Sunday, February 28, 2010


A salvage economy takes the remains of the previous economy and repurposes it. It happens all the time.

After the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs, their monuments and tombs were taken apart for the building materials. Much easier to take apart a pyramid than quarry fresh stone and haul it to the city.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the salvagers moved in. So much stuff was taken apart for scrap steel that it depressed world steel prices. The average Russian reused just about anything they could get their hands on. Since the currency was no good for a while, barter kept some economic activity going. Salvaging was a big part of that economy.

Much of the world's economy is in trouble. Imagine if you will, what will happed to world commerce should the US dollar fail. For all intents and purposes, the dollar is a world currency. Other countries use the dollar as a reserve currency. Most of the world's oil is traded in dollars. US dollars are no longer backed by gold, but by the petroleum in other people's countries. The system made sense when the US was the world's major oil exporter. It's a bit of a rip off now, and some oil producers are looking to get away from the dollar.

Dimitry Orlov's "Reinventing Collapse" speculates that the US is going the way of the Soviet Union. He's not alone. Our collapse could be happening any day now. We could be in one now.
All empires fall.

Don't let that get you down. Think of all the salvage opportunities. Many already have. Think of all the foreclosed and abandoned houses. They've been stripped of their wire, pipe, fixtures, siding, right down to the timbers. Unlicensed freelance salvagers (a more generous label than thief) have recycled many houses already. They got in on the ground floor. (and took the floor too!)

Eventually salvage becomes organized. It's nothing new. A few years ago the mill in my hometown closed. It wasn't too long before the place was bought by a dismantling company. Tools, equipment, and machinery were stripped out of the buildings. Eventually the buildings themselves were taken apart.

My dad was always a great collector of junk. We used to joke that given enough junk, he could build anything. His backyard was organized. Angle iron in one pile, aluminum in another, pipe in another, sheet steel in another, and so on and so on. His basement was full of shelves and jars of salvaged items: screws, nuts, bolts, wire, washers, rivets, gages, electronics, sewing machine parts, etc..

He had the tools to build things with all those parts: welders, air tools, drill presses, power tools of all sorts, files, hammers, wrenches, glues, and of course -duct tape. Just as important, he had the knowledge and skill to make use of everything.

I can't but help follow in his footsteps. There's a lot of stuff around my place that I just can't throw away. I've had piles of salvaged windows taking up space for ten years or more. So far only used a few. Built a solar batch hot water heater using old windows and a propane water heater tank. Still have the outer sheet steel from the water tank. My truck could use a few good steel patches. Most of the rest of the windows are going into next month's greenhouse project.

My truck is largely parts salvaged from other trucks. My buddy Jeff has been collecting old Fords and Ford parts for years. Jokingly, I refer to my truck as being to the "Jeff Standard." When the starter failed, Jeff was right there with a salvaged part. It runs fine. If for some reason I had to give all the parts from Jeff back to him, the truck would fall apart.

America overbuilt just about everything and if we didn't build it, we imported it. Those days are coming to an end. Enter the salvage economy. We might give it a sanitized name like recycling. No matter. We will end up dismantling the monuments to our gods. The endless miles of strip malls, our monument to our god of money, will be torn down for parts.

Knowing what to do with salvaged materials is a darn good skill to have. Wouldn't hurt to know Jeff either.


Saturday, February 27, 2010


On Friday, NH's Governor Lynch declared a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of people are without electrical power in this state. Overall, the storm knocked out power for a million people.

It appears it will take some time to sort everything out. The situation is widespread enough that crews that normally come in from other states are busy close to home.

On a personal level, my household is fine. Ironically, the grid never went down at my house. My backup systems were in place and ready to go, but were not needed. Outside of having to clean up downed tree branches, it wasn't much of a problem here. There wasn't any need to go anywhere, so I stayed home.

However, my daughter in MA called to let me know she and her husband and daughter were heading to the in-laws place. After a day without power, they'd had enough. Since they have a small baby to take care of, leaving the house for a couple days makes sense. They don't have the backup systems that I do. I wish they did. She asked some advice about how to shut the place down. On the bright side, it looks like temperatures will be mostly above freezing. Their plumbing should be fine. Still, I can't but help worry about them. Doesn't matter how old your kids get, they are still your kids.

I was surprised that their area was still without power. They are on a major route into a good sized city. Usually those areas get fixed pretty quick. It's outlying areas in the woods that take time. Had power gone out here, this area would be one of the last to get fixed -low population density.

In a few days, a week, or maybe a bit longer, the grid should be back up and running. For some people this will be a wake up call. They'll realize how fragile our systems really are and take basic precautions. Others will go back to sleep and avoid learning any lessons from this.


Friday, February 26, 2010

So far, so good

Last night I went to bed fully expecting the grid to go down. I'm sure it did in many areas, but it was still up and running here this morning. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises -the system works.

During the evening, the snow turned back to rain. When the winds hit, the trees didn't have heavy snow loading. It's turned back to snow this morning -heavy, wet, knock-trees-over-snow. This storm has been very dependent on local micro-climates. A few miles one way or the other or a hundred feet in elevation made the difference between snow disaster and pleasant day.

Outside of dead trees losing branches (and landing in my driveway), this storm hasn't been too terrible. It's winter in NH, storms are expected.

This morning I'm using the grid to top off the batteries of my solar electric system. There isn't a sunny day predicted until five days from now. Should the grid go down, I'd like to start with fully charged batteries.


Should have seen it coming

Yesterday I do a post about power outages. Tonight I'm sitting around wondering if the power will go out.

Thursday morning there was about 6 - 8 inches of new heavy wet snow. The top of my driveway was blocked by a tangle of downed tree branches. Just to make it more interesting, after the branches came down, the town plow jumbled them all together into a massive snow bank. Yes, that massive pile of branches and snow was at the end of my driveway. Fortunately, my vehicles were parked across the street in my other parking spot.

It took a chainsaw and a shovel to clear the mess. On the plus side, I cut up the branches and have been burning them in my kitchen woodstove. Waste not, want not.

My wife had a physical therapy two towns over. Took the big 4x4. Roads were good on the way in, but not on the way back. Rain turned to snow and iced the roads. A big tractor trailer went off the road about a mile from my house. No one hurt. We took it easy and had no problems.

Made sure to top off the batteries in the battery bank. We are fine on food. Don't have to be anywhere all day Friday, so that's a relief.

Right now it's raining hard, should turn to snow later.

I'll post if anything interesting happens with the storm.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lights out! Then what?

The lights have just gone out in your house. How can you find out what caused the problem? It's important to have some idea what the situation is.

If the problem is with only your house, you can't just wait around assuming someone is going to fix it. You are that someone. If the neighbor's are all fine, it's time to get busying fixing your problem. If you are knowledgeable about electricity, you'd best get your flashlight and get busy. If not, maybe it's time to call the electrician.

Let's say you've checked and the neighbors are in the dark too. Fine, it's not just you. Can you see lights in another part of town? The houses across the lake from me are on a totally different circuit than my side of the lake. If my side is dark but they still have lights across the lake, then the problem is limited in scope. If both sides are dark, then it's at least a regional outage. If you can't see any house lights anywhere in your town, it's a sizable outage.

It might be obvious why the power's out. There's no mystery when power goes out during hurricanes, earthquakes, and ice storms. It's to be expected. You can assume the people who run the gird know what's going on. They'll get crews on it as soon as they can.

Once in a while there are large major outages that don't have obvious causes. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 had no visible cause to the vast majority of people. It wasn't a storm event. It happened during generally nice weather in the middle of August. Those are the sort of blackouts that cause me concern. At the time, speculation ran wild that it was a terrorist attack. Was it a cyber attack? Was it an act of war?

Most phone service remained up. Some cell phone towers failed to handle the heavy load, but most people had at least some phone service. Most radio and television stations went to backup power and continued to broadcast. If you had a regular corded phone that didn't rely on electric power, you could make phone calls. If you had a battery powered radio or TV, you could tune into new broadcasts and keep up to date with what was going on. Many people had to use their car radio to tune into broadcasts because they didn't own a battery powered unit.

My solar electric system functioned fine. I had dial-up Internet connection that worked. I could use my TV and home radios to listen to the news.

There are things that can take down just about everything. A massive electro magnetic pulse (EMP) caused by an air burst atomic weapon or even something like huge solar flare could actually destroy key parts of the grid. Should that happen, power won't be coming back for an extra special long time.

It's possible that an event could take down the grid, yet leave most home alternative energy systems alone. At least that's what my research leads me to believe. Then there's the other end of the scale. Some EMP type events could not only fry home energy systems, they could cook your TV and all your radios. Car electrics would not work. Most vehicles would be dead. Now not only is the grid down, you have no way of knowing what the heck happened. Travel is reduced to human or animal power.

You would know the problem goes well beyond a simple electrical grid malfunction. If the power's down, and all your electronics are inoperative, it's a huge deal. You know that power's not coming back and that you are on your own. You have to take care of all your needs yourself for the indefinite future. No one's going to turn the lights back on. It's harsh knowledge, but the sooner you understand what's going on, the sooner you can take action.

Not much you can do about a sneak EMP attack from an atomic weapon. However, we may get a day or two's warning that the sun is doing something weird. If a solar event looked likely, I'd throw all the disconnects on my solar electric system. Every major component can be switched off from every other component. It's possible that would prevent a power surge from destroying my system. Once the even is over, then I'd cautiously turn the breakers on and see if my system survived. It might be possible to save most of the national grid by disconnecting and shutting it down. I've no control over that, but I've control over my own system.

Should such a major event happen, I'd want to know what's going on. My last ditch ace in the hole is a Grundig shortwave radio with a hand crank generator. It's sealed in a metal ammo can and stored in the basement for greater EMP protection. It may be possible to tune in something like Radio Australia and learn of an atomic attack on the US. Darn useful information.

Woe to anyone caught in a major city should something like an EMP happen. I can heat my house with wood. There's food in the pantry or garden and game in the woods. My well has an overflow. All I need is a bucket. Of course, that level of preparation is good for a whole range of problems. Best yet, it give me a good quality of life right now. Live is good out here in the woods.

So if your power goes down, it's essential to learn what the problem is. Is it local and minor, or is it the proverbial the end of life as we know it? Do you wait it out by reading a good book with a flashlight, or do you load your rifle?


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Precious Metals

I'm not a financial advisor, so this isn't financial advice. Guess that disclaimer has to go right up there at the beginning. Always did think it odd to have to proclaim something I'm not. So as not to cause confusion, I'm also not the King of the Wild Wazzoos, Prince Albert in a Can, a cop, a judge, an IRS agent, a secret agent, a double agent, or even a triple again. The list of things I'm not could go on forever. At any rate, to make the legal eagles happy, I'm not a financial advisor.

I'm not much of an investor at all. As I've said in earlier posts, I'm not particularly interested in money. Piling up money for its own sake bores me. That being said, there's a lot of cool things that I could do with money, so I'm not running the whole idea of money down.

Gold bugs. People who are serious gold investors. Aren't they having a fun time? How about silver? That's been going up too. For all I know it's due to the increasing threat of werewolves -all that silver is being cast into bullets. The price of regular lead bullets have been going up, so maybe it's connected. Have I made my lack of financial sophistication clear yet?

By now you should have a fairly good idea that I'm not the guy to go to for metals advice.

However, I did make one small gold investment that's paid off wonderfully. It's made my whole life better and has saved me a bundle. A bit over thirty one years ago I invested in a wedding band for my lovely wife. Best investment ever.

We were married young, only 20 years old. Thirty one years later, we are still married. Consider that half of marriages end in divorce. That means anyone who gets married has about a 50/50 chance of financial disaster. Choosing a proper mate can make all the difference.

Then there are the maintenance issues. Does the wearer of your little gold band require expensive little baubles? A huge house? New cars? Fancy electronics? New clothes? Regular overhauls by skilled plastic surgeons?

Is she more like like mine, happier with the simple things in life? If she's not one of those high maintenance models, by all means do nice things for her. Serve her breakfast in bed. Rub her feet. Learn how to give a good back rub. Complement the hell out of her. She's more precious than gold, so pay attention to what's truly valuable.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not so grim

A good friend called me and was concerned about the tone of my blog. He a good friend, the kind you go to when you need alibis. The sort of guy who'll not only lend you a shovel when there's a body to be buried in the swamp, he'll also lend a tarp to keep the trunk clean. Not the sort you can depend to bail you out of jail as he'll probably be right there in the next cell.

Now when my buddy calls and he's concerned about my blog; that's saying something. He used to have a blog, but what he said got him fired. Another time he was ordered to see a shrink about his anger issues. There was a police investigation. This guy is concerned about my blog.

Is this a wake up call? When the wake up call comes, I say let it go to voice mail.

Sometimes, I must admit, the stuff I write about it a bit grim. Sorry about that. Life is grim sometimes. However, I'm actually a pretty happy guy. People love me. I've family and friends. There's food to eat, wood for the stove, and a charge in battery bank. I live out in the country on a lake. My life is pretty good. Sure, I inherited a worry gene. I see what's going on the world. However, my personal life is a happy one.

Sure, the household income has taken a beating lately. In that, I'm not alone. Fortunately, it's just money. I don't really believe in money. I've been in worse financial shape and I've been in better. Things will sort themselves one way or the other. This time I'm around I'm better prepared to handle financial setbacks. There are options. Not going to lose any sleep over it. Probably won't even lose any of my stuff.

Some of the things that really bothered me -problems my kids were having, are in the past. My lovely wife is dealing with some health issues right now, but she's on the mend.

It's not like I'm living alone in a beat up trailer in the middle of the desert. That would be rough.

These are grim times, but they can be happy times too. It's all about the choices we make. Some things you have control over and some things you don't. Do what you can about the stuff that you have control over, and don't worry so much about the things you can't control.

For me, writing this blog is sometimes like playing the Blues. The Blues make me feel good.


Monday, February 22, 2010

The dead

After my Firefighting days were over, I went back to college. Every now and then I took a break from my heavy duty courses and would take what I called GPA helper -one of those courses I thought I could nap in and still get an "A." I signed up for a course called "Death and Dying." Since I saw a fair amount of death over the years, it seemed like a fairly easy course. I'd done the research, so to speak.

The thing that really shocked me what that most of my class had never seen a dead body. They'd never even gone to a relative's wake. Here they were, adults in their early 20's, and they'd never seen death. One girl's closest experience with death was the loss of her dog.

Death is not American. Our culture avoids death. We hide it in hospitals and nursing homes. It's kept away from the kiddies. Funeral homes take great pains to make the dead look not so dead. Some of those guys are artists, making someone better looking than they ever were in life. The somber men in black run things smoothly and well. It amazed me that so many young people haven't even seen this sanitized version of death.

Most of the rest of the world has a more realistic view of death. It happens. People die. Good people die. Bad people die. Everybody dies. It's real and has to be dealt with. It's not hidden away. My sister-in-law went to a funeral in Mexico. After the religious service, the funeral party, and the body, all grabbed the bus to the cemetery. The dead are up close and personal.

Early in the course the professor told the class to write about an experience they had with death. I wrote about one of my Firefighter experiences. Three people died in a fire. I found two of them that had died from smoke inhalation. I crawled through the burned remains of a third. He was so badly burned that in the dark smoky building, I didn't recognize it as a body. Took weeks to get the smell out of my turnout gear.

Then the professor had us switch papers with other students. I happened to switch with the girl who's worse death experience was the loss of her dog. She turned a bit green. I felt bad. As it turned out, there was only one other guy in the class who'd really seen dead people up close and personal. He was an EMT who occasionally assisted with autopsies. We swapped war storied until the professor made us stop.

We were professionals. Part of our job was to deal with dead people. Okay, fair enough. However, I'd seen dead people long before I was a Firefighter. As a little kid I went to wakes and funerals. My dad was once asked to look for a drowning victim. He took me along in the canoe and I was a preteen. We didn't find the body, but I saw it as it was pulled out of the river. I saw a guy die of a heart attack at a picnic when I was about 10.

Death is a part of life. I've sat with dying people until they were gone. It's a very human thing to do. Perhaps it eases their passing. As our country's economy become more like a third world country, we are going to have to deal with death like a third world country. More and more of us won't be able to afford the expensive professionals. Laws will have to change to deal with changing circumstances. Death will take place in the home rather than in a hospital. Who knows, maybe we'll have to prepare the bodies for burial ourselves. It's going to be a shock for those who've never seen death.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Limits to how far we will be pushed

You can't get blood out of a stone. The European Union is pushing down hard on Greece to implement austerity measures. So what happens? Workers go on strike, contributing to an even greater economic mess.

They can raise taxes, but at some point that doesn't translate into more revenue. More and more of the economy functions "off the books." Hiding from the tax man is a long European tradition. England just raised the VAT tax. Expect offcial economic activity to continue to go down.

Europe has a long history of its citizens taking dissatisfaction into the streets. Expect to see more to that. Plenty of dissatisfaction to go around.

US dissatisfaction is making the news. A man who flies a plane into an IRS office is pretty dissatisfied.

People once believed that if you work hard, you can get ahead. Sacrifice now and there'll be a cushy retirement. For society to function, people have to believe those little social constructs -whether or not they are actually true. In fact, it has to be true enough for most people to keep everyone else in harness.

A horse will pull that wagon a long ways for a bag of oats. Make the bag smaller and smaller then eliminate it entirely. The horse is going to want to wander off the trail looking for something to eat. I hope humans are as smart as horses. When it reaches the point where being in harness doesn't give us our oats, we should look somewhere else to get what we need.

When the game is obviously rigged, it's time to stop coloring in the lines.


Saturday, February 20, 2010


The photo is of "The Kitchen Mill by K-Tec," next to a loaf of my homemade wheat bread. The mill has given about 3 years of service so far. It's used all the time. On the plus side, it's easy to use, compact, produces decent flour, and is reasonably fast. On the down side, it uses electricity, and it's loud enough that I wear hearing protection.

Some hard core doomers give me crap about the K-Tec needing electricity to run. They'd rather have a hand cranked mill. Good for them. They say: what will you do when the grid goes down?" I'll plug it into the wall and use it the way I've always used it. That's what solar electricity is for.

What if the solar electric system fails or the electric mill breaks? Then I guess I'll soak the grain and cook mush. It's still food.

Here's the thing, how many hard core hand crank mill guys actually use their mills? Often it's just stored away with their grains. I use my mill all the time. There's a 50# bag of organic winter wheat berries in a plastic tub in the kitchen. The Kitchen Mill is right there on the counter with my normal kitchen appliances.

I buy baking powder by the 5# tub, and yes, I use it before it goes bad. That's a lot of waffles, pancakes and biscuits. I'll make 100% whole wheat bagels, dinner rolls, and the occasional loaf of bread. The regular bread loafs tend to come out a bit flat. That's the nature of whole wheat. Cutting it 50% with white flour makes a more normal looking loaf.

Waffles and pancakes are very simple. 3 teaspoons baking powder to every cup of flour. Toss in a bit of sugar. Mix in enough water to get a good batter consistency. Sometimes I'll throw in an egg or two, but the whole wheat makes them pretty hardy without eggs. Easy. Simple. Yummy.

My yeast breads are just flour, sugar, yeast, and water. It's basic. Not a lot of stuff to go wrong, and not a lot of stuff to have in storage. It's possible to make break without any grease or shortening at all. I make round breads in my two Dutch ovens. I heat the Dutch oven in my propane oven to 500 degrees. Then I toss the raised batter in the hot Dutch oven, put the lid on and place it back in the oven. After about a half hour I lift the lid to brown the top of the bread. Once I used a Dutch oven outside with a campfire. It worked well enough. Fresh baked break is great when camping.

So here's the deal, if you store grain, use it. No sense trying to get used to different foods during a stressful time. Best to have bread making to a routine. For me, having an electric mill makes sense. It's convenient enough to use every day. If I had the money to spare, I'd buy a good hand cranked mill for backup. However, since I only had enough money for one mill, it's more important to buy the mill I'd actually use all the time.

Get used to eating whole wheat now. Don't start with a new food during an emergency. No need to add stomach upset to whatever else is going on.


Friday, February 19, 2010


Once in a while my wife tells me to relax. I worry too much. Perhaps she's right. I must admit to being a bit of a news hound. I follow what's going on all over the world. The world's financial crisis is worse than most people realize. The environment is in the trash. Peak oil is here and already taking its toll. Grain harvests are way down. Armies are on the move. The list goes on and on. So yeah, I worry. I worry what kind of world my kids and grandkids will grow up in.

Now a lot of guy's wives tell them to stop getting all worked out over the nasty stuff out there. How many preppers complain that their wives just don't get it? It's not just guys, there are plenty of women who's men are in denial. If you aren't into survival, what are you into? Deadism?

So now and then, my wife tells me to relax. She's polite about it. Kind even. It's not like we fight about it.

Here's the thing, she's not in denial. She knows what's going on in the world. Perhaps she doesn't follow the day to day minutia of things, but she sees the trends. She's on-board with self reliance. After all, she did move out here in the woods with me. In fact, she was pushing to get out of town faster than I was.

My lovely wife is the one who does most of the garden work. I do the heavy lifting, but she does the rest. She wants to be totally off the grid as much or more than I want to. She doesn't complain about the hardships of rural living. On my birthday she took me to a gun shop and told me to pick out any handgun in the place. She's a darn good shot herself. She's pushing for a greenhouse. It was on the "someday" list until she kicked me into gear. Construction starts in a week.

The first car I converted to run on waste vegetable oil is registered in her name. It's her car. She's the one who wanted a 4x4 veggie burning full sized diesel truck. I'd lived my whole life without ever having a vehicle like that. My lovely wife showed me how we'd benefit from having one. She was right. It's paid for itself.

She never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. She'd rather shop at hardware stores than Macy's. Thrift stores are a real thrill. She'd rather tent than stay in a hotel. She's a pearl of great price.

So once in a while she tells me to relax. Okay, she's earned the right. We are doing all that we can reasonably do. No sense my getting worked up about the stuff I can't control. Better to keep the blood pressure down and not kill myself with worry.

Thanks love. I'll relax.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Heads up!

A neighbor up the road about a mile or so, (when you live in the woods everyone within a couple miles is a neighbor.) wondered what I was up to next. She'd noticed I seemed to anticipate things and prepare long before most people.

Here are the things she noticed. Before the price of electricity took a big jump I'd installed solar electricity for much of my needs. It wasn't the price hike that was the prime motivator for me, although that was a concern. The frequent blackouts were.

Back when the price of gas was under a dollar. I bought my first diesel car and converted it to run on waste vegetable oil. Transportation fuel is now a very tiny part of my expenses.

Those two things caught my neighbor's attention. She asked my wife what I was doing now. Stockpiling food, she said. I think my neighbor was a bit taken aback by that. That's her problem. It's been a good thing. Not that I've piled up a whole lot of stuff, but rice, beans, and wheat were super cheap and the price still isn't bad. If nothing else, my full pantry saves me a few bucks as prices climb.

One big thing living out here in the woods, I can't just pop down to the corner store every time I need to make a meal. We had company over the weekend and I didn't get a chance to go shopping. I baked some bread, a round loaf and a bunch of bagels. Cooked up some pasta to go with the bread. In the morning, I ground up some wheat and made waffles. Put a pea soup in the crock pot for the evening meal. It wasn't fancy food, but nobody went hungry.

About 3 years ago I figured ammo would get expensive and/or hard to get. Every week or two I'd pick up a bit of ammo. When the run on ammo started, I didn't worry about it. I had enough for target practice, hunting, and self defense.

The collapse in the housing market came as no surprise. During the boom, I was offered crazy money for the equity in my house. I must admit I pictured getting new cars, a kayak or two, buying new computers, and going on some exciting adventures. Thank God I resisted the temptation. After the markets went into a tail spin, I still had plenty of equity that I could tap into for a family emergency. Borrowed the very minimum needed to solve the emergency. Still only owe about 1/3 the value of the property.

Microsoft motivated me to do something that's saved a bundle of money. When Bill Gates introduced Windows Vista, I saw trouble brewing. Looked like there'd be a steep leaning curve and it wouldn't run on my existing computers. Early reports indicated it would be a buggy operating system.

I thought to myself, rather than learn Vista, I'll learn Linux. I set up an old desktop computer that wasn't doing anything. Over a 6 month period I tried 5 or 6 different versions of Linux. Two versions impressed me, Ubuntu and Puppy.

One day my laptop, running Windows XP, caught the virus from hell. None of my normal fixes could touch it. Fortunately, files had been backed up 2 weeks earlier. There was very little new on the machine, and nothing I couldn't recreate or live without. It was a perfect time to make the transition to Ubuntu. In four hours the computer was running again. Over the next two days all my old files were loaded and the computer settings tweaked to my liking. My computer runs so much better that I've been able to put off purchasing new equipment. That's been a big savings.

So what's the next bit thing coming down the pike? What am I gearing up to do next?

The next project is a good sized greenhouse. We've had a tiny garden, but it doesn't provide all that much food. To get any growing space at all required building retaining walls. Thin mineral soil has been enhanced with loads of compost. Our small garden plot has shown how difficult it is to grow food here in the north. We learned a lot.

A greenhouse will allow us to extend our short growing season. It'll keep the deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and slugs away from our veggies. Last year it was so wet the slugs went crazy. There were huge slugs of a type I've never seen before.

Why the sudden desire for a greenhouse? Global food harvests have been down, way down in some places. The economy is in danger of a collapse like none have seen before. Peak oil is real. Only our development of non traditional fuels have kept things going -along with slightly reduced demand from the economic downturn. Much of that fuel has been achieved by turning corn, into fuel.

I can't do much about world wide conditions. I can do something about my household's condition.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


All my life I've felt the need to occasionally go walkabout. As a kid, I didn't call it that, but the definition fits. The Australian Aborigines, as a rite of passage, would wander off into the wilderness for months at a time. There's usually a spiritual element associated with it.

I've always felt the need to wander off by myself. Of course, as little kid, I always had to be home for supper. Still, I'd be able to wander off into the woods by myself for hours at a time. How many little kids can do that today?

By my teen years, my parents let me wander off on overnight hikes. As I got older, my wandering would take me further afield and I'd be gone longer.

I'd disappear far off the beaten trail, going days without any human contact. That was part of it, the isolation. How many people today get to spend days alone in the wilderness? I know, all the hiking guides recommend against it. Always hike with a partner. Good safety advice, really.

There's more to life than being safe.

For the Aborigine, it was a spiritual experience. That spiritual element is important to me too. I wander off when civilized life becomes too burdensome. I commune with God, nature, and quiet my mind. It's a reflective time. Sometimes after a walkabout, I come back with insight that changes my life. At the very least, it's a recharging experience.

My lovely wife always understood it is part of what I am. She never felt the need to change me. In fact, there have been a few times when she suggested that perhaps it was time for me to go on walkabout for a bit. I'm sure by then it's almost as much for her as it is for me. The guy who comes back is better than the guy who sets out.

Part of the experience involves living at least partly off the land and traveling with minimal gear. I've fished, hunted, and lived on wild plants. There were times in the winter in the mountains when I lived off rock tripe. Sometimes I'd fast for 3 or 4 days, drinking plenty of water, but eating no food. It's good to know how your body responds to that sort of thing.

I did try that once in the winter, but by the third day I was having out of body experiences. During the night as I tried to sleep, it felt like my soul kept floating out of my body. The experience would freak me out and I'd slam back into my body. That went on all night long. Early in the morning, I made some hot coco, ate a bit of breakfast, and hiked out.

After a walkabout, it takes time to readjust to civilized life. Everything is too loud, fast, and jarring. My senses are hyper aware. It's one thing to be aware of the critters of the woods and wind in the trees. That same level of awareness is overwhelmed by the cacophony of our mechanized world.

It's been too long since my last walkabout. Meditation helps, but it's not the same. Winter's been busy for me, but by spring or early summer I'll probably wander off for awhile.

I owe it to my soul.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The high cost of poverty

It's no secret that on a personal level, poverty is expensive. Bills can't be paid on time so interest is added on top of the bill that couldn't be paid in the first place. Fees and penalties are added on a checking account with too low a balance. Interest rates are higher for poor people. Insurance of all types is too expensive, so the uninsured risks losing everything. Poor people risk losing property and even risk losing their lives. Having no insurance, medical problems are ignored instead of receiving early treatment.

The law is tougher on poor people. There's a big difference between being able to hire an expensive law firm and getting stuck with a public defender -if you can get one at all. Justice too often goes to the highest bidder. A poor person is more likely to get into trouble with the law. They drive old beater cars that get stopped for bad lights, excessive rust, broken springs, cracked windshields -all kinds of things that the poor person can't afford to fix. The police officer can then check the driver's sobriety, and check for any other violations that might catch his eye. Rich people with new cars don't get stopped for brake lights that don't work.

Housing is expensive for the poor person. The poor person has to rent rather than buy. Instead of fixing windows, doors and putting in insulation, he pays more every month for heating and cooling. Can't replace an old inefficient furnace so money is wasted on fuel and repairs. Can't afford to put a new roof on, so patches get put on patches, water damages ceilings, and mold starts to grow.

When you are poor, all those things play against each other. The expense of one thing causes neglect in other areas that then become more expensive problems.

Things spiral downwards from there. The list goes on and on.

Now let's expand things a bit. Think of all the people who've lost their jobs, had pay cuts, or lost income in other ways. They've started down the slippery slope of poverty. If they are very lucky, they are able to replace the income before things get out of hand. Maybe they run up the credit cards a bit more than they normally would. Roof repairs get put off for a few months. They drive their car a year longer than they normally would.

If they don't get their income back, expenses can pile upon expenses. Before long, the bills get too big to ever get paid. They become one of those poor people -the sort of people they've looked down on all these years. That's happening to a lot of people. More, I suspect, than government statistics would indicate.

Poor individuals become poor families. Poor families become poor communities. Poor communities become poor towns and cities. Then we get poor counties, states, national governments and maybe even whole regions. Take a good long deep look at what's happening to the European Union if you doubt me. Focus on Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain if you need a hint.

All the things that affect the individual affects nations. A nation cannot replace its aging infrastructure. It's one patch job on top of another, until even the patches are unaffordable. Then bridges collapse. National grids keep running old equipment longer and work it longer. Blackouts become common. A nation's health care slips until it can't handle a shock like a pandemic. As a nation weakens, other stronger nations begin to push it around. As the economy falters, there's no money for extras. (Ever wonder why the moon missions have been canceled? We can't afford it anymore.) Eventually, a nation can no longer afford necessities. Water projects fall. Energy development comes to a stop. Snow isn't plowed off the streets. Firemen are laid off at the same time arson increases. Police are let go while crime is on the upswing. Garbage isn't picked up anymore.

Just like a poor individual's life gets complicated, government's life gets complicated too. The garbage in the street becomes a health hazard just when medicine is in trouble. Buildings burn down, reducing tax revenue. Spotty grid power hurts business productivity, again reducing tax income. Businesses may even leave for places in better shape. Unplowed streets keep people at home, reducing their earnings and spending. The lowered economic activity again affects tax revenue.

Are there solutions? Sure, but the best bet would have been prevention.

The person who's making a lot of money who does wise things, is much better off when income is reduced. Instead of spending money on fancy vacations and big cars, debt is paid down. Money is invested in solar electric panels, gardens, greenhouses, house insulation and other things to reduce day to day living costs. Believe me, it's good to have a significant percentage of alternative electric power than can't be shut down by the power company.

The nation could have gotten it's financial house in order. It didn't. Solar panels could have put on every house in America for less money than the war in Iraq. We couldn't do that now, the nation is too poor. Money could have been spent improving railroads and canals -more efficient ways of moving goods and people than the highway system. Too late.

It takes vision, for an individual or a government, to prepare for poverty during rich times.

Are there things individuals and governments can do once they become poor? Sure, they can freeze in the dark. Well, that's one possibility. There are others, but as time goes on they become more and more unattractive.

An individual could accept they'll never get better than a minimum wage part time job and reduce living costs to that level. A nation could prepare to lose its status on the world stage and downscale voluntarily.

Individuals have been known to adjust -a few, painfully. I don't know of any nations that downsize voluntarily. Empires collapse; they don't have yard sales.

It's tough to be poor.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Itchy Feet

The lovely wife and I are trying to figure out if we are going to head south at all this winter. After years of spending 4 - 6 months on the road, the last two years stuck home have been tough. We were hoping to at least get away for a few weeks. Last year family issues kept us close by. This year it's my wife's recovery from shoulder surgery.

There was a medical set back with her recovery. She overdid it and inflamed a tendon. We just learned that it'll be 6 weeks before we know for sure what will happen. It's possible the doctor may have to operate all over again. That would be a major disappointment. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

March was shaping up as a good travel month, but that was before the doctor's report. She's got new exercises for her physical therapist to try. We'll rely on his expertise on whether or not it's a good idea to travel. Should know in a couple weeks.

Just in case we get the Okay, I'll make sure the vehicles are squared away. If we do decide to travel, our wheels better be in good shape.

There's something about a semi-nomadic life style. It's a very old living pattern among humans. Even the Woodland Indians wouldn't spend the winters here in northern NH. They'd make their way down to the coast where it's a bit warmer, has less snow, and plenty of sea food. Food's much thinner on the ground here during the winter.

Don't get me wrong. I do love living out here in the woods. I also like travel. Winter is a pretty good time, as I see it, to head to warmer climes. I'm a water guy and enjoy it much more when it's not frozen solid. There are friends of mine who are just the opposite. Winter is their special time. They are pretty happy right now.

We do meet a lot of semi-nomadic people out on the road. Of course, there are the snowbirds. They tend to travel south for the winter and stay in one place. Some like to do what we do -move around. There's a certain look to someone who's been on the road a while. You can kinda spot each other. They are always worth taking to.

Struck up a conversation with one guy. He didn't look like much. Pudgy and unshaven, he wore a shirt with holes in it, his car was a rust bucket beater, and he had an old one speed bicycle. Turns out he was a highly educated man and was fascinating to talk to. Half the year he lived on a houseboat in Tennessee. The other halve he spent wandering the Florida Keys.

We compared notes. People living on the road are always looking for bargains. There are some inexpensive gems for tent campers out in the Keys. No, I'm not going to tell you about them. You'll have to find your own nomads to share notes with. You do have something to share, don't you? I happened to have a bottle of very fine single malt scotch. (NH has very low liquor taxes) Nothing loosens up the throat like a bit of fine lubricant. W also had some information about camping conditions in places he hadn't been to yet.

Sometimes it's worth knowing what places to avoid -like the campground that was in the middle of a massive tick infestation. The campground that had bad water. Places that attract sketchy people who go camping to drink and fight with their wives. It's good to know which places have uptight management. There's such a thing a too many rules. Over the years we've made friends with local people we've met on the road. Nothing beats their knowledge of an area.

So here we are, waiting for the word. Do we go or do we stay?

Hope to know soon.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Me Barbarian

As free and independent as I like to live, every now and then the larger dominant culture intrudes. Damn, I hate that.

Once in a while I have to deal with things like bankers, lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, and judges. Turns out roaring and waving a battle ax is frowned upon. Life was simpler once.

Take bankers. Please. Technically, I've stopped dealing with banks. What financial stuff I do is through my local credit union. First rule of dealing with the civilized world: make sure they have a local office you can occupy. Much more satisfying than trying to get someone on the phone. I'm too big to throw out of an office.

So once in a while I have to deal with the money guys. Last couple times weren't so much for myself, but to help one of my kids out of a jam. For my kids, I'll deal with the foreign land called civilization. It's always a culture clash. I don't have any taxable income, but I do have income. It's a pain to show that to a financial guy when my I lack the normal forms most people have.

Life is always better when it doesn't involve lawyers. I've had to employ lawyers a few times in my life. It's one of those play by the rules sort of things. So far I've made out well enough. Still, not as satisfying as shooting the bastards. I am holding that in reserve . . . for now.

Woe to those who mistake me for a civilized person. I'm a barbarian who knows how to read. That's all. I'm a stranger in a strange land.

One of the good things about living in a small rural town is that the bureaucracy is scaled down -at least in my town. You know the people as people. It's possible to get the local town clerk to help you game the system. Always be polite to secretaries and clerks. They run the civilized world. Barbarians do well making them allies. Once had a clerk help fill out nice paperwork white lies to the state to save me a bundle in vehicle registration. It could have been ugly.

Even the politicians can be dealt with as people. Take the time when I was burning down an old boat house. It had been dragged up on dry land before I bought the property. It functioned as a shed for a number of years. Eventually, the roof caved it. The easiest way to get rid of it was to burn it down.

So there I was burning down my boathouse, minding my own business. Next thing I knew, my local Selectman was on my land wondering what I was up to. I pointed out the obvious, I was burning down my boathouse. He saw that I had waited until there was snow on the ground. He noted that the burning boathouse was no threat to anyone else's property. Then he went back home and that was the end of it.

As a barbarian, I can deal with people. I can deal with tribes. I've dealt with the local Democrat and Republican tribes. Had dealings with the local shaman called a church pastor.

Faceless bureaucracies . . . for that it must take magic. There are holy words and phrases that need to said. Sacrifices have to be made. It does no good slaying the minions of the bureaucratic beast. More spring up in their place. The bureaucratic monster has no heart. It is difficult to kill. It hides in the shadows, yet it's tentacles reach out to entwine us all.

Civilization can be hard for us barbarians. If it wasn't for the hot showers and cold beers, I'd give up on it entirely.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cubical life

I've friends who work in cubicals. Never have myself. It's another box I didn't want to be put in.

What's the difference between workers in cubical and rats in a maze? The rats have a chance of getting out.

Some of you out there are probably reading this blog while in a cubical. Good for you! You are stealing back a little slice of your own life.

As a little kid, who among us has ever said. "I want to work in a cubical." It's not really a goal, yet a lot of people end up there.

Cubicals are the logical extension of the factory system into our lives. Plug worker into square box, extract productivity, discard worn out units with fresh young units. It's the same way eggs are raised in factory farms. The chickens are in little boxes, get their input and deliver their output.

In the movie The Matrix, what's the difference between Neo's office job in the matrix and his function as a battery in the larger world? Hardly any at all.

Plenty of people are perfectly comfortable in a cubical. That's because they've been domesticated. If a dog is crate trained, the crate is a safe comfortable place for him to be. Do you feel safe in your cubical. Nice doggie!

I'm a wolf, a wild creature, and a free person.


Friday, February 12, 2010


I love to travel long distances by car. In 24 hours I'm good for about 1200 miles, driving by myself. If there's another driver to do a few hours driving now and then, add another 500 to that. In a car with three good drivers, I'd have no qualms about traveling nonstop coast to coast.

There's something that often happens during a long car drive. It's a special thing for me. For a time, I might be struggling to stay awake, then I'd get in the zone and be good for hundreds of miles more. It's like a meditative state -especially on a long nearly deserted road late at night. There's a head space a long trip puts me into. I miss it when it's been too long between road trips.

It's pretty cool to leave the snows of NH on a Friday and by Saturday be lounging on a warm beach somewhere in the south.

When my wife and I decide to go on a trip, we can be out of the house in a matter of hours. That's if we take the time to do all the things necessary to be away for months at a time. If we decide to go on a weekend trip, we can be packed and out of the house in 20 minutes. I know, we decided to go camping spur of the moment and I timed it. I packed the camping gear while she put the suitcases together. Grabbed some food out of the pantry on the way out the door and we were set for the weekend. 20 minutes flat. Some people can't leave the house that quick if it's on fire.

The days of free and easy travel in the US may be coming to an end. In a couple states I've run into checkpoints run by the Border Patrol. It's a weird feeling and a bad sign. Totalitarian states have internal checkpoints, not free countries.

There are other things that can doom car travel. Travel may become too darn expensive. Fuel could go to $10/gallon or more. The roads could deteriorate to the point of uselessness. It could just become unsafe to be on the road. What's a guy with wanderlust to do?

I've toyed with different travel ideas. Forget public transportation. The airlines treat people in a manner no self respecting free citizen should tolerate. Train travel can work, but not everywhere. I've traveled the Hudson River corridor into NYC that way. However, there's a lot of places trains don't go. The same can be said for buses. It can be a chore to get across the country using buses. Once calculated what it would take to go see my dad in FL by bus. There are no direct routes to his town. Some layovers would be up to 12 hours long. Did not sound like my idea of fun.

Maybe in my younger days I'd have traveled across the country by bicycle. The thought no longer excites me -too fat for those bicycle seats. Hitchhiking? It's still car travel, just with random strangers driving. I've had some success with hitchhiking. Didn't have any other transportation choices at the time. Much to my surprise, people picked me up. I'd won't pick up a guy who looks like me. Still, not a reliable method of travel.

Thought of learning how to fly a small private plane -perhaps something in the sport class. Expense is a problem. Fuel is an issue. I don't trust the petroleum distribution system with my car. That's why my vehicles can run on waste veggie oil. Aviation gas might be hard to get when I need it. While flying is tempting. Hey, it's flying! The downsides are just too risky.

Sailboats caught my attention. There are plenty of bargains out there as people unload toys. Good seaworthy sailboats can be had for the price of a used car. The wind is free. I could sleep and cook on the boat. I do love the water. There are possibilities. I can picture myself heading south in the fall and back north in the spring. Heck, I may even be able to get my wife on board with the idea.

I could visit friends and family along the coasts. However, it might be tough to visit my friends in Kentucky. Sorry Dan. (Of course, if I could sail up the Mississippi . . .)

Anyway, for now, it's car travel. I tend to drive the speed limit or less. I'm no longer getting paid to drive fast. It's all about driving steady. My vehicles can go a long long way on the veggie fuel tanks and there's always room for my copy of Jack Kerovac's "On the Road."


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Team Sports

I'm not a fan. What's the point? I'm so far out of the loop that I didn't even know the Superbowl was playing until I got an e-mail to go a Superbowl party. The people throwing the party weren't big fans either. They wanted to comment on the commercials. Okay, so that would have been fun.

When I was little kid way back in the 60's, the big team all the other kids followed was the Red Sox. Tried my best to fit in with other kids. Really tried to care. Year after year the Red Sox would have pretty good seasons only to choke at the end. After a bit of that, it occurred to me that I didn't want that much disappointment in my young life. Stopped trying to care.

I was always bigger and taller than most kids my age. In grammar school, I was encouraged to join the basketball team. My folks must have heard somewhere about team sports building character or some such thing. Didn't work for me. My protests to my folks that I didn't know anything about basketball fell on deaf ears. No problem they say, they'll teach you.

No, no they won't. They assume you know something about the game. Sure, I was tall, but having had a recent growth spurt, coordination was sorely lacking. One season sitting on the bench was a crappy enough experience for me. That time could have been spent doing something enjoyable.

It's not that I'm not competitive. Loved to race canoes, either with a partner or alone. Won quite a few races too, and no doubt that helped. A sport done solo or with a partner is fine. Somehow by the time something balloons to an organized team sport, it becomes distasteful. Perhaps it is the loss of the individual that I fear? Subduing the individual to the hive mind?

Really enjoy just heading out in the woods or on a river somewhere. Hunting and fishing are enjoyable. Hiking is great. Swimming is fun. As long as those activities aren't turned into some sort of team sport, they are good.

Never could figure out why we were supposed to hate the kids at a rival school just because our teams were playing each other. Of course, I never could figure out why we were supposed to hate people from other countries, religions, or cultures. Perhaps it's the same mechanism at work? My "hate the other" training never took hold.

If you actually enjoy following a team. Fine, have fun. Just because it's not for me doesn't mean other people can't enjoy it. Please try and keep a little perspective. Don't get all crazy about following your team, be they the Red Sox, the Democrats or the Republicans. Whatever.

It's only a game.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Car Pride

I'm proud of my car. Well that's no big surprise as I am an American. We've got the most car centric culture on the planet.

Here's the thing, I'm proud of '81 Mercedes Benz 240D. Ah, you may think. He drives a well preserved or perhaps even restored classic.

Oh no, it's a beater. It's hard to tell exactly how many miles are on it. I replaced the instrument cluster a couple times with used ones from e-bay. The odometer reading is a lying fiction. My best guess is that the car's got something like a half million miles on it. No exaggeration.

Picked it up about 8 years ago to experiment on. Converted it to run on waste veggie oil. Started with a heater tube kit and thought up improvements as I went along. Every time something breaks on it, I fix it anyway I can. Sometimes that involves actual Benz parts. However, sometimes new parts are unavailable or too pricey. Then I or my mechanic will find something else that works.

Never put much money in the thing. For the last couple of years, it's taken some quick and dirty work to patch up the rust to pass state inspection. It passes, but it's not pretty. The paint is patchy looking. Is calico a car paint scheme?

I'm proud that I've been able to convert the car to run on waste veggie. I'm proud that I'm keeping an old car out of the junk yard. I'm proud I don't have any car payments. I'm proud my friends and I were able to build specialized tools without having to buy anything. I'm proud of all the unorthodox repairs and improvements. Heck, I'm even proud of the Grateful Dead stickers on it.

So if you see a rusty old Benz with Grateful Dead stickers, a retired Firefighter decal, roof racks and a trailer hitch, and it smells vaguely like fried food, that's mine. Know that the driver is proud.

I hope to drive it until the end of the petroleum age. So far, so good.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Did some shopping at a good sized indoor flea market. Noticed a few things. The place had plenty of cast iron cookware. It was the largest selection of used cast iron I'd seen anyway. Unfortunately, they knew the value of the stuff. I'd say it was fairly priced, but not cheap. Most of cooking is done with cast. Pretty much have all the cast iron cookware I need, but will never pass up a bargain on good cast iron.

The flea market had a good eye for tools too. Plenty of good quality used hand tools. They were a bit too pricey for someone just looking. Worth it if you needed tools. Good thing I already own a lot of old quality hand tools. They also had really cheap modern hand tools. It was all junk -cheap steel, plastic parts where steel's called for, extremely loose tolerances. They were nicely packaged.

Books were cheap, and I picked up a few of those. Can never have enough books. Got a really good pair of leather mittens, cheap. Would have regretted leaving those behind. Picked up a few electric items for some of my repair jobs. Didn't spend a lot of money.

The place did get me thinking. There was a lot of old stuff in pretty good condition. Things must have been fairly well built to survive the years. I wonder how much of the stuff we make today will stand the test of time. I'm guessing not much.

At least the flea market was interesting. There's very little for me to look at in the average mall. Many malls don't even have one decent bookstore. I might check out some overprice camping gear -if the place even has an outdoor store. One of the few places that interest me is those kitchen supply stores. I do most of the cooking in my household. There's sometimes a few gizmos that I'd actually think of possibly buying . . . someday.

As for most of my shopping, I think back to something I read once. Wish I could remember who said it, so I could give them credit. "Before buying something, picture it a year from now in a yard sale with a 25 cent sticker on it." That thought often stops me in my tracks.

Yard sales often depress me. First of all, it is actually full of those year old things with a 25 cent sticker on them. Strewn over the tables is the debris of our consumer culture. I can't but help look at the junk and think how at one time these items were must have purchases. Guess they really weren't, or they won't be in the yard sale.

I'll walk though places like Tractor Supply, hardware stores, or building supply stores, not so much to buy but to see what they stock. I'll go, hmmmmmmm, Tractor Supply carries two wire submersible well pumps. Keep that in mind if my well pump burns out. I'll note that the hardware store has an extensive selection of metric nuts and bolts. I'll see that the building supply store has varnish I need for my wooden boats. If suddenly I do need something, I know where to get it.

Shopping is not a recreational activity for me. If I actually need something, I buy it and then leave. My fear is that I'll spend money I don't have for something I don't need.

Next thing you know I'd have to find a job. I don't have time for a job.


Monday, February 8, 2010


For me status was never about the stuff you have. It's cool to have interesting stuff, but it doesn't make you an interesting person. Money was never much of a motivator. It's a marker in a game that bores me.

My dad had and has status -at least in the way I measure it. Knowledge is a big part of it. Formal education is nice to have, but never let education get in the way of your learning. The thing that always impressed me about dad was he's the guy people go to solve problems. He's a figure it out sort of guy. Never makes much money for the stuff he does. Even in his mid seventies, he's the problem solver in the retirement park. He doesn't charge for what he does, but he does accept donations.

Dad's in the gift economy, but probably wouldn't call it that. Often his services are much more valuable than the donations he gets. Often he refuses to accept anything at all. Someone might bring a broken machine to him. In five minutes he may discover the problem and do a quick fix. To him it was nothing. Never mind that the owner of the troublesome item was ready to toss it out.

Status is in what you can give. The more stuff you can do, the more you have to give people. The more you give, the richer you are.

In a lot of ways I've followed in dad's footsteps. I learned a lot of practical hands on stuff, but it's dad's attitude that stuck with me. His willingness to give. He gives a lot because he has a lot to of knowledge and talent he's willing to share. People look to him for that.

It's the kind of status that inspires me.

Thanks dad.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tent Living

It's one thing to occasionally spend a weekend in a tent. Living in a tent for months on end is a whole different experience.

There are some things that always matter no matter how long you camp. Don't pitch your tent in a low spot where rain water will pool. Never leave food in the tent. Don't cook in the tent -stuff like that.

If you are going to spend any time at all in tent, get a good one. We usually buy ours from L. L. Bean or Eastern Mountain Sports. We travel with two tents. One a 2 person, 4 season tent. It's small, low to the ground, and very good in high winds. It can also take a fair amount of snow loading. For our other tent we prefer a 6 - 8 person, 3 season tent. I'm 6'3" and I like a tent I can stand up in. Very handy for getting dressed.

We use the small winter tent for tight places where there's not enough room for the big tent. If it's extremely windy or cold, that's the tent we use. Sometimes we set it up because we are only staying one night. We've also used this small dark colored tent in places where we did not want to get noticed. Another good thing about traveling with two tents, there's a backup if something happens to one of them.

The big tent is what we normally use. It's much roomier and that can be important. On rainy days we can even set up our chairs inside it. Much more comfortable for using a computer or watching movies. My wife has a craft bag full of materials for her hobbies. A nice feature in a tent is a screened in entrance way. It doesn't have to be big, just large enough for a couple chairs and a folding camp table is fine. It makes a dry space in light or moderate rain. Good place to sit and watch the weather.

With practice, we could set up camp in about 15 minutes. In that time we'd set up the tent, inflate our air mattress, lay out the sleeping bags and bring our suitcases into the tent. We'd unfold camp chairs, set up the stove and the rest of the kitchen. Heck, we might even have the coffee peculator on the fire.

Often we'd be done while someone with a motorhome or trailer was still trying to back it into place. A great form of entertainment is to look for a new motorhome with temporary plates. More often than not, the driver doesn't quite know what to do. Often the spouse is outside trying to direct the driver. Try not to laugh too hard when the campground's picnic table is run over. Also keep an eye out for motorhomes from rental agencies. Odds are it's amateur night. Good fun.

Most people use a tent for a few weekends a year. Some might use it for a week or two at a time. Tent camping for months on end takes a toll on gear. A good quality nylon tent, used constantly, can be relied on for about 6 months. You might get months of service beyond that, but don't count on it. Constant set up and tear down cause wear and tear. We'd rarely stay in on place more than 3 days, so our usage might be harder than most. Sun and wind age a tent.

I own a canvas tent that's over twenty years old. The poles have reached the point where they could not be repaired and had to be thrown out. We used the tent for vacation camping when the kids were little. It's good sized, 10'X16', divided into two rooms. Good quality canvas can last longer than nylon, but we don't use canvas for our main tent. The big disadvantages to canvas tents are weight and bulk. When car camping, every pound and square inch are precious.

No tent should be packed wet. If you do have to pack a tent went, it should be dried out as soon as possible. Canvas is more susceptible to rot. Mold can foul a canvas tent quickly. Over the years I've used waterproofing treatment on the tent 4 or 5 times. During a rain storm, if anything touches the sides or roof a canvas tent, it'll leak at that spot. A nylon tent with an outer fly is less likely to leak.

If I was going to stay in one spot for a long time, canvas might just be the way to go. The leakage problem can be mitigated by stringing a large tarp over the tent. A friend of mine once left a large canvas tent set up all winter. It had woodstoves on both ends for heat. That old tent survived some harsh treatment.

Tents are great for canoe camping. Motor homes don't fit well in a canoe. We've river camped for a week once and I've always wanted to do longer trips.

My wife and I came close to buying a camper trailer a time or two. Always decided to stay with tents. For the way we travel, they work just fine.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Utility Trailers

Yesterday my blog was about roof racks. One little aside was that a good set of roof racks can save you the expense of a utility trailer. This post is about utility trailers. What gives? There are times when a good utility trailer is just the thing for the job.

It can save someone the expense of buying and maintaining a truck. A lot of people own a big truck because a few times of the year they do things like haul compost. 99% of the time, they don't really need a truck. Driving a fuel efficient car that occasionally pulls a trailer would save them an awful lot of money. True, there is the expense of installing a trailer hitch and buying a trailer. It can be done on the cheap.

I bought a second hand trailer for $50. Spent another $100 for plywood, new lights, and paint. How good a trailer is it? I took it on a 5000 mile trip and it didn't give me any problems. It can hold about a 1/2 cord of firewood. I hauled firewood for three different households. The trailer is still in good shape. New tires are all it need before taking it on another long trip. Wore out the old ones.

Since utility trailers are fairly light, a cheap class III hitch is probably good enough. Many vehicles come with factory installed hitches. While I have bought a few hitches over the years, most of mine have been welded up from scrap steel. Most light kits can be installed by reading the directions on the back of the box. It's not that hard to do. Your average mechanic can do a nice job fairly quickly, so it's not that expensive to hire out.

A friend of mine has a trailer he keeps loaded for camping. All his gear is packed in waterproof boxes. Before he goes on a camping trip, it's just a matter of loading up the cooler, clothes and dry goods. Everything else is ready to go. It's a great bug out vehicle. In a pinch, he could be loaded up and gone in minutes. That's the key to beating the crowd. By the time the average person finds their suitcases, he's in the next state.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Roof Racks

Soon after I buy a car, any make or model, I add roof racks. Good roof racks are expensive, reduce gas mileage slightly, and are absolutely essential. Thule racks are nice and fit most cars. I've bought mine from L L Bean, REI and local dealers. If you buy them on-line, there's a rack fitter program that calculates the components needed for your make and model of car.

I've always used roof racks for my canoes. It's the most secure way to carry a canoe. They do make foam pads that attach to a canoe's gunnels. Even used them a time or two in the past. They worked well enough for short distances, but I would not want to carry a canoe across the state with them. (and NH's a small state)

I carry a lot more than canoes on my car: lumber, pipe, skis, furniture, bicycles, sailboats, firewood, and even a guitar once. Anything too long for the car is fair game for the roof racks. I made a plywood platform that straps over the racks and makes a good place for luggage.

Good roof racks can carry things that won't fit in a truck. Most truck beds are 6 - 8 feet long. Try carrying a couple 16 foot 2x6's with a truck. At best, it's awkward. At worse, it's down right dangerous. That's why I built full sized racks on my truck. Items can stretch out over the cab. Long, well tied lumber can easily be transported on the racks. My canoe's 17'4" and travels fine up there.

Avoid bungee cords. They have a tendency to stretch at the wrong moments. Once saw a canoe fly off a van's racks. The van hit a big dip in the road and the jolt stretched the bungee cords until the boat slipped off the racks. It was ugly. Smashed a side window on the van and busted up a fiberglass canoe.

Some people swear by adjustable strapping. They aren't my first choice, but I'll use them in a pinch. If you decide to tie loads down them, make sure the hooks have secure places to attach and that they can be crank down tight enough. Avoid the cheaper ones.

My first choice is good synthetic rope. Nylon and nylon blends work well for most things. Get a large enough diameter that it has some strength, but not so large that knots are difficult to tie. Learn a few knots. Most thing can be tied down with a couple simple half hitches. There's about a half dozen knots that I use, but two half hitches- tied right, should take care of 90% of your needs. You might want to brush up on your Boy Scout manual and learn a few knots.

I recommend checking your load after you go down the road a few miles. Rope can stretch, especially brand new rope. On a long trip, it might be necessary to tighten your ropes a time or two. Make it a habit to check them when you stop for other things -fuel, food, rest stops, whatever.

On my car I've gone though the trouble of installing heavy duty eye-bolts on the underside of the bumpers -2 in the front and 2 in the back. Long items like lumber or canoes need to be tied on the ends. It keeps the load stable.

Here's how I tie down a canoe. First tie down the middle of the boat where the roof racks are. After the middle, The bowline is tied to the front bumper. It's tied fairly tight. The idea is to keep the bow of the canoe nice and tight to prevent wind from getting up underneath it. Last, tie down the stern of the canoe to the back bumper. If the stern is tied first, it tends to raise the bow some and it's likely to wobble from side to side.

If space inside the car is limited, the paddles are tied down next to the canoe. I've even stuffed tents, sleeping bags, and a big dry bag full of clothes inside the canoe. Of course, everything has to be secured. The seats, thwarts, and roof racks are good tie down points.

One could use a utility trailer to carry all that stuff but there are advantages to the roof racks. A trailer has to be registered. There's more things that can wrong -wheels, springs, lights, hitches, etc. A car without a trailer is more maneuverable.

Keep rope in your car. You never know when you might want to take something home. I bumped into one heck of a deal on a contractor style wheelbarrow. Bought it and took it home on the roof.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Slack in the system

There's a lot of nasty stuff coming down the pike. The financial system is looking pretty ragged on the edges. Lots of foreclosures had yet to work their way through the system. The dollar is in danger of collapse. Peak oil is real. We are on the downslope of Hubbard's Peak. Our food systems are heavily dependent on petroleum derived pesticides and fertilizers.

Yes, I'm worried, but not in a panic. There's still slack in the system. We aren't up against the wall yet. Our problems are real, but we have options.

Places like Haiti have no slack in their systems. Everything is already at its limit. There's no room to absorb any additional problems. When the earthquake hit, everything broke. Government failed. Food system failed. Water systems failed. Medical systems failed. Almost everything.

Haiti was like a person who's living paycheck to paycheck, deeply in debt, and not keeping up with the payments. Suddenly, that person is laid off and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

America isn't there yet. We are more like the upper middle class family with two good incomes. However, the family is deeply in debt, driving a couple big SUV's, takes big vacations, and eats out all the time. Suddenly one person in the household loses their job. It's bad, but not the end of the world. They get rid of one SUV. The vacation to Europe gets replaced with domestic car travel. They eat at home more. Day care is canceled and the laid off spouse does child care. It's an adjustment, but no one's missing any meals here.

As a country, we can get by for a while. Most people can still make their house payments, even if they don't have equity any more. Some who lose their homes really are in desperate straights, but many just move in to an apartment or relatives. The dollar is still limping along as it's still the main currency oil purchases are made in. We can get by with less oil. Houses can be colder in the winter and warmer in the summer. People are switching to more fuel efficient cars and driving less. There's room to car pool more. Urban and rural gardens can help with food production. There's still slack in the system. We've got options.

Here's the thing, as a nation, we haven't been acknowledging the problems. We are pretending that things will go back the way they were. It won't happen. We've got to get ahead of our problems and acknowledge things have changed. The slack in the system won't last forever. We have an opportunity to make other arrangements.

Imagine that upper middle class family again. Instead of adapting to the change in income, they pull out the credit cards and live the way they've always lived. It works for a while. If they are lucky, the laid off person gets a new and even better job. Nice idea, but can you count on it? Can the US count on getting a big energy payday from somewhere? Will another bonus like the Alaska oil fields suddenly come on line. Maybe, but unlikely.

If the country doesn't acknowledge its problems the slack in the system will be slowly eaten away. We become like Haiti, unable to absorb a sudden shock.

You know what still works in Haiti? Families. Now we only limited influence on the way the country goes, but we have at lot that can be done on the family level. US families still have some slack in their systems. It's time to use that slack to prepare.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Too Much Complexity

I don't want to sound like a Luddite here, but does anyone else see a major systemic problem with Toyota's recall for faulty accelerators. It's a flippin' gas pedal folks. Didn't Henry Ford pretty much figure this out, Oh, I don't know, like 100 years ago?

The Toyota's gas pedal is apparently a thing of technological wonder. I wonder why the technology doesn't work?

Is there supposed to be some major savings behind replacing a cable and spring with a computer?

Not to sound like an old fuddy, but at some point can we leave well enough alone?

My '81 Benz had an accelerator problem. The pedal would not come back up on its own. After popping the hood, it was clear the problem was a broken hook end of the spring. Using my handy dandy multi-tool pliers, I fashioned a new hook at the end of the spring. Reattached it and drove off. That was six months ago. Probably should replace the whole spring. The hardware store should have something for less than a buck.

About 12 years ago a throttle cable broke on an old Volvo. This happened way the heck out in the middle of nowhere. It was a simple matter to replace the throttle cable with the cable used by the cruise control. As the cruise control hadn't worked in years, it was no sacrifice. Took about 20 minutes to figure out the repair. Drove it that way for a few more years until the car was traded in.

Our machines can get too complex. We loose the ability to repair them ourselves. Every time that happens, we lose a bit more control over our lives.

Do we really want to be at the mercy of a technological wizard class for every little thing?


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Excuses excuses

One morning at about 3 AM I had an idea, so I got up and worked the numbers. Figured out that if we cleared up a little debt, we'd be able to take winter's off. If we didn't mind living out of a tent, we could spend winters traveling the south. Then I woke my lovely wife up with the news.
She was up for the adventure.

So that's what we did, for about 8 years.

We had a great time. Camped in a lot of campgrounds, but also camped on the property of friends and family. Once in a while we'd couch surf. On rare occasions, we'd even stay a night or two in a hotel. Usually when it'd been raining like Noah had been lied to and we needed to dry things out.

Here's the thing. We'd tell people about our adventures, and we had plenty. Then they'd say, "Oh we'd love to travel like that. . . but . . ."

Its the "but" that kills the deal. They'd love to travel like us, but they couldn't stay it a tent. It'd have to be a motor home or hotels every night. Well, then I guess they really didn't want to travel like us.

Every time we'd make suggestions on how they could travel, they'd make excuses.

I'd winterize the house every winter -drain the plumbing, and shut off the power. Friends and acquaintances would have excuses why that wouldn't work for them. They'd have to keep the house heated. If we did that, we'd be unable to afford to travel. A big excuse was, "What if something happens to the house?" I'd say, that's what insurance is for. I buy insurance so I don't have to worry.

Here's the thing. People make excuses to stay in their comfort zone. Most people really do want to stay in a nice clean well lit box. Once in a great while they may peek over the top, but then quickly duck down back inside where it's safe. My more well to do relatives went to a lot of a the same areas we went. They'd stay in a hotel that was the same as every other hotel in the chain. It could be in New Orleans, Atlanta or Montreal, it's all the same. We'd camp out in our friend's horse pasture. My relatives would spend time in Florida playing golf. We'd be canoing among alligators. Same planet, different worlds.

A lot of things we did because it was the only way to make travel work. We had no one to watch our dog for us, so we took him along. The first year we traveled, our only car was a Dodge Neon. With roof racks for the canoe and a cargo buddy for more gear, we made it work. The next year we stripped our gear down to the point were we could dispense with the cargo buddy.

Ran an on-line S/F and Fantasy magazine while on the road. ( As long as I could occasionally get an Internet connection, I could do the magazine. Never missed an issue.

We figured out ways to make everything work. After the Neon, we traveled in an '81 Mercedes Benz 240D converted to run on vegetable oil. Once went 3000 miles without stopping for diesel. Just burned veggie. That really turned people off to our way of travel. They could not picture themselves dumpster diving for motor fuel.

Of course, we saved enough money that we could do things like go sailing out of Key West. Everyone could imagine the sailing, but no one could imagine a cheap way to get down there.

I must admit that while some of my friends might be interested in traveling like me, their wives were much cooler on the idea. My lovely wife has a taste for adventure, so she was up for it.

Life is too short to spend it in a box.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Backup heat

I've friends that won't come to visit me until at least May. They live in VT while I live about 75 miles away in NH. Why May? Because that's when it's safe for them to leave for an overnight trip. They heat exclusively with wood and don't dare stray too far from the house. If no one is there to feed the stoves, the plumbing will freeze, their plants will die, and they'll lose some food to freezing.

That's a tough way to live, but they are further out in the woods than I am. They don't get cars driving by their house. They get hikers. Of course they are off grid, so forget about having a couple space heaters as backup. They do have propane for their refrigerator, so they could install a propane heater for supplementary heat. Then again, they are probably afraid of using too much propane. I've reduced my propane usage from monthly deliveries to a delivery every two years. Winter deliveries were always a pain. The trail to the propane tank had to be kept shoveled out all winter long. My friends probably want to avoid the hassle of winter fuel deliveries.

It was worse in my grandfather's day. The woodstoves needed to get fed every few hours. Today, air tight woodstoves typically last 10 - 14 on a full load of good wood. Put some wood in before going to bed and there's still hot coals in the morning. My grandfather used to drink a big glass of water before going to bed. About 2 or 3 AM his bladder alarm would go off. He'd take care of business then load up the woodstove again. He thought oil fired central heat the best thing in the world.

I'm burning oil right now. I've got a nasty cold. It's -15 F outside. My wife is recovering from shoulder surgery. There's no one else around to feed the woodstove. Today I've got the luxury of burning oil, sitting inside drinking a hot coffee and typing on the computer. If I didn't have backup, I'd be out to the woodpile, cold or no cold.

I realize that oil fired central heat is probably a temporary thing. It might too expensive for me to use or we could have another oil shortage. As it is, I use about a 1/4 what I once did. Mostly just use it when I'm away or have a nasty cold. For the rest of this winter, it's a reasonable backup.

One good backup is to have an extended family living together. It's nice to have a few more strong backs around to keep the home fires burning. As more and more people double up, that'll be one upside to the situation. Although as I remember it, even though my grandfather had two strong sons, he was the one always getting up in the middle of the night to feed the stoves. We stubborn males take care of our families.

If I was going to leave my house for a month or more, I'd go through the trouble of winterizing the palace. Anything that would freeze I'd bring to my daughter's house -food, plants, beer, paint, etc. Then the well pump would be turned off and all the plumbing drained. It's a procedure that takes about half a day.

One solution is to live so simply that the place freezing up isn't a big deal. The hunting camp was never kept warm when nobody was there. There was no running water to freeze. It had an outhouse. We hauled water from the brook or snow melted on the woodstove. It's primitive, but there's not a lot to worry about. Just make sure all the water jugs are drained when leaving the place.

A lot of people around here use oil or propane for heat, but keep a woodstove hooked up in case. In the North Country, freezing is serious business. When spring comes, we feel we've earned it.