equity lines of credit. At first the offers come in from companies I've never heard of. Some of them are pretty sketchy. Later on in the process, offers start to come in from financial institutions that are household names.

We've reached that stage now. Offers from real brick and mortar banks are now appearing in the mail. That hasn't happened to me since sometime around 2008. Anybody remember what happened around then? The logical thing to do would be to take every dime I could get then disappear to a safer country far away. Things could get a bit weird here. Of course, I can't see how the collapse of an economy as big as the United States wouldn't affect the whole world. Maybe I'd better move to an island where the natives live on bananas and fish and make friends with the locals.

No doubt I'll just stick around and see how it plays out. At least I'll have a front row seat. Better stock up on popcorn.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 31, 2018

No Trailers



I was doing some research on my lovely wife's little car, a 2015 Nissan Versa Note. With the van on its last legs, I was wondering if maybe I could put a trailer hitch on the car. Of course, it was too small to tow a boat, but the thinking was that maybe it could pull my small utility trailer. In short, nope.

The car is so light that even a few hundred pounds of trailer would seriously affect its handling. Not only that, a trailer hitch would adversely affect its ability to withstand a rear end collision. When driving such a small car, you want all the crash protection you can get. Sometimes it's not worth taking chances.

You have to pay attention to those safety ratings. My cousin once borrowed an enclosed utility trailer to move stuff from Virginia to New Hampshire. The guy was using a small Jeep. He loaded up the trailer and headed out. At the first stop sign he blew right through it as the brakes weren't nearly strong enough. He successfully completely the trip, but it was a slow and dangerous journey. Only later did he figure out that the trailer exceeded the Jeep's towing capacity -while empty.

One of the people who we camped next to had a nice little pull behind camper. It was one of those ultra light designs that could be pulled by smaller vehicles. The owner wasn't very happy with it. His car pulled it just fine, but he didn't dare go over fifty miles per hour. The camper trailer was so light that at higher speeds it would get blown all over the road.

Pay attention to the tow ratings and leave yourself some slack. One guy told me his boat and trailer could be pulled by his vehicle, but only if the boat was absolutely empty. Forget about filling the water tank, gas tanks, and loading it with fishing gear. Not only that, there's a difference on the type of towing being done. Are you making short trips on level ground at low speeds? Maybe you plan on climbing mountains all day at highway speeds.

In our travels we see a lot of bad mismatches between tow vehicle and trailer. There's a lot of disasters waiting to happen going down the highway. Sometimes they even have the right vehicle for the job, but the wrong hitch. Those things matter. The roads are scary enough out there without taking unnecessary chances.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Some Travel Possibilities



My lovely wife and I are currently thinking of not replacing the van but getting a larger sailboat instead. Not that we want a huge sailboat, just one somewhat larger than our Oday 19. A 19 foot boat is a tad small for two adults and a dog. Especially since one of those adults, me, is about the size of two normal adults.

Currently we are thinking of picking up a boat somewhere in New England. Boats in the Northeast spend more time out of the water than in it. As long as they were winterized properly, they get a lot less wear than a southern boat.

I plan to single hand the boat down to Florida in the fall. Sometime before Christmas I'd find a safe place to keep the boat and fly home. After the holidays, my lovely wife, the sailor dog, and myself would drive back south. We'd sail southern waters until sometime in the spring. At that point we'd have the boat hauled out and stored for the summer.

There are advantages to not towing a boat. Our economy car uses about a third the fuel a tow vehicle would. It's a heck of a lot easier to drive and park too. In fact, we could decided at some point not to drive at all, but take a plane, bus or train instead. After seeing how crazy the highways were last winter, that's a tempting option.

There are different variations of this basic theme, but that's the general idea. While we'd have the expense of storing a boat, we would not be maintaining a large tow vehicle. Everything has trade offs. I would not mind selling off some of my other toys to make this happen. (Don't tell my lovely wife that.)

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mobility



Studies have show that people are less likely to move to a new job than they have in the past. Economists like to think that if people would just move from high unemployment areas to low unemployment areas, everything would be fine. That ignores a lot of factors.

Of course, unemployed steel workers aren't going to move to the Northwest to write computer code. Now if there was a steel mill somewhere that was hiring, maybe they'd do that. The problem is that whole sections of the economy go down at the same time. Your job isn't being lost to someone across the country, but across oceans.

There's another factor that I don't see in any of these articles about how people should go where the jobs are. Frankly, many of those jobs don't pay enough to make it worth the move. Moving across the country is expensive. Then there's the problem that selling your house in a down market may be impossible without taking a huge loss. At one time companies were willing to pay people to move. While that still happens, it's not as often nor are the companies as generous.

So you have people who are out of work, but they are in a place where they have roots. They have an extended social network. They don't have money, but have a lot of family and friends. Being able to rely on other people is a big deal. It takes a substantial increase in pay to replace that free help with paid help. For example, a friend of mine took a cut in pay to move his family back to his hometown. He made up the loss in pay by having family willing to babysit for free. Child care is expensive.

If you've already lost your job to a changing economy, you are less likely to take a chance in a new area. Everyone knows of someone who moved to a new job only to be laid off soon after. Then they are stuck with no job, no money, and no support system. It's no wonder people are staying put these days. In spite of what the economists say, it makes sense.

-Sixbears



Monday, May 28, 2018

Fuel prices and vehicle choices



Fuel prices are on the rise again. We were in a period of unusually low prices, in my opinion. Gas prices under three dollars a gallon came as a surprise to me, so I'm no expert. That being said, my guess is that prices will go up in the short term and be volatile in the long run. That's a concern when looking for a vehicle that is expected to last for years.

If you buy a gas hog and get stuck with high prices, that's bad. On the flip side, buying a vehicle with good mileage doesn't hurt you if fuel prices come down. What might happen is that you are stuck with a vehicle that's not large enough to do the job that needs to be done.

However, people do a lot of dumb things with it comes to buying cars. Let's say that 99% of the time they only need a smaller vehicle that gets good gas mileage. Instead of buying that, they get a huge pickup truck because they make a couple of trips to the garden store each spring. They'd be way ahead to get the smaller vehicle and renting a truck the few times they need one.

I could get away with driving larger vehicles because they were converted to run on waste vegetable oil that I picked up free from a local restaurant. It was a hassle, but the cost savings were significant. For various reasons that's not going to be an option for me in the future.

A few years ago we picked up a little Nissan Versa Note for my lovely wife. The hatchback allows us to carry quite a few things. With good Thule racks on the roof the car can carry everything from lumber to canoes. It gets real world mileage of 39 mpg. Not bad for a heavily loaded car traveling in the mountains.

That car was cheap, and after three years still problem free. The problem is that very soon we'll be down to only one vehicle. We can make that work, but it's often not convenient and will put more wear and tear on the car than would happen otherwise. For example, next month I've a commitment for a few days in Maine. During those same days there's an event in Vermont my lovely wife wants to go to. What to do, what to do?

I think that in the next few days I'll see if I'll be able to get my old motorcycle on the road. Its restoration was set back when my leg got injured. Now that I'm doing better, it might be time to see if the old bike can be fixed up. It would at least solve our short term transportation issues at the end of June. (assuming, that is, that the bike runs and passes inspection.)

Then there's issue of what to do for next winter. We had planned on towing our Oday 19 behind the van and doing a mixture of sailing and camping. With the van out of the picture, that's not going to happen. Of course, our budget is limited, so the problem can't be solved by throwing money at it. People with unlimited funds never get the joy of figuring out solutions on a tight budget. It's very intellectually stimulating.

Right now I'm putting together a lot of possible ideas. By not locking myself into one path, I'll be able to take advantage of random opportunities that come my way. This is called, “luck” by the uninitiated.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Uncampering?



I've decided to strip the van of all the camping stuff I added to it. The bed and tables are out. Yesterday the house battery, 1000 watt inverter and charge controller were removed. The solar panel will come off when it stops raining. There's still a microwave to remove and plenty of miscellaneous gear.

The whole waste veggie tank and system will stay. That's a technology that's run its course for me. In the past, I've salvaged veggie components to use in the next veggie vehicle conversion. There won't be a next veggie vehicle. There's a couple of reasons for that. Waste veggie use to be readily available. Now it's harder to find free sources as there's a commercial bio-fuels market. The second reason is that diesel engines have become too complicated to easily convert over to waste veggie oil.

I had a good long run with waste veggie vehicles, two Mercedes cars, a Ford F-250 truck, and now this E-350 van. The van's 7.3 turbo diesel powerstroke engine has just enough electronic gizmos to be finicky. I had to be extra careful on the veggie I used and the temperature of the oil. A couple of rather expensive electric pumps burned out before I figured that out. Still, over the years, I've saved thousands of dollars on fuel.

The van will be sold on the cheap. I'm going to be very clear about its problems. It could be fixed up and registered again, but I don't have the time, money, or energy for that. Perhaps it would be a good source of parts. The tires alone will probably be worth what I'll ask for it.

My lovely wife and I have a camping trip planned for early July. Looks like we'll just throw a tent in the back of the car and call it good. No problems. My lovely wife never lost her love of tents. It's all good.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Post Travel Depression



It's a fairly common thing for people who travel. They have an amazing trip. The highs are higher. The lows are lower. Life is more intense. Then you get back home. It feels good to connect with people. You might kick back a few days. You take some hot showers and eat some good meals. All is good, right?

Maybe not. Life become pretty bland. At first people may be interested in the things you've done, but interest soon wanes. After a while nobody wants to keep hearing about the amazing things you've seen. They heard about it once or twice, and really, that's enough. Life goes on.

You can feel pretty empty at that point, especially if you've had to step back into a normal life. Some people find the only way to deal is to head out on another adventure. That's how you get people who circumnavigate the planet six times. Some people hike the Appalachian Trail, come back, then soon are planning their next big hike. Many cannot go back to their old lives at all.

Let's assume, however, that you choose to continue with your old life, at least for a while. How do you deal with the depression? How do I keep it at bay? I've got a few things in my favor.

The first is that my lovely wife and I were gone for three and a half months. That's long enough that taking a break doesn't feel too bad. It's those who do something for a week or two, then have to go right back to work that have real difficulty. They had just settled into adventure mode and then find themselves back in the mundane world. Some people, near the end of their adventure, are already getting depressed as they aren't ready to return.

When we got back, we took some time to connect with family and friends. That was a good transition. Electronic communication is nice, but doesn't replace human contact. Hugs don't transmit well over the air waves.

For a while, I was too busy getting the house up and running to get depressed. Then we both dove into a lot of home projects that have been piling up. We are at the point now where all the critical stuff has been dealt with. There's time to think, and maybe time to start feeling a bit down. One can't work full speed all the time.

We've taken a few short trips, and that helps. Time sailing on the lake helps. It's good to get out of the house, even if just for a day or two.

One of the big things that keeps me going is planning the next adventure. With our camping rig heading for the boneyard, we have to figure out a lot of stuff from scratch. We can't just do what we did last year. I'm filling up notebooks with ideas, and doing a lot of research.

That's great, but I have to find a balance. Somehow I have to divide my time between my responsibilities and my adventures. Lately I may have been avoiding certain responsibilities for mental health reasons. I could justify putting some more boring things to the back burner as there was plenty of other projects in need of doing. Now it's time to buckle down and knock off some of those things I've been avoiding. It might be safe to do so, without those things driving me crazy.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 25, 2018

New Neighbors



Looks like I'm going to have new neighbors. The place across the street has finally sold. The previous owner used the property for a gravel pit. It's in serious need of remedial landscaping. To satisfy the insurance, the new owner had to throw up some plywood on the porch to block off the open railings. He's got two weeks to put siding on the place.

The new owners plan on living there full time, so are looking to fix it up. They have their work cut out for them. The guy seems nice enough. I hope they'll be good neighbors. They are probably wishing that about me too.

It's the original piece of property that my dad owned on the lake. He bought it back in the early '70s for $4000. Back then it included the land my place is sitting on, so had water access. The new owners don't have that. My dad sold the camp to my uncle and used the money to build the original camp that's now the first floor of my house. After my uncle sold it, the place changed hands a number of times. The new neighbors paid over $80,000 for the place.

When I first moved up to the lake, there were only a handful of year round residents. There are more now, but it's still mostly seasonal cottages. Once the kids get out of school for the summer, it will be a busy place. It dies down to nothing again by September.

I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll get along with the new people.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Lake sailing



If you are going to live on a lake, you'd better play in the water from time to time. Otherwise, you are paying a lot of tax money for nothing.

My intent was to do some work on the boat. The depth gauge hadn't been working for some time. The exact same model was on sale at Amazon so replacement was easy. No need to drill any new holes. After changing the display, it still didn't work. The device lit up but wouldn't give a reading.

The transponder had been epoxied to the inside of the hull deep in the bilge. It looked fine, but once I got my hands on it, (working upside through a hatch) the unit was loose. I rebedded it to see if that was the problem. If that doesn't work, I'll install the new transponder.

That project really didn't take too long. What I really wanted to do is to go sailing. It feels good to be on a sailboat again, even on a small lake. Later my lovely wife and the dog joined me. Once she came aboard I gave up the tiller.

Here's a pro tip, if you sail, make sure your spouse knows how to operate the boat. Should you fall overboard, they'll be able to turn around and come back for you. Over the years a number of captains have been lost because their crew had no idea what to do. The problem is made worse if there's an auto helm or a wind vane. The boat will continue to sail away all on its own. Imagine falling overboard and watching your boat disappear over the horizon.

Giving up the tiller to your spouse so they can become experienced is a good safety procedure. Almost as important is the fact that your significant other will enjoy boating a lot more if they aren't just a passenger. They won't resent time on the boat and won't resent your hobby. Not only will they be able to come back and get you, they'll want you back.

-Sixbears



Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Pizza



I was at a friend's house in Maine the other day. He lives in what's considered a rural area. However, there's rural and there's rural. His house is near a busy cross roads that, for whatever reason, has attracted a number of businesses. Within five minutes of his house, there's four places that make decent pizza.

It's funny the things you miss living out in the country. When I moved to my rural area there was nobody that made pizza. We are just far enough out of town that a pizza is guaranteed to be stone cold on arrival. I love pizza,but it has to be fresh.

One person in town missed pizza so much that bought a commercial pizza oven for his home. While I didn't go that far, I learned how to make a pretty good pizza -fresh dough crust and everything. You've got to start with fresh dough, or it's a waste of toppings. I can make pizza in everything from a woodstove to a toaster oven. I can even make it in a cast iron frying pan while camping.

Since then, there a two places in opposite sides of my town that sell pizza. One has your basic gas station pizza. It will keep you alive but tastes like . . . something from a gas station. On the other side of town is a gas station/grocery store/restaurant that makes good pizza. It's close enough that the pizza gets home still warm, as long as there's no snow on the roads. The place always seems to be for sale and on the verge of closing. It's been like that for years now, but continues to crank out pretty darn good pizza.

I used to say that civilization is hot showers and cold beer. To that I've got to add pizza. When you think about it, there's a lot of stuff that has to come together to make a decent pizza. There are long distribution lines for the ingredients. Conditions have to be right for a business to bring everything together and deliver the product to the customer.

If pizza ever becomes a rare thing, I'll know that collapse is well advanced.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Successful trip



The van survived the first firewood trip. It's still running a bit rough, but better than it was. The van was able to climb through Pinkam Notch in the White Mountains. That's with about a cord and a half of firewood and while burning fryer grease. Not bad. Glad to make it home in one piece. My buddy's got another load for me, but we can't get together until next week.

It's going to be fun unloading the firewood, but I've got all day. Right now I'm pretty beat and calling it a day.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wood Hauler



Yesterday I was checking over the trailer before using it to haul wood. The bearings didn't have any extra slop in them. I topped off the bearing buddies with grease. The tire pressure looked good, but that was going to be checked next anyway. However, what came to light next put the brakes on the whole project. About six inches of the tire tread had lifted away from the inner core, right down to the inner canvas. How the whole thing made it to the transfer station and back the other day was a mystery to me. Sometimes you get lucky and don't even know it at the time.

Today I'm on my way to pick up wood with just the van. By removing all the camping stuff, there's room for at least a cord of wood. My buddy claims he has at least three cords of wood for me, so that's at least three trips.

The engine was running a bit rough after I changed the diesel fuel filter. Something wasn't quite right. After sleeping on it, the though came into my head that I might have forgotten to reconnect something. It took some digging around, but eventually I found a plug that had been shoved to the back of the motor and out of sight. Reconnecting it should smooth out the engine. I got too busy to give it a test run, so I'm going to find out today.

Hopefully the van holds together long enough for me to haul stuff around. After the firewood trips I'd like to make a run to the building supply store fifty miles away. While a lot of stuff can be tired onto the roof racks of the car, things like full sheets of plywood and twelve foot lumber fits right inside the van.

I'm going to miss it when it's gone, but it will need more work than I care to put into a seventeen year old vehicle.

Sixbears

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Planning for winter



Planning for winter never stops. I'm both piling up firewood and trying to figure out how to snowbird next winter. If something happens and I can't travel, I'm going to need the house totally squared away. Besides, even when we don't spend the bulk of the winter here, it's still cold on the shoulder seasons. Right now temperatures often still hover around freezing at night.

I've a friend who cut down a lot of oak and all I have to do is to get it home. The van should last long enough to bring the wood over. Normally, I like the convenience of getting pallets of compressed fire blocks dropped off. However, free wood is free wood. Lots of exercise, but hey, I don't have to belong to a gym.

We've hit the ground running since we got back. The house is showing improvements so I'm encouraged. Connecting with family has been great. I find myself traveling all over New England to family events, but it's worth it.

My lovely wife and I are debating on what to do next winter. We could make things work with what we've got. It is tempting to reorganize our finances and get a bigger boat. I may be more tempted than she is, but I suffer more in the winter.

Having damaged lungs is no joke. I was injured while working as a firefighter, so it drives me nuts when I see young people smoking. Why do that to yourself for no reason? They should know better and they'll miss their lungs when they are gone. Respiratory problems affect your whole life, if they don't kill you outright.

Had my lungs never been injured, I'd probably have never become a snowbird. Frankly, I miss cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. On the flip side, I'd probably never have learned the joys of sailing either.

-Sixbears



Saturday, May 19, 2018

Lost to the electronic screens



I think the world would be a better place if people got out in nature more. Too many people spend all day, every day, looking at screens. The simulation of reality is better than reality itself. Of course, if you live in a dirty city, I suppose it could be.

Sometimes my lovely wife and I walk down to the lake to sit quietly and look out over the water. This last time we watched loons, osprey, ducks, and a kingfisher do their stuff. We listened to the wind in the trees and breathed in the air. Small fish came right up to the shore. Insects buzzed lazily around. The sun reflected off the water, illuminating it like a field of diamonds.

It beat the heck out of looking at a screens all day. Of course, the real world also involves the hike down the hill to the water. There's the occasional black fly trying to steal a little blood. The real world is a mix of breath taking beauty, with the occasional spice of danger and petty annoyances. One learns to take the bad with the good.

One thing about my little nature walks: It usually does me a lot of good, both physically and mentally. Hard to get that from the flashing lights on the screens.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 18, 2018

Last of the van trips



There were a couple of things I wanted to do with the van before getting rid of it. One was launching the sailboat in the lake. That went well enough. The second thing was bringing a utility trailer full of junk to the transfer station.

That was a fiasco. First of all, I never liked going there. It's always a hassle. You need a permit to dump stuff. Everything goes to different places at the transfer station. Some of the people who work there are little tyrants.

We've been slowly adding junk to the trailer since last summer. Because of that, everything was well mixed together. I knew I'd have to sort everything out by hand. The place was packed. They were doing everything by the book. There's a weigh station where you are supposed to get weighed coming in and going out. That was total confusion as people kept trying to enter from both sides at the same time. The attendant was alone and trying to be three places at once.

Eventually the guy waved me in. My permit checked out. The worker studied my load and told me where to put everything. So far, so good. Everything had to be unloaded, sorted, and then the van driven to the next area. By the time I got to the end of the line, the other attendant didn't agree with the first guy on where stuff should go. Some of my load had to be hauled back to an earlier station. While this is going on, other people are trying to maneuver their trucks and trailers around. It felt good to get out of there.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Winter Report



The dog and I were walking down the road and ran into a neighbor. I asked him how his winter was. He was pretty quick to say it was terrible: bitter cold, snow, it would warm up, rain and then everything would freeze. He had to break up a foot of ice with pick and shovel to use his driveway. This guy's in his 70s, rececntly recovered from cancer and has a new hip replacement.

He did have two good weeks where he was down to Florida. He and his wife were tempted to rent a place down there for next winter. However, they decided at the last minute not to. The traffic intimidated him. Worse, he thought he'd be bored down there.

May I never get so set in my ways that I can't find something interesting to do. Retirement is wasted on some people. He and his wife are now in reasonably good health and have plenty of money. They are really starting to suffer from northern winters, but can't figure out a good alternative.

Maybe I'm lucky that I've always had to figure out how to do things on a limited budget. It forces me to think outside of the box.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Rainy Day Project



My lovely wife and I decided to work inside due to getting some much needed rain. We finished laying down flooring in one of our loft rooms. All the materials were salvaged. It was a bit more time consuming to reuse rather than buy new. However, we saved a bundle of money. The job would not have happened otherwise. All that's left is to install the baseboard.

My adult niece has already been using it as an art studio. She likes the space and it beats working in her room. Her art has started so sell, so that's a good thing. The space is big enough that we can still use it as a guest room.

We are making progress on reorganizing and clearing up clutter. That job is made a bit harder by the ongoing projects. Home improvements tend to make clutter of their own. In spite of that, things are starting to look better.

One of my next indoor projects will be moving the washing machine. It's in an addition of the house that extends past the basement. For years we've been dealing with freezing water lines. My “temporary” solution was to install a heater that could be turned on to thaw the lines. The solution worked well enough, but I was always bothered by having to use a heater. Plus, it was annoying. Our reorganizing has cleared out a space in the house where freezing won't be a problem. Of course, the supply lines and drain line will need to be redone. Such is life.

That will wait a bit, as some sunny days are in the forecast. Looking forward to wrapping up some outside chores.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Joys of Home Ownership



Monday, I got to do one of my least favorite jobs. Some projects, by virtue of their necessity, jump to the top of the list. This time it was a plugged septic line. My readers don't need to know the gory details. However, it's as nasty a job as you'd imagine it would be.

That kicked a big hole in my schedule, but other things did get done. At one time my house used a lot of propane, but now the only thing left on propane is the dryer. Rather than pay for a huge tank of propane that would last for years, I changed the system to run on little twenty pound tanks. It was time for more propane.

If you use twenty pound tanks for anything don't use a propane tank exchange. They often short you on the volume. Go to a place that can fill your old tank. That way you get what you pay for. Locally, it's cheaper for me to get refills rather than use an exchange. The only time I'll use an exchange is when my tanks start to look beat up and rusty.

I got to lay down some carpet in an upstairs loft room, but didn't quite have enough time to finish the job. My little sewage fiasco took too long.

The van is slowly getting cleaned out of all my camping stuff. Since we used it as a bug out vehicle, there's a lot of gear to find a new home for. We will miss being able to go camping at the drop of a hat. The key is to have a place to store everything you need to hit the road at a moment's notice. That's what we did before we got the van. We could load up the car for an extended camping trip in 20 minutes. That's not too shabby.

Projects are slowly getting done, even the sudden ugly ones that are unhappy surprises.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 14, 2018

Flexible Plans



It's good to have a plan for dealing with catastrophe. Any prepper worth their salt will have a plan. If you plan on bugging in, you'll have food, shelter, water, and security squared away. If bugging out, you'll have a vehicle, a place to go, supplies and all that.

That's great and all, but while man plans, the gods laugh.

You may have a secure homestead in a rural area and be ready for a whole host of disasters. When something happens, you could be across the country at your Aunt Millie's funeral with no way to get back.

Someone may have a good solid plan on how to escape their area on foot, but end up with a broken leg. Stuff happens.

Not only that, disasters can go on for a lot longer than you may expect. If a disaster is widespread, it is going to take a lot longer to get assistance.

There's no rule that just one thing will happen at a time. Look back to what happened in Japan a few years back. First there was an earthquake. That was followed by a huge tsunami. The water from that caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant to spew radiation. Some people had to deal with all three disasters.

There are preppers who think that it's possible to buy their way out of trouble. While it's nice to have all the latest gadgets and supplies, that's not enough. You could get separated from your preps, or you could lose them in something as simple and common as a fire.

That's where having skills and being flexible will come in handy. It's not necessarily the strongest or the ones with the most gear who survive. It's the ones who can adapt that have the real advantage.

-Sixbears

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Filters, filters, filters



I was on a short overnight road trip downstate to take care of some business. I took the van so my lovely wife could have the car while I was gone. Also, I’m using up my stored veggie oil before getting rid of the veggie van.

The trip down was fine. It’s on the way up where the problems started. First it was the veggie side of the fuel situation. Normally, it’s the veggie filter that’s plugged. There were a lot of miles on it so I figured it was due. While it looked dirty, changing it didn’t solve the problem.

So I drive a few miles up the road and discover the same old problem. I turned off the highway once more to tinker with the veggie fuel. It took removing a few connections to find the problem. One of the lines had plugged up with gunk. After clearing that up the veggie ran fine.

However, my problems were not over for the day. Not too many miles later, the van lost power and could barely crawl up the hills. Turns out the diesel fuel filter had to be changed too. It probably should have been changed as a matter of course. In our travels it’s almost inevitable that we’d pick up a bad load of diesel. It was just bad luck that both fuel systems gave me problems on the same day.

Fortunately, I had a spare filter and the tools needed to replace it. Unfortunately, the filter is located deep in the engine. A lot of parts have to be removed to get to it and it’s a tight area to work in. Jut to make things interesting, the engine was good and hot. I was too impatient to wait for it to cool down so it was tough on my hands.

The first time I changed that diesel filter it took me half a day. Since then I figured out a system, and I keep all the tools handy to do the job. Of course, I always carry a replacement filter. The job took about 45 minutes, which wasn’t bad. One thing I haven’t figured out is how to change a filter without getting dirty up to my elbows and messing up a shirt. Oh well, that’s what soap is for.

The new diesel filter did the job and I made it home. Sure felt good to be back.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 11, 2018

Road Trip, the Early Days



Let's go way back to the early days of our traveling, almost twenty years ago. The first winter we traveled in a Dodge Neon. We'd bought it second hand for one of my daughters to use for school in Florida. After her graduation she wanted a better car so we got the Neon.

Dodge Neons were cheap cars known for being unreliable. However, we happened to end up with one of the few that provided good service over many miles. Of course, we didn't know that at the time. It would not have been the vehicle we would have chosen for our travels. It was the one we had.

I put a trailer hitch on it so it could carry a cargo rack for more luggage. To carry our canoe we put on a good set of Thule roof racks. We had a lot of camping gear, our canoeing stuff, a huge cooler and a dog. Somehow we fit it all in.

We left northern New Hampshire and made our way south. In the moutains of Pennsuvania we encounted a freak snowstorm. It was much worse than predicted. The Neon was struggling with the load while fighting through the deep snow of unplowed roads. We were out in the middle of nowhere and running out of gas. To go a few more miles, I poured all our Coleman fuel into the gas tank. Even emptied the cookstove fuel into the tank.

That took us a few more miles down the road where we made it to an open gas station. That solved one problem, but the driving was terrible and we were still out in the middle of nowhere. We were really starting to question this whole traveling thing. Fortunately, about a half hour later we came upon an open hotel with an attached restaurant.

Imagine our relief. We went from horrible driving contions to having a safe place to stay and decent hot food. The whole travling idea was starting to look a lot better. We went on to have an excellent winter of camping.

By the next winter we were still in the Neon, but we'd pared down our gear to the point where the cargo rack could stay at home. It was much smoother going the second time around.

Thinking back, we've traveled with a whole variety of vehicles, including a couple of sailboats. We always figure something out and have a good time.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tentative Van Decision



I picked up the van and my mechanic and I went over its issues. In the short term, it's safe to use. He pointed out something that could become a problem down the road. Rather than take a chance that the bad thing happens when I'm two thousand miles from home, I'll probably put it up for sale this summer.

Before I do, I've got a lot of hauling to do. I've a utility trailer full of junk that needs to go to the transfer station. A friend has offered me about three cord of oak firewood for cost of taking it away. I'd also like to make a trip to the lumber yard and pick up materials for some building projects. Once those projects are done, I could let the van go.

We've had it for seven years. Considering it was ten years old when we got it, that's not too bad. Heck, I could drive a new car into the ground in seven years, never mind a used vehicle.

Since we've been back I've been putting in some long days. In fact, I don't think I'm getting enough sleep. There's no excuse for that. After all, I'm supposed to be retired. Really don't know when I found time to go to work.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sell the van?



I just put another $430 into the van. It's getting to the point where I'm seriously thinking about selling it. Repairs are starting to add up. My mechanic tells me there are some other potential expenses not that far down the road.

It's a hard decision as I'm not really in a position to buy another tow vehicle. My lovely wife even mentioned selling the sailboat too as we'd have nothing to tow it with. I'm not in too much of a hurry to sell the boat, as we can always keep in the lake for the summer. I've enough family and friends with trucks willing to pull it out of the lake for me. For that matter, I could even build a ramp and winch it onto my beach for the winter. There are options.

We haven't made any firm decisions. In the mean time, I've a lot of hauling to do with it. A friend has offered about three cords of firewood for the cost of taking it away. There's also a lot of junk to trailer to the dump this summer too.

I'm not sure if I'll sell it as a camping rig, or strip all the gear out of it and sell it as a stripped van. Heck, I'm even sure if I'll even sell it at all. Maybe after I have an in depth conversation with my mechanic I'll be in a better position to decided. This information has thrown a monkey wrench into some of our plans. Oh well, life is full of little disruptions.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Maine Island Trail Association



My lovely wife and I joined the Maine Island Trail Association. There's a whole series of islands off the coast of Maine that people are allowed to use. Some are day use, but many allow camping. They are geared mainly towards sea kayaks, but sailboats are welcome too. Many of the islands have decent moorings or anchorages.

We spent a good part of the evening going over their guidebook and coordinating it with Active Captain. Maine has some of the most interesting sailing in the world, but only a couple months of really good sailing weather. We hope to get out and enjoy it this year.

I went over the solar electric system of the sailboat Monday. It didn't work right away, but the problem was just a corroded connection, an easy fix. Unlike last year, the boat was well covered, keeping snow and water out of the cockpit. The boat only need a few minor touches. A new depth gauge is on order, and the boat could use a good cleaning. After that it'll be ready for launch.

Looking forward to a good season of New England sailing.

-Sixbears

Monday, May 7, 2018

Quality Control



At some point companies came to the conclusion that it's cheaper to give refunds than to do quality control.

The most recent example for me is when I tried to top off the air in my trailer tires. On one tire the valve stem had no threads. There was no way to screw on the air hose from my little compressor. Eventually I used one of those clamp on air hoses. Of course, without the threads to provide grip, it kept popping off. The only way to top off the tire was to hold it onto the valve. I don't know if I'll live with it or get annoyed enough to get the valve replaced. Of course, I bought it over a year ago and the receipt is long gone.

My mechanic says that he loses a lot of money due to parts being defective right out of the box. Sometimes the problem is obvious, like when I discovered Ford brake pads in a Dodge brake pad box. Often it's impossible to know if the part is good or not until it is installed. The parts companies always replace the part, but his labor is lost. His clients aren't too happy with the delays either.

If you live out in the country it's even worse. I order a lot of stuff by mail. If it's bad, days are lost when it's shipped back. Sometimes it's for important things like water pumps or generators -things you are depending on.

Then there is defective safety gear. One time I ordered a battery powered emergency beacon that clips onto a life jacket. The company sent me three defective ones in a row. How does that even happen? As you can imagine, I had zero confidence in that piece of safety gear. Imagine falling overboard at night and your beacon fails. Guess which comapany I'm never dealing with again.


-Sixbears

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Thunderstorms



Thunderstorms with high winds took down utility lines over a significant area. My Internet came back not that long ago. There is a lot of damage all around me. Neighbors lost some big trees. One place had a number of large spruce fall on the roof.

Our house is fine, with only small branches scattered about. I've yet to walk the rest of the property and there may be trees down near the lake.

One thing about living in this area is that everybody has a chainsaw. Roads were made passable in short order. I lost a day to the storm and will have to catch up. However, Sunday is a day of rest so I'm not going to overdue it.

-Sixbears

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Positive Trends



My previous post concerned the signs of possible systemic collapse. There are some serious problems and I gave a brief overview of a few that merited watching.

However, not all is doom and gloom. There are some positive trends.

Believe it or not, the world is actually a less violent place than it was in the past. That includes everything from major wars to crime. The statistics show a general trend to a more peaceful world. Of course, that could change at the push of a nuclear button, but we've already survived decades of nuclear stand off. So far, so good. There's also the possibility that in a more connected world, it's harder to look at other people as being less than human. That makes it harder to hate them.

We've never been connected to more information and people. That's huge. Really good ideas can easily sweep the world. Best practices can be shared and adopted everywhere. People can see something great and decide they want that for themselves. It's never been easier for people to self educate. No need to hole up in a library when the world's information is available on your phone.

Most people don't realize how quickly we are moving to sustainable energy. Solar and wind are no longer “alternative energy.” In many places they are the cheapest and best solution. Prices keep dropping.

Electric transportation is growing by leaps and bounds. We think of things like electric cars, but electric buses, trucks, and scooters will probably have a faster impact. Electric buses make sense as they travel fairly short routes in urban areas. Electric trucks will be short haul at first, but since their operating cost is lower than fossil fuels, there's incentive to expand as quickly as possible. Electric scooters will have a huge impact in places like India and China, where scooter transportation is common.

Food problems? The world has enough food for everyone. The problems mostly concern storage and transportation.

There will be financial upsets in the future. The business cycle has not be abolished. Fiat currencies have a finite lifespan. Some bad times appear to be unavoidable. A financial crisis just might be the stimulus for the development and implementation of a saner financial system. A system that concentrates most of the world's wealth to fewer and fewer people does not make sense. None of the current economic systems appear to have all the answers. Perhaps pulling the best elements from many systems could do the job.

So there you have it. I'm not totally a doomer. I've got hope . . . and preps, just in case.

-Sixbears

Friday, May 4, 2018

Danger on the horizon?



We live in interesting times. While on the road I didn't follow the news that closely. Now that I'm home, have more inside time, and unlimited Internet data, I'm catching up. Its scary out there.

One the big surprises was discovering the US military battled Russian mercenaries in Syria in February and killed a lot of them, possibly hundreds. Russia downplayed the whole incident. Maybe we should be grateful for that. Looks like they threw their people under the bus to avoid an International incident.

Israel wants to go to war with Iran so bad they can taste it. Of course, they want drag the US into it with them. Israel has some serious domestic issues going on right now. One way to push those aside is to have an outside war for everyone to focus on.

There are some serious financial problems quietly growing behind the scenes. Business as usual isn't going to cut it. Keep an eye on fuel prices, banking, and trade. We may already be in a trade war with China. Apparently they've stopped buying US soybeans. That's going to ripple though the economy as the market is huge.

Speaking of China. Did you know they won the conflict in the South China Sea? They successfully made a grab for more territory and the control of vital trade route. They did it by building basses on contested islands. Recently they added power missiles, that pretty much sealed the deal. The occasional US warship passing through doesn't change things one bit. Basically, those fortified islands are unsinkable aircraft carriers.

Love him or hate him. The President is in legal trouble. There is so much being thrown at him that something will stick. Did his new lawyer, Rudy, just throw Trump under the bus? I was surprised when he went to work for Trump as a lawyer. Rudy was shut out of any role in the new administration. After hearing him undermine Trump's Stormy Daniels case on TV, I had to wonder if Rudy was getting revenge.

Of course, collapse rarely has one cause. We've weathered all these sorts of problems before. Countries and civilizations fail too many problems hit, either at the same time or one after the other.

I don't know if we are looking at serious problems or if we'll weather them fine. However, I'm keeping a eye on developments. While you can't stop the volcano from blowing, you don't have to live on the side of it.

-Sixbears

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Weather and plumbing



What a difference a week makes. A week ago it was snowing. Yesterday it was 85 degrees. Heavy rain Monday and Tuesday saturated the ice on the lake. Then Wednesday's warm temperatures plus high winds destroyed the last of the lake ice. We went directly from winter to summer.

I was able to go on a good walk with the dog, but a lot of the day was taken up with a little plumbing project. The hot water faucet for the shower had a bad drip that kept getting worse. It could not be ignored any longer. Just changing the seals wasn't working.

There are shut offs for the hot and cold water in the upstairs bathroom. Unfortunately they are located in the basement. I did a lot of stair climbing as I tried different fixes for the problem. A plumber recommended that I take the cartridge to the hardware store so they could match it. Of course the exact part is discontinued, but they did have something that was supposed to work. It took four trips up and down the stairs, pulling everything apart, reassembling and then testing before it was fixed.

Just to make the job more interesting I was dealing with a sinus headache. I don't get them very often, but when I do, they really hold my attention. It made the job a lot harder. In the end, everything finally worked the way it was supposed to. Sometimes it's not a matter of being clever. It's a matter of being tenacious.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Three and half months of mail



Tuesday I plowed through three and a half months of mail. The vast majority of it was paper copies of things that I took care of on-line. All I had to do with those was to open envelopes and then file them. Some things I like to have actual paper records of.

There were only two items that probably should have been attended before now. One was a small life insurance bill. They got paid late, but not terribly late. In a week or so I'll get a bill for something like three dollars and fifty cents worth of interest. No biggie.

The other one was a medical bill. Here's the thing, I saw the doctor months before we left. The bill only came in after we'd already hit the road. I called the hospital and they were just about to put my bill into collection. The check is in the mail -really it is.

All in all, it wasn't too bad. I did the vast majority of my business while on the road without too much trouble.

Once that was done I hustled down to town hall to register my boat and trailer. There was only one person ahead of me, and they were wrapping up as I came in. I had a pleasant talk with the town clerk. She had my registration done in five minutes. I love living in a small town.

The ice should finally be off the lake sometime today. The ice has broken into a series of big sheets of pencil ice. A strong wind could finish it off. If that doesn't happen, its supposed to be in the 70s today and that should do it.

I want to launch the boat before my van's appointment at the garage next Tuesday. It's getting an oil change, but I'm also having my mechanic check the brake work that was done in Florida. Things are moving along. We've pretty much gotten back up to speed.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Private space



The younger generations appear to have no sense of privacy. Their reaction to the revelations that Facebook was selling their information was a resounding, “Meh.” It's what they expected to happen. On the other hand, maybe they are just more realistic of what to expect from corporations.

One thing that drives me nuts is how people have deeply personal phone conversations in public. My lovely wife and I were in a coffee shop. The woman across from us was scolding someone on the phone. It went on and on. At first I thought she was talking to an ex-husband. Only at the end did I realize they are still married. Frankly, I'm pretty sure I was watching a marriage falling apart before my eyes. I did not need to hear that.

The funny thing is, I grew up back when the phone was attached to the wall. Everyone in the house could listen in. Still, we'd do our best to keep our talks private. Now people can take calls anywhere, yet rarely do they bother to step outside to take a call.

I wonder if at some point everyone will stop fighting for privacy rights. Of course, people are a lot more open about a lot of things so maybe they feel they have nothing to hide? Personally, it doesn't matter if I have something to hide or not. Privacy is a right.

-Sixbears

Monday, April 30, 2018

Hurricane Season



It's only about a month away. Got preps?

My lovely wife and I drove all over Florida. I don't think we saw any region that was completely unaffected by the hurricane. At bare minimum there was tree and water damage. Then there were the Middle Keys, that still looked pretty bad back in January. As much as we missed sailing, we didn't regret leaving the boat behind.

This coming winter we have a bit of a dilemma. We'd really like to spend a significant amount of time on a sailboat. We are kicking around three different ways to make that happen.

One way is to buy a bigger boat, one that can't be trailered. Already I've come across a number of deals on some good boats. They are older boats, of course, but solidly built. Sailboats in New England don't spend nearly as much time on the water as boats from the south. The season is short. A well maintained older boat can actually be safer than many of the newer production boats. I almost did that last year. Had I done so, I'd have run into the hurricane while sailing the boat down from New England. There's a fair chance it would have been damaged or destroyed. I'm not sure about how I feel about runnig into a bad hurricane season again this year.

Option two is buying a larger trailer sailor boat. It would be nice to have more room than on my Oday 19. While a larger trailer sailor won't be as heavily built as a boat not meant to be trailered, it can escape storms on a trailer being towed out of harm's way.

Option three is to just use what we've got: the converted camper van pulling the Oday 19. We could do a mix of camping and sailing. It would be the cheaper option. Last year I put new tires and wheel bearings on the trailer and only towed it two miles. Also did some electrical upgrades to the boat. More upgrades are going to happen soon. We plan on sailing that little boat quite a bit this summer.

Option three would free up funds to do improvements on the house. Some projects are currently in the works, but more funds would get more projects done. Should something happen and we don't close the house down for the winter, it would be nice to have those improvements in place.

On any given day, we lean towards different options. In reality, we have a few months leeway before making a firm decision. In the mean time, I'm taking care of the van, the Oday and the house. While doing those things, I've also got an eye out for the weather.

It feels funny, as a moutain dwelling New Englander, to worry about southern storms. Then again, we are all in this together -even if I wasn't planning on going south for the winter.

-Sixbears

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Restocking the pantry



Before we left on our long winter trip, we had a number of extra expenses come up -as if the Christmas season isn't expensive enough on its own.

To stretch the budget, we dipped into our stored food. I don't feel bad about doing so. That's one of the things they are there for. Of course, we loaded up the van with a lot of food before we left. That made our camping a bit more affordable. When we got back home, we didn't feel like rushing right out to the store. Instead of shopping, we dipped in the pantry a bit deeper. Our food storage is starting to look thin in places.

We've got plenty of the staples: rice, beans, wheat, spices, and other bulk foods. Nobody is going to go hungry. However, there are things that we depleted a lot quicker than others. Since we were so busy, quick to prepare foods were a high priority. Opening a can, tearing open a package, or rehydrating an instant meal was a lot quicker than preparing dried beans or grinding whole wheat.

In an emergency situation, there might not be time to do a lot of cooking. With that in mind, I'm going to add more of the stuff that we tend to use first. It might not be the cheapest, but in practice, it's what we've ended up eating.

So there's going to be more things like canned salmon. That's something we happen to love, so might as well buy it by the case. In fact, canned meats in general went quickly. They are easy to add to other ingredients to make a hearty meal. The dehydrated meals proved to be a good success, so more of those are on order. Foil packets of instant potatoes went quickly too.

When we were really busy, high protein snack bars often held us over until we could find time to cook. The protein bars stick with us a lot longer than the high carb sugary ones.

Canned fruit and veggies are bulky and heavy, but I'm getting more of them as they were popular. Cans and jars of nuts also were in high demand.

One thing that we don't need a lot more of is candy. While the occasional sweet or chocolate was nice, we really didn't crave it. Opening a can of mandarin oranges provided more than enough sugar.

I have been preparing meals out of the bulk food bins. Many of those meals are quite good. For example: I cooked up a batch of dried black beans. My spicy black bean soup was a real hit the other night. The beans that didn't go in the soup were later used in a beans, rice, peppers and spices dish -also popular. However, in practice, the quick and easy foods are nice for adding variety to the diet. That's why I'm spending the extra bucks and adding much more of them to our storage.

Sure, it's nice to think we'd just live on the cheap and healthy stuff. In practice, we crave more variety and value quickly prepared foods more than we thought.

-Sixbears





Saturday, April 28, 2018

Property in Florida



I spend a fair amount of time in Florida. A number of people have asked me if I want to own property there. Plenty of people up here in New Hampshire have winter homes in Florida. My dad ended up selling his place in NH and only owning a trailer in Florida.

Obviously I enjoy being in Florida. However, it's not a place I'd care to own property. Owning a place would restrict me to one area of Florida. While I spend a lot of time in the state, I spend it all over the state. This past winter my lovely wife and I camped from the Keys to the Panhandle and everywhere in between. We love the St. Augustine area in the Northeast, but also like areas in the Southwest part of the state.

There are plenty of places where it's great to vacation, but you wouldn't want to live there. For example, the natural attractions might be nice, but the local politics could be a mess. I've talked to people who've sold land they've owned because they couldn't afford the bribes needed for a building permit. Even without blatant corruption, it can be difficult for an outsider to find one's way around.

Of course, I love boating in Florida waters. You don't need property for that. Sure, there are times when I think that a small place with a good boat dock would be ideal. Then I think of the price of waterfront property, taxes, flood insurance, and hurricanes, and wake up from the dream. Sometimes I think most of the state is a sandbar that might just get washed away one day.

So for now, while my health is still reasonably good and I'm strong, the snowbird thing works.

-Sixbears

Friday, April 27, 2018

Settling in?



My lovely wife went out to the van to get some of the stuff we hadn't unpacked yet. It as taking her a while so I went out to see how she was doing. She was just hanging out in the back of the van. I joined her and we hung out together. Is it a bad sign to be hanging out in the van in our own driveway?

Frankly, after three and a half months, the van feels as much like home as the house. During our trip we had discussed maybe selling the van. It would have been part of a bigger plan, including trading in my wife's little car for something a bit bigger. Now my lovely wife feels like holding onto the van until it completely dies.

Actually, I have a dollar figure beyond which I won't spring for repairs. No mechanic is going to learn of this number unless a job estimate exceeds it. At that point we'll let it go. Probably the van will only be suitable for scrap by then anyway.

It's in pretty good shape overall. The large 7.3 turbo diesel is pretty bullet proof. It could use a small bit of body work, but nothing major. True, the AC died. That may get fixed. If it's too expensive we can live without it. After all, summer in New England is not like summer in the deep south.

Next month I'm taking it in to my mechanic for an oil change. I did the last one at home with a friend. This time my mechanic can do it and he can also check out the brake repairs that were done in Florida. He can also tell me what's going on with the AC and anything else he finds.

We have plans to tow our Oday 19 to the coast of Maine, wilderness lakes, and maybe go to Lake Champlain in Vermont. We will make sure the van is up to the job. Also, we may buy a larger trailer sailor, so we'll need the van to be in tip top shape.

-Sixbears

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The YETI protest



In short, YETI coolers decided to drop its relationship with the NRA. In protest, people are shooting and blowing up their YETI coolers.

People can do what they want with their stuff, but have you priced YETI products? I litterly go camping for months at a time and could never bring myself to buy their coolers. They have good quality products, but it's possible to buy similar quality for a lot less money.

To buy YETI in the first place people must really have liked the company. Now they don't like the company. Fair enough. However, that would not inspire me to destroy hundreds of dollars of my own stuff that I purchased with my own money. It's not like a cheap ball cap where you may no longer like the company or the slogan on the cap. If the cap ends up in the trash you are out pocket change. Plus, it's an item of clothing so it's more personal.

Now I can understand not buying any more products from a company that changes the way it acts. That hurts them and doesn't hurt yourself.

Some people say they are “sending a message.” Maybe they are, but I'm betting they could have put their cooler in the garage for six months and when they pulled it out again almost nobody would care. These protests have a lot of heat in the moment but tend to lack legs. Six months from now something else will occupy the public's mind and coolers will be all but forgotten. If they do care about your cooler, don't give them a cold beer.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Boat Shopping!



My lovely wife and I are already looking at boats on-line. We found some decent bargains. There are always inexpensive boats to buy that are expensive to fix. We try to avoid those. Even with that consideration, there are sailboats in pretty much sail away condition for small money.

Some were such bargains that we could put together the funds to pick them up right now. In fact, my lovely wife was tempted to have me make a few phone calls today. I think that might be jumping the gun a bit. We've only been back a week.

A lot of people want floating condos. After living in tents, a 19 foot sailboat, and a van, we don't need a huge apartment on the water. In fact,we found the Ranger 23 we owned to be quite roomy. With our background boats under 30 feet are just fine. A lot of people won't touch anything under 40 feet, so the smaller boat market has good selections.

I'm starting to think we are safer on the water than on the roads. It didn't help that one of my daughters and her family were just in a fender bender while on vacation. They are fine, but it's scary. Too many inattentive drivers out there. Their minds are on everything else but the road.

Life makes more sense at sailboat speeds.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Field Tests



Nothing puts your camping stuff to the test like a camping trip that lasts for months. In general I was pretty happy with most of our stuff. After all, it's not like this is the first time we've ever gone camping.

The biggest upgrade we made was getting rid of the cheap thermocouple type cooler to a compressor type. We bought a Alpicool C15 portable compressor fridge freezer. The difference in power usage was amazing. In previous years we made the thermocouple one work by being at campgrounds that had grid power. The times we weren't we used ice. It wasn't an ideal solution but it sorta worked. This year we were off-grid most of the time and the compressor type made all the difference.

One of my blog readers gave me a couple of Exponent multi-fuel campstoves. They were used almost every day, and used a lot. One nice thing about them is that they can be turned down to a low simmer. A lot of campstoves have two settings; blast furnace or off. With fairly heavy use they consumed about a gallon of fuel each month.

The dehydrated foods worked out well, both Mountain House and Wise Company. I will buy more. The price isn't too bad on Amazon buying them by the bucket. The combination of compactness, quality, light weight, easy of preparation, and long term storage makes them very valuable. Often we stayed out in the woods longer because we didn't have to go into town for food. When I really didn't feel like spending a lot of time cooking, I'd just boil some water and make an instant meal. That was better for us than eating out or filling up on snack food.

My Coleman propane lantern was a disappointment. It would have been fine for weekend camping, but did not stand up well long term. Fuel consumption was significant and those one pound bottles get expensive. The most annoying thing was having to replace the mantles often. No matter how carefully the lantern was packed away, the mantles almost always broke. When it did work, however, it put out a lot of light.

What did work well was our LED lanterns and headlights. They got heavy use. A bigger LED lantern that took 4 D sized batteries was our main van lighting. The batteries were changed once during our trip. The headlamp batteries were changed more often, but I'd gotten a large package of really cheap AAA batteries. The batteries weren't of very high quality, but they lasted long enough that it wasn't worth paying a premium for really good ones.

Those are a few things that stuck out about our camping set up.

-Sixbears


Monday, April 23, 2018

Inevitable Payment Snafus



It happens at least once every time I travel. I set up on-line bill payment and banking. I get everything working ahead of time so any kinks can be worked out. My information is backed up on paper in case my laptop computer dies along the way.

Every single time there has been a snafu with on-line life. There are digital gypsies out there who claim it's easy to live a virtual financial life. That's true -until something screws up.

This year it wasn't too bad. There's the normal hassle of having to go through a whole list of security questions because you are connecting from a remote location. Make sure you really know your answers. Sure, things your mother's maiden name are easy to remember. It's some of the others that can be tricky. Questions like “What is my favorite movie,” can be tough as I've got a lot of favorites. Those answers I really have to write down.

One annoying thing this year was that one of my banks decided to completely redesign their website. It took me forever to figure out how to do a simple funds transfer. The link used to be right on the front page. Now it's buried about four layers down in vaguely named categories. It wasn't something I wanted to deal with when I was tired, and had an iffy Internet connection.

A few years back my local bank decided to shut down my debit card. Three times they said the problem was fixed, but it kept getting rejected. In the end we used my lovely wife's card from the same account. That had no problem at all.

The best thing you can do is to simplify your life so that there's a minimum of financial things you need to deal with. However, not matter how often I streamline my financial life, circumstances conspire to complicate them again. Dealing with on-line life is just part of the cost of being able to travel.

-Sixbears

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Living Outside



A lot of people have commented that our van doesn't have a lot of living space. That's true. The bed is comfortable. There's room to sit and play cards, but that's about it. The thing is, we didn't really live in the van. We lived outside. There's plenty of headroom when you don't have a roof.

We didn't have very many rainy days, so it was pretty easy to live outside. It wasn't a big deal to spend the occasional inclement day reading books or working on the computer. There was the option of a good sized tarp for rain cover. We only set it up once in three and a half months.

That's also how we can live on small boats. The cabin might be small, but we could always go outside in the cockpit. Of course, we weren't crossing oceans. We are coastal cruisers. The dog is pretty insistent on heading to shore a couple of times each day. That gives us a lot of time on the beach and seaside trails.

I think our outdoor life helped keep us in generally good health. During northern winters people get sick when they are living in close quarters. The cold dry air doesn't help either. A lot of my friends and family got sick during this past winter. Many have lingering coughs that still haven't gone away.

We also got plenty of natural vitamin D from that southern sunshine. That couldn't have hurt. On the downside, we had to remove a couple of ticks. I hate those little buggers and they often carry disease. So far we haven't had any ill effects, so we probably caught them in time. Tick checks are important.

Now we are back in our house. I hope we keep spending a lot of time outside as it has proven to be a healthy way to live. Not only was I healthy all winter, I even lost 35 pounds without even really trying.

-Sixbears

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Success and Failure



The way to success is the ability to do all the things you'd rather not do.

You might hate school, but stick to it and get that degree. You want to go to the club with you friends, but you stay home and save your money. Instead of driving a nicer car you put together investment funds. Rather than go on nice vacations you save money for retirement. Work might suck, but you put your nose to the grindstone and stick with it. By putting off immediate gratification, you can have more later.

Eventually these techniques and strategies become second nature and automatic.

The problem is that they become second nature and automatic. The next thing you know you are old and forgot to have that fun you were putting off until later.

The amazing thing about instant gratification is that it pays off right away. Talk about living in the present. Isn't that supposed to be some sort of virtue?

Of course, there should be some sort of balance. For example: brush your teeth. It's something you'd rather not do, but do it anyway. Health maintenance in general is one of those things you really should do, even if it sucks.

As for the rest, the balance is up to you. One word of advice: ask yourself if what you are doing is still working for you. Maybe you should play more to be happy. Then again maybe you should work more to have more security in your life. A little self-reflection goes a long way.

-Sixbears

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sitting by the Woodstove



I'm sitting by the woodstove, looking out at a frozen lake. Funny how that's what I was doing in early January before our trip. Of course, back then it was -27 degrees. While it's still not exactly spring weather, it's 60 degrees warmer. Progress, of a sort.

Normally by this time the ice has either left the lake or is well in the process of doing so. Currently there is only a little bit of open water near the inlet. This might be one of those years where we don't have an actual spring, just a quick transition from winter to summer.

A lot has happened in the three and half months on the road. We covered a lot of miles, saw a lot of things and met a lot of people. One of the neat things is meeting strangers in a coffee shop and having a very animated conversation for over an hour. That sort of thing happened to us all the time. Of course, you have to be open to it.

Opening up the house after being shut down for the winter can be hit or miss. My big concern this year was if I'd be able to use the water line. It froze four days before we left. The line was still frozen when we got back. Fortunately, it was only frozen for about six inches from the basement side. I snaked a smaller diameter hose down the supply line and ran hot water through it. The hot water slowly thawed out the blockage. Every time it would melt an inch or so I'd snake the line a little further.

The first day I was able to restore cold water to the downstairs sinks and toilet. There was a frost damaged valve on the hot water side that's for the washing machine. Currently it's plugged off and we'll just have to wash in cold water. My lovely wife has been asking me to move the washing machine to another room. That's on the schedule for early next month, so we can just do without hot water clothes washing until then.

Outside of that, the water is up and running, electric power, heat, the Internet and phones are back in operation. It cost me about $17 to get the water system squared away. Well worth shutting down the house and not paying for heat for those months.

My lovely wife and I are not sure exactly what we'll do next fall and winter, but we have a lot of ideas. We'll figure it out. Part of the process is checking out conditions before we head out. For example, this past year hurricane damage in Florida changed our plans from sailing and camping to just camping. While I missed sailing, I'm glad we didn't put the boat at risk.

Well, time to get back to cleaning and unpacking.

-Sixbears

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Snow Country



Tuesday my lovely wife and I made it to my daughter's in New Hampshire. I knew the state had snow, but didn't realize it started at the Massachusetts border. We drove up in a mix of rain and snow. A good friend met us in North Conway for coffee and lunch. Great to be back in touch.

I left the van at my daughter's and drove my wife's car to the lake and started the furnace. I figured it would have time to warm up over night. Wednesday morning I drove up and started the process of getting the house up and running.

It took some doing, but I was able to thaw the water supply line where it entered the house. One my hot water lines had seperated at the basement shut off. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, so I just shut down the hot water side.

Currently there's cold water in the downstairs bathroom and kitchen. Later today I hope to have the hot water situation sorted out. However, you never know what problems will crop up.

The Internet and phone got turned on a few hours after I called them. Can't beat that kind of service.

The house is going to need a good cleaning when we move it. The water had frozen four days before or trip so we left it in a bit of a mess. Turns out the house cleaning fairy didn't come in while we were gone.

All in all, it still is good to make it home, even though the lake is still frozen and snow is on the ground.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

One More Night



With freezing rain in the forecast it made a lot of sense to put off my trip north one more day. Even so, we may have some light snow to deal with. While that's not great, it beats the heck out of driving in freezing rain.

-Sixbears