Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Big Lake Trip

My lovely wife and I headed up to a 9 mile long wilderness lake for the day. Like an idiot, I left my camera sitting on the kitchen table. Just to round out my forgetfulness, the bag with the water bottles and coffee was forgotten in the truck. In my defense, the black flies were fierce, and we were in a hurry to get out on the water where the wind would blow them away.

The road to the lake was flooded in a half dozen places. I've seen it that bad only once before, but that was after snow melt. Traffic was still getting through, so we made it to the lake. The water level looked at least 3 feet deeper than normal. Since it's normally a pretty shallow lake, that worked to our advantage.

We were about a half mile out on the lake when I noticed the coffee was missing. That's when we took stock and decided to keep on sailing. There's a two gallon water jug stored on the sailboat, so we had that to drink. One the things I did remember was the cooler, so we had food and wine. If you've got wine and chocolate, it's not roughing it.

We launched from the south end of the lake. The wind was from the north, so we had to tack the whole way. It took four hours to get to the other side. I know people who have a camp on the north end of the lake. They were there for the holiday weekend. We did a picture prefect landing, totally under sail, and there was someone to actually see us do it. Glad they didn't see our goofy launch at the other end of the lake.

They invited us for a couple drinks. Our dog got to run around with my buddy's son. After about an hour we decided to head south while the wind was still blowing. We did a beautiful launch from their dock, totally under sail.

It took less than 2 hours to get back. Big difference when the wind is in the right direction. It was a darn good day on the water. When I told my wife that I'd forgotten my camera, she said: no problem, we'll just have to come back again soon.

That's a plan I can live with.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Searching for a good GPS handheld

I borrowed a GPS for my Florida trip, a Garmin GPSMAP 76 Waterproof Handheld and it performed well. I've given it back to the owner, with many thanks. Now I'm thinking about getting a GPS of my own for the sailboat.

There are so many to choose from and it's driving me nuts. I'm torn in two different directions. On one hand, I'd like a full color model complete with extensive navigational charts. The big problem with that is the cost. It's possible to spend more on electronic charts than the cost of the GPS unit itself. On the other end of the spectrum is something as simple as the Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Navigator, about as basic as one can get.

The eTrek is of little use without a chart. However, even if I got a top end model with all the electronic charts, I'd still want to have paper charts on-board. Electronics fail. For the sailing I've been doing, most navigation is by chart, compass, and binoculars. However, for times like when fog rolls in unexpectedly, having GPS capability is really nice to have.

What I really need to know is if the charting features are really worth it? Should I do without and save up for a top model? Maybe I should get a cheapo and have it right off? Is it worth buying a cheap one now and saving it as backup when I get a better one later?

I'm asking around to see what other people think. What's worked for you? Comments are welcome.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Does that solve our oil problems?

The New York Times has a short article about the new oil developments in Texas:

Unlike older oil fields, this isn't conventional oil. The deposits are in shale, which require fracking to release the liquid. Fracking was developed to release natural gas deposits. The process uses large amounts of fresh water. Fracking has a track record of damaging underground water supplies. Toxic chemicals are injected underground. There are significant environmental hazards.

I suspect those concerns will be pushed aside. The nation is desperate.

The Times article states that it could provide up to 25% of domestic production within a decade. That is a significant amount of oil. Of course, during that time period, all other domestic oil fields were be that much older and closer to playing out.

Developing these new fields isn't a sign that everything is going well. It's just the opposite. All the easy to get oil is gone. Now, in our desperation, we are going after the hard to get stuff. There are limits. Once it takes more energy to get the oil than the oil contains, it's game over.

From the viewpoint of national security, it's a critical resource. Venezuela could cut off our supply. A revolution in a place like Kuwait could put a serious crimp in world oil markets. The Texas shale lands and other places will be sacrificed to keep the beast going a bit longer.

If we are really lucky, the time bought by these extraordinary methods will be used to develop alternatives. History provides no comfort there. After our brush with shortages in the 70s, all was forgotten when the Alaskan oil fields came on-line.

For oil, the nation sacrificed the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Don't think it won't destroy the land to get the black gold it's addicted to.

As an individual, there's very little I can do about it. What I am doing is making sure I use as little petroleum products as possible. There are some things I won't have on my conscience.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Bears are back

No, I'm not talking about the stock market. I'm talking about Ursus americanus, the common American black bear. They are back again this year. I haven't been bothered by them until now and had hoped they'd moved on. No such luck.

Yesterday I left my basement doors open to let it dry out a bit. With all the storms we've had, it was getting pretty damp down there. My house is built on the side of a hill, and one side of the basement is at ground level. There are big double doors, the better to bring projects in and out of the basement. Had them open wide.

To be fair, to a bear, my basement smells a lot like food. That's where I store jugs of waste vegetable oil used to run my diesel truck. I knew something was wrong when my little dog went nuts, running around and barking like crazy. That's when I went outside and discovered a trash bag with an veggie jug had been dragged out of the basement. The bear had also gotten into 3 gallon bucket that I used to change motor oil.

Looks like the bear might have taken a few good licks at the crank case oil stuck to the inside of the bucket. Mr Bear isn't going to feel very well, I think. It won't be enough to kill him, but I suspect he'll have a big tummy ache.

By the time I got outside, I could hear the dog all the way down the swamp, still barking like crazy. She worried me a bit, but got home safely. Good dog. Maybe the bear will have been annoyed enough by the encounter to detour around my place in the future.

The surprising thing is that happened in the middle of the afternoon. They usually come around in the dark. That's why I took a chance and left the doors open. Of course, when a bear is hungry, all bets are off.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Storm outages

Heavy thunderstorms hit again. The grid, Internet, and my phone all went down. I just got everything back up, but have no idea if they'll stay up. Storms are still in my area. Postings might be hit or miss for a bit.

There was a huge boom that shook the house, taking the grid down. The neighbor's lights went off, and the lights when out across the lake. Those came back first. This side of the lake came back about an hour later.

We get most of our power from solar electric and the batteries had a good charge. At least we could read and listen to the radio. The main annoyance is losing the Internet, but that's not exactly the end of the world.


A meeting of Greasers

I went down to my local garage today. My wife had her car inspected and it was my job to pay the mechanic. He was closing up for a long holiday weekend. We were shooting the breeze when a guy came in with a metal coil in his hand. He was really disappointed to see the garage was going to be closed until Tuesday.

The guy had problem. He was trying to figure out how to install a heater coil in a waste vegetable tank of his old diesel Mercedes Benz. Since we are all guys, we went over to check it out. My mechanic introduced me. The guy recognized my name as I'm the first guy in the area to convert vehicles to run on waste vegetable oil.

He was driving a nice old Mercedes 300 turbo diesel wagon, a classic. The car was in good shape. The conversion was kinda sketchy. He'd bought it already installed. The poor guy wasn't mechanically minded, but wanted to upgrade the veggie conversion. It really needed help. The fuel and coolant lines leaked, and the veggie fuel tank looked like a 10 gallon stock pot with the lid held in place with carpenter's clamps. The best thing that could be said about it was that it worked -after a fashion.

The guy was in the process of replacing the tank with a nice aluminum marine tank. I was able to give him some pointers on how to install the coil to minimize the chance of leaks. He asked me a lot of questions. Apparently, there's a lot of goofy ideas about waste vegetable oil conversions. I've been running veggie for over a decade, have close to 600,000 veggie powered miles in 3 different vehicles I converted. Also helped in a half dozen or so other conversions. At the very least, I'm a talented amateur.

We had a good talk. While he's not personally mechanical in nature, he's willing to do loads of research and ask lots of questions. Also, he's not afraid to hire good help to do the actual work. This car is his retirement car. He'll be done work in a year. By then, he wants the car in tip top shape. Right now, he can afford mechanics. Once retirement kicks in, he'll have a lot less money to play with. His car should have all the bugs worked out of it and he'll be able to drive around for pennies on the dollar.

I think he'll do Okay.


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Wow! We just had a huge lightning storm blow through. Constant thunder and lightning for about 15 minutes. Huge winds with hail bouncing off the windows. It rained like Noah was lied to.

Then it all came to a stop just as fast as it started.

It's nothing like the storms in the heartland, but pretty impressive for the New Hampshire mountains.

Climate Change

Is there such a thing as climate change? Yes. Climates have changed all over planet earth. They've been changing forever. If they didn't, maybe the dinosaurs would still be the top of the food chain.

Is man responsible for climate change.? Qualified yes. Everything man does has some effect on the climate.

Is man the primary cause of climate change? I don't know. I'm only a lay person who's studied some of the available data. It does seem possible that other factors -natural long climate cycles or civilization is too young to have recorded, solar changes, deep planetary changes, and other poorly understood mechanisms, contribute. How much, I don't know. Maybe almost all of it, maybe very little.

Here's where it gets interesting. What do we do about it?

What we don't do is Carbon Credits. Looks like a license to pollute to me. Most likely it's a another financial scheme to inflate trade in essentially nothing.

Imagine if there's almost no man made influence to the climate. Many do. Too many who believe that way then go on to say it's Okay to build more coal plants. I say, no, it isn't. Coal plants in the Midwest are the reason the trout in my lake have dangerous levels of mercury. Fix that before you build another one. In fact, figure out how to shut down the existing ones.

The solutions to climate change tend to be good solutions to the pollution problem. Wind and solar are good examples. Hydro is fine, but the planet is pretty near maxed out as far as that goes. Just about every place that could have good cheap hydro has it.

The major exception is nuclear power. Some bone heads claim that nuclear power doesn't generate CO2. The mining of uranium, and construction of nuke plants certainly produce a lot of CO2. It's like saying nuclear doesn't pollute -which is true of you ignore things like Japanese nuclear plant melt downs spewing radioactive isotopes all across the planet.

Conservation and efficiency are often cited as good tools to battle climate change. They are good ideas in their own right. Very good for fighting pollution and very good for dealing with resource depletion.

Anybody else think it's a bad idea to foul our own nest? Most animals are smarter than that. (not all, porcupine dens are disgusting), but how smart is man?

Our one evolutionary advantage is our big brain. Shouldn't we be using it. Reducing CO2 would happen as a side effect of reducing pollution. Let's stop debating climate change, trying to profit by it, gain political power by it, or use it for an excuse to do nothing. Let's get back to making the earth a better place to live.

If a earthquake and tsunami hit a wind farm, the impact would be a heck of a lot less than nuke plant. If a hurricane or tornado blows over solar panels, what happens? Some of them break, releasing almost nothing harmful into the environment. Let's do the smart thing for a change.

Climate change? Let's fix the pollution problem and then see where we are. Best way to test if man is contributing significantly to climate change is to stop.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

They darken the sky

I'm thinking about running outside and fetching my wheelbarrow and a few other tools. They were abandoned in haste. I don't think it's safe to go outside again. Yes, it's black fly season here in the North Country. They drove me away from outside project.

Those little bloodsuckers are everywhere. The last couple of years we didn't really have a black fly season. It was weird, but nice. It's like a really warm day in the middle of the winter. You know it's not natural, but you can't help but enjoy it. This year they are back in force.

It's nice for the critters who eat bugs. I shooed a toad as big as my fist off my porch the other day. He was eating well. Unintentionally, I've eaten a few myself. When the air is too thick with bugs to breath, accidents happen.

If they follow the normal pattern, in a few weeks they should taper down to a more bearable level. By then, the mosquitoes, and horse flies will pick up the slack.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The iron sail dilemma

I've a love/hate relationship with my sailboat's outboard motor. It's a 6 hp Evinrude. That's plenty big enough to push my 19 foot Oday sailboat.

What I love is that it does the job. If I take of the outboard properly it runs well. When I bought the sailboat, the previous owner had a few motors I could choose from. This one cost me a couple bucks more than some of the others, but it has an alternator. Normal use of the motor has kept the boat's battery charged up.

What I hate about it is that it's a gasoline engine. It uses a nonrenewable fuel, is noisy, and produces fumes. I try and use it as little as possible. Yesterday, it started running rough. Today I figured out why -too short a run time. On my small lake, I just motor far enough from shore to drop the swing keel and raise the sails. That doesn't give the motor enough time to reach normal operating temperature. Today I had to run it around the lake a few times to burn the carbon out. A good hard run and it smoothed right out and is running fine.

For lake use, an electric trolling motor would be sufficient. That's what the previous owner did. Of course, he had electric grid power at his dock, so charging the battery was easy. I don't have power at my beach, so the battery would have to be carried 300 feet uphill every time it needed a charge. That's not something I want to do with an 80 pound battery. A good solar panel could do the job, but I don't have the funds for that right now.

A gas engine is what makes sense. When we sailed the Gulf Coast of Florida, there were long channels that had to be traveled before we could get enough water to drop the keel. Often we ran against both wind and current to get out to deep water. I don't think a regular electric trolling motor could do the job nearly as well. There are electric motors that could do the job, but they cost more than what I paid for the boat.

Gas is available all over. We could motor all day, and be fairly sure we could refill the gas tank for the next day. A gas engine makes sense for coastal travel -for now.

There are times when I just want to mount some oar locks on the boat, and build a good set of oars. Maybe that's what I'll do.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Low tech better than no tech

It's really nice to have electricity, high speed Internet, running water, an automatic furnace, and all the other conveniences of modern life. Over the years, I've put a significant amount of my efforts into keeping my modern services and conveniences running in an off grid world. The effort has paid off. When the grid goes down, I still have cold beer, hot showers, computers, a TV and stereo, thanks to my solar electric system -along with other alternative energy systems.

That's the high tech solution. It's pretty reliable, but nothing is fool proof. (fools being so clever.)

Let's say something happens, like a massive solar flare, takes down both the grid and my personal energy system. It doesn't even have to be anything that dramatic. Imagine the grid goes down: ice storm, mechanical failure, terrorist attack, non-payment of bills, whatever. Then later, some critical component of the alternative energy system fails. Then what do I do?

Well, I could haul water with a bucket. For heat, I could cut firewood with a manual crosscut saw. Toilets could be flushed using a bucket, as my septic system is totally a gravity flow system. It doesn't require an electric waste pump, as many do. Bath water could be heated over the woodstove. While these methods work, they take a lot of effort. They also require at least one strong person in good health.

There are some pretty low tech solutions that could make life a lot easier. Instead of hauling water with a bucket, I could finally get around to installing my hand pump. I bought one to tap into the old shallow well next to my house and never quite got around to installing it. It's time. On a cold stormy night, it'd be much easier to pump the handle a few times rather than climb down the hill with a bucket. Even a child could do it. An adult with a sprained leg could do it, while hauling water with a bucket would be agony.

Running the big woodstove will keep me warm, but it eats a lot of wood. It would eat less wood if my basement was better insulated. That project is going higher on the list. I've got most of the materials and tools I need. About another $50 in odds and ends should do it. Actually, I'm also thinking of replacing the big woodstove with a rocket stove. They use a lot less wood, and can be fed with smaller pieces of wood, like branches broken off in the wind. That's a lot less sawing.

I'm glad I have a few thousand books in the house. If we are ever stuck in the house with low tech, it'd be nice to have something to read. How to books are great, but have some entertaining fiction too. It's important to have something to life your spirits. For the same reason, some musical instruments are a good investment. Make your own tunes rather than rely on recorded music.

If you haven't gone high tech alternative energy yet, don't despair. Think of inexpensive low tech solutions that will make your life better. It might be something as simple as some good sleeping bags to keep you warm when the power goes out. Even those of us with good alternative energy systems should have a lot tech backup plan.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shacking up

Remember when shacking up was a big deal? Maybe it still is for you. Back in the 1970s my elders gave me that speech about "living in sin." No doubt plenty of other people out there got the same darn speech. We were all told about the horrors of cohabiting without the benefit of marriage.

Those very same elders are a lot more elderly now, in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Many of them moved into retirement communities. A funny thing happens in those places. With the passage of time, many of the couples that move into those places eventually lose their partner. However, they meet many others of the opposite sex who are in the same boat. Friendships blossom into romance.

Do they then get married? Hell no! Pensions are on the line. Marriage would mean someone would get a big cut in their Social Security payments. No way are they willing to let that happen. So now, shacking up is just fine. If marriage is going to impact their comfort level, they certainly aren't going to do it. Shacking up is no longer a big deal.

Personally, I'm cool with that. I don't hold a grudge about all the crap they gave me back in the day. A lot of other people are shocked at their parent's and grandparent's behavior. How dare they do such a thing! On the other hand, they don't actually want their parent to get married and put the inheritance in jeopardy. All the same, it just burns them up to see their elderly parent spending money on a new partner.

I find it all very amusing. I'm entertained by my elders trying to explain their living arrangement. Let's just say they don't call it shacking up. As for an inheritance, I knew long ago there wouldn't be one. Dying broke is just good planing. If those old folks can go out with a bang instead of a whimper, more power to them.

Still, I'm glad I didn't take those lectures too seriously back in the day.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Doomsday is better than your Doomsday

Happy Doomsday! By now most of you have heard about today's scheduled return of Christ. Normally I don't mock other people's beliefs. Today, I think I will. A select handful are supposed to be raptured, taken up into heaven, to avoid the tribulations ahead. Good luck with that. Never mind that the whole rapture thing is on shaky theological grounds in the first place. Never mind that the Bible clearly states that the end will come like "A thief in the night." I'm not going to argue the Bible with people, so don't even start.

Let's talk about some real Doomsdays.

September 11, 2001, the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. When that happened, I knew it was the doom of life as we know it. It was the end of the peace and the acceleration of a police state, with the loss of our freedoms.

How about 2005 - 2006, Peak Oil? Conventional liquid fuels are in decline. Energy production in general is in decline. This Doomsday is ongoing.

2008? The financial collapse. It was the doom of the financial system as we know it. Things have been patched together to keep things going, but it's a zombie economy -walking dead.

Now if you live in Japan and your hometown had an earthquake, a tsunami, and is radioactive, that's as doomy as it gets. Plenty of people getting flooded out are experiencing their own doom. If your house was rubbed out by a tornado, that's doom enough for anyone. There are always disasters that are total doom for the people involved. Unless people are personally affected, those things are soon forgotten. Remember the horrible mud slides in Brazil? Didn't think so.

2012? Sure, there will be doom then. Every year Doomsday comes to individuals, families, and communities. There is actually a heightened threat from solar flares. My source isn't the Bible, but astronomy. Theoretically, it could zap a good chunk of the world's electrical grid. Call it the potential Doomsday of our electrical civilization.

Today's doom doesn't impress me all that much, in the grand scheme of things.

Now if you are a true believer, there's not much I can do for you except offer my sympathy. Sunday morning comes and you aren't raptured. Now either your belief was wrong, or you are one of the damned. Either way you look at it, it's going to be uncomfortable. Don't let that be a personal Doomsday for you. Learn to deal with the world we've got, along with the rest of us. That'll take some commitment to actually making things better, since your get out of jail free card apparently isn't working.


Friday, May 20, 2011

On-board for the ride

Sometimes something odd comes my way and I just have to check it out. Fortunately, my lovely wife doesn't mind coming along for the ride.

Yesterday, I learned an old ambulance was going up for sale. Sure, you are thinking, what does anyone need with an old ambulance?

Okay, I'll admit, it's not the first second hand vehicle people look to buy, but it has some solid pluses to recommend it. First and foremost, it has a turbo diesel that I could easily convert to run on waste vegetable oil. Since I still have a good local supply, most of my fuel would be nearly free. How much of your motor fuel is free?

It's just roomy enough to make a cozy camper for the wife and I. A few inexpensive modifications would provide a decent bed and galley space. It already has a killer electrical system. All those medical machines use a lot of power. The lighting is first rate. No one wants to do patient care in the dark. Overall construction is heavy duty, with liberal use of diamond plate. It wouldn't take much work to weld a trailer hitch on for the boat. Currently, the vehicle is still in service, so it's well maintained and road ready.

I may or may not get the winning bid. I'm fine either way. The really cool thing, is that my lovely wife is 100% on-board with this sort of thing. Most wives wouldn't want such a thing sitting in their driveway, never mind own and drive one.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

My activities look like fraud

According to the credit card companies, my activities look like fraud.

We don't use credit cards all that much, and when we do, the banks panic and freeze our account. Back in February, my debit card stopped working. I never could get that straightened out over the phone. It had to wait until we got back from vacation and I physically walked into my local bank. Even then, there was some confusion on how to make the problem go away.

Since that card froze up, we ended up using a credit card. Using that card a few times was enough to get it frozen too. We never noticed, as we discovered my wife's debit card, on our joint account, still worked.

Well, today, cash being a bit tight, my wife tried to use the credit card again and was refused. (She had a backup.) Turns out it's been frozen since we bought some nice sheets back in February. I guess sheets with a decent thread count are way out of my normal buying habits. Not that we've used that card enough to get a track record.

Now a lot of what the big banks are doing looks like fraud to me, but who's going to cut them off?


Someone's going to miss dinner

I'm keeping more than half an eye on the Mississippi flooding. Of course, it's raised havoc with farming. It's hard to plow and plant a field that has motor boats traveling across it. Then there's the issue with barge traffic. A good bit of food and fuel normally travel that old river. Food prices are going to go up.

Factor in unsettled weather around the rest of the world, and there isn't going to be enough grain to go around. Sure, we could stop feeding grain to animals and there might be enough to feed all the humans, but where's the profit in that? Apparently the world doesn't work that way. Those who have the money want to eat meat. Doesn't matter if they are American, Chinese, Indian or whatever; anyone with a few extra dollars to spend ends up spending it on meat.

Those people near the bottom, those who are already only eating grains, will suffer the most. Don't be surprised when the poor riot. They've got nothing left to lose. In the future, looting might be the proper survival strategy. Not a nice world to live in, but that's where the world's choices are leading us.

So . . . what are we going to plant in our garden, should it ever stop raining? In northern New England, we don't grow a lot of wheat. A few farmers have reintroduced it, but it's not grown on any large scale. Buckwheat grows around here, but isn't even a real grain, it's a herb. It does make a pretty decent pancake. Farmers plant a lot of corn. A fair bit of it goes to dairy cattle. I've never been a big fan of growing corn in the home garden.

The exception is to grow it using the old Native American three sisters system. Corn is planted with squash and beans. The beans climb the corn stalks and the squash vines run along the ground. This system can't be harvested with a combine, but works good for the home gardener working by hand.

All the same, my garden plots are too small and too isolated to plant corn. It's just not worth the space. What is worth the space and can be grown easily? Now a lot of people love to plant their salad fixings: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, peppers -you name it. Garden fresh salads are great in the summer, but they don't really have the calories, plus storage can be a problem. Yes, I know tomatoes are canned or dried, but nobody cans lettuce. The very thought appalls one.

Where are you going to get those filling calories when the gardens have been put to bed? Potatoes work for me. They are easy to grow, produce well, have a lot of calories, and store easily. There are a lot of things that can be done with potatoes. Beans are good too. Beans are easy to grow. They come up quick, are good eating fresh, and can be canned or dried for later. Squash is another one. I once had an organically grown squash get lost behind some storage bins in my kitchen. Two years later is was still good to eat. I wouldn't count on yours lasting that long, but squash will get you through the winter.

Don't plan on having your full growing season. For example, if you normally count on 100 frost free days, maybe you should plan on 75, or 50. It might take an extra month for things to dry out, then cool weather could come early. Better to have something that matures quickly than watch your grain crop fail just before harvest.

A survival garden is all about calories. Sure that salad stuff is fine. Plant some. It's good eating and good for you. However, make sure you have something simple like potatoes that will fill your larder. Don't be afraid to plant something different too. I'm going to try sun-chokes (Jerusalem artichokes) again this year. Last year, raccoons got them all. (maybe I'll try eating raccoon) This year I'll plant them closer to the house where the dog can keep a watch for invaders.

I've some nut trees coming into their own this year. Nuts store well and have the calories you'll need. They are nice to have, but take years to mature.

Also in the very nice to have category, my hop plants are doing well this year. I could get a usable batch of flowers for brewing. I just hope the nation's barley does will this year. Can't make a decent beer without it, and I don't grow it my own self. Let us all pray for the barley crop. We might need that icy cold brew in the tough days ahead.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Traffic stops

Last night my lovely wife and I drove up 93 from Massachusetts to the Great North Woods of New Hampshire.

One of the odd things we noticed was all the police out on the road. They were stopping tractor trailer rigs all over the place. By the fourth, it stuck out. By the sixth or seventh it was definitely a trend. Sometimes a single truck had two police cars checking it out.

Also noticed an unmarked government car on the road, with a guy talking on a handheld. By the way G-men, a car with a government license plate isn't really an unmarked car.

Traffic is pretty light north of Concord, so it's easy to notice what other vehicles are doing. All the police activity seemed out of place, as if they were actively looking for something, not just normal traffic stops.

There's all kinds of odd activity out there on the road. Most of the time, we never learn what's behind it.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Long day in the big city

My wife had her appointment in Boston. In the end, we did take public transportation in from my daughter's house. Thankfully, she came with us as a guide. Her knowledge of the public transportation system cut our travel time in half. On-line help isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Not a bad ride into the city. We went in the middle of the day, after the morning rush. On the way out, we left during rush hour. I did my impression of a sardine. Picture a whale in a sardine can. The sardines suffered.

We've got to go back at the end of next week. As much as my wife believes in public transportation, she wants me to drive her next time. She's having a hospital procedure done and would rather sit in the car in traffic than struggle through rush hour crowds on the subway. So much for my paying attention on how to make our connections.

Oh well. Looking forward to having it all behind us. One more visit should do it.


Rebell Yell

Every now and then I come across someone who's does something extraordinary. Fred Rebell (1886-1968) is one such individual.

He's best know for his 1931 singe handed crossing of the Pacific in an 18 foot open sailboat. He didn't do it for any love of the sea. He did it because he wanted to go to America and didn't have any other way to get there.

There are some things that really stick out in his life. He left Russia for Germany to avoid being conscripted into the army. Then he leaves Germany for pretty much the same reasons. Eventually, he ends up in Australia. When he leaves Australia, it's on New Year's Eve, under the cover of darkness, to avoid the tax man.

The guy had next to nothing, worked two low paying jobs to save money to buy the boat. Taught himself navigation and built his own navigation tools, as he couldn't afford to buy them. He lacked proper charts and what he did have was 70 years out of date.

He didn't even have the proper papers, so he made his own. (Which didn't impress the US authorities, but hey, he tried.)

Fred Rebell was even a name of his own creation. He literally was a self made man. While his life wasn't a bed of roses, by god at least it was his own.

When I hear someone complaining how they are stuck in their lives and can't do anything, I think of guys like Fred Rebell. Most of us start with much more and do so much less.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Not worried about the Financial Markets

Anyone else not worried about the national debt? The stock market? Foreign trade deficit? Derivatives? The housing market? The Federal Reserve? All that financial stuff?

Why worry about something you have no control over?

It occurred to me that things are so out of whack that someone, somewhere will be left holding the bag. Most of the people holding all that debt will never get paid. At some point, it becomes impossible. Oh sure, everyone can get "paid" if the money goes Zimbabwe and inflates at crazy rates. They might get the number of dollars they are owed, but they certainly won't get anything of value.

Things could deflate like crazy and in the end, no one has any money to buy anything, so again, it doesn't much matter.

I'm not worried about it, but that doesn't mean I'm wishing for it to happen. A lot of people will suffer when their savings are wiped out and their paper worth disappears. Then again, that's happened to a lot of people already.

Eventually, a sound currency will come about once more. If we want to live at anything above the tribal level, it has to. The advocates of gold and other precious metals as a currency basis might get disappointed. You can't eat gold, it doesn't keep you warm at night, and it's worth something because everyone agrees it's worth something. What if we all agree on something else?

At any rate, there's not a lot I can do about the financial mess, except figure out how to live when it all goes away.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Driver's license, registration, and insurance

We are supposed to have freedom of movement in the US of A. See how long you can drive without paying the proper fees and possessing the proper paperwork. There are solid arguments asserting that none of those things are needed. Not one of them will impress a cop on the side of the road. You are welcome to make a statement and drive without a license and registration, but I'm going to pick my battles.

You don't want to bother with fees and papers? Fine. Get rid of your car. Of course, you might have to totally rearrange your life, but as the price of gas keeps climbing, you might have to do that anyway. Plenty of people get by without cars. They bike, walk, use public transportation, beg rides from people with cars, or move onto a boat. There are options, but all require lifestyle changes.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of public transportation. My lovely wife wants to take public transportation from my daughter's house to an appointment in Boston. It's about 16 miles. Driving in Boston rots. Parking is a pain. Even so, I'm hoping my wife changes her mind about public transportation. We'd have to take the bus and two subway lines to get to her appointment. The trip takes over an hour and a half -if everything goes right. We'd also have to get to the appointment a couple hours early as the connections wouldn't work later in the day.

Maybe I've figured the route wrong -I'm hoping that's the case. I really don't have the urban travel public transportation skill set. Maybe Google has led me astray.

Plenty of people bike everywhere they want to go. Nice, if it works for you. I could get a heavy duty bike, (I'm a big fat guy) add a good cargo rack, some foul weather gear, and be able to bike into town. It would work well enough for about half the year. Once the snows come, it's game over. Yes, I know people bike in the winter, but they are young, fit, and crazy. I don't see any around here once winter really sets in.

Bikes are banned from a lot of roads. They can't use the Interstate Highway System. Many bridges and tunnels are closed to bike traffic. There are bike paths that they can use that cars can't, but bikes lose a lot more travel area than they gain.

Another major concern is bugging out. Forget public transportation, even if it is available. It will work for something like a hurricane, if you leave very early. Good luck taking a bus, train or plane out of harms way at the last minute. Bikes may work for the young and healthy. They can weave their way past cars stuck in traffic. How about evacuating your frail grandmother by bike? For most of us, our private vehicle is our way out of Dodge.

Now I could see someone taking their car off the road, but keeping it well maintained and ready to go. During a hurricane evacuation, the cops will have better things to do than check out a vehicle's expired tags. That's fine in a situation where everyone wants to bug out and you are joining the mass of humanity. Now imagine if it's a threat that just a few people are aware of. Maybe you see a potential problem (civil unrest?). Then there is a high risk of gettiing stopped for expired tags. When the disaster hits, your bug out vehicle could be impounded and you locked up in jail. That's just where you don't want to be.

Of course, you could live on a sailboat. Sure, you need to have Coast Guard numbers. It's not all that expensive to get them. Driver's license? There are boating licenses in many states, but not all. Even states that do often have a horse power limit. If you have something like less than 10 hp on your boat, it's exempt. Insurance? There's no insurance on my sailboat right now. We sailed all over the place and even spent a few nights in a marina. Some marinas will ask to see your insurance papers, but not all.

For now, I'm keeping the driver's license, registration, vehicle inspection sticker and insurance up to date. All my running lights are in good working order. Those are the things that will get you stopped. If I'm breaking some other dumb law, I don't' want to get caught because of a stupid traffic stop.

I'm still driving, but keeping my eyes open for options. Once they start tracking every mile a vehicle travels, that'll be my line in the sand. At that point, all the freedom of driving will be sucked out of it. It'll be time to hang up my keys for good.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Should I have been more paranoid?

Sometimes I don't think my tinfoil hat is on tight enough. Friday the 13th, I get up, put the coffee on and fire up the computer. The first thing I notice is that my Blog is down. The second thing I notice is that my e-mail server is down.

Then I shrugged and made myself a cup of coffee. What was I thinking? At that point, I should have broken out the 30-06 and scanned the sky for black helicopters.

Just kidding. I'm not that paranoid. Maybe I should be, as we all know there are weirdos out to get us.

I soon discovered the rest of the Internet was up and running. Nothing major appeared to be happening.

I do like to check in on the world. You never know when some disaster might be going down. Stuff happens. Just ask the Japanese. If my Internet connection is down, I'll turn on the FM radio and see if the stations are up and running. Should my local station go down, (it has happened during ice storms) then I'll see what I can pick up on my shortwave. Should everything be off-line, I'd have some serious concerns.

Today, it appears the end of the world was postponed once more. My wife and I took my daughter, granddaughter, and a bottle of wine for a leisurely sail. Might as well, as the jack booted thugs weren't coming for me after all.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Land Ownership

There's a piece of land out behind my house that's "owned" by some holding company. One day for grins and giggles, I tried to find out who the real owners are. I gave up a few shell companies in when everything turned to oriental characters instead of English. Apparently, the real owners are somewhere in Asia.

They might own the land, but it's only sorta kinda theirs. My guess is that they plan on sitting on it until wood prices get high enough. Of course, the price of harvesting that wood might be higher than they planned on. Neither me or any of my neighbors are willing to give road access to the woodlot. They'd have come in from the backside, a long ways from the quality wood, and haul everything uphill. It can be done, but it raises the cost.

They own the land, but can't seem to do much with it. On the other hand, every winter I put in snowshoe trails. A couple years ago, I ran into a cross country ski trail that someone put in from the other side. I've hunted on the land. One year I heated my house for several months with the dead and down trees and branches within walking distance.

Someone else owns it, but I use it. No one's going to bother the cross country skier or myself. The Asians don't know what's going on and their's very little they could do about it from far away. Right now, there is some enforcement from local authorities. If I'd bulldoze a road and cut down all their trees, someone would notice. However, the use I make of the land treats it lightly and leaves little evidence. I get to enjoy it, and pay no taxes on it.

I believe you only "own" your land as much as you can control it. Two days ago, I heard someone crashing around on my property and checked out what was going on. It was a guy looking for the neighbor's well, as he was hired to do some work on it. Made sense as the well's close to my property line. I directed him to the well and everything's fine.

Once I ran into a bunch of people at my beach. Since in one of the more isolated beaches on the lake my first thought was that someone decided it was a good picnic spot. They were very apologetic when I showed up. They had outboard motor trouble and the wind blew them onto my beach. The story checked out. I didn't have a problem with that, but word gets around when a person watches their property.

You only own what you can control. Since I've got a fairly small piece of land, it's easy for me to control it. Ted Turner has absolutely huge landholdings, but I'm betting he doesn't control it as much as he thinks he does. Plenty of those acres must be paper ownership only. I'll be he has plenty of naughty little neighbors like me.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Energy use and the Japan laboratory.

So I see in the news that Japan is taking another nuclear power plant off-line. It's occurred to them that maybe it'd be a good idea to upgrade its earthquake and tsunami resistance. Wonder how they figured that out? While that's probably a really good idea, it cuts back on their power generation when they are already down 40%.

I'm darn curious to see how they will cope. Pay attention, boys and girls, as Japan is now a country sized experiment on getting by with reduced energy. In the past, a country's, any country's growth, was tied to more energy usage. More economic output equaled more electricity use. Some countries are more efficient than others, but they too would use more electricity as their economy expanded. A country might get more efficient, but all that meant was their economy would grow faster. Overall electricity usage kept increasing.

Now we have the chance to see how a country copes with the sudden reduction in power generation. It appears that economic activity will be reduced. Japan will be exporting hundreds of thousands of fewer cars this year. That's just one sector. How badly will the overall economy suffer? Will it be tied directly to the 40% power drop? Will it be less than 40% as they economize in other areas and increase efficiency? There's a possibility economic activity will drop greater than 40% as supply lines fall apart.

There are rumors going around about parts being unavailable for car repairs. Certain forms of computer memory storage may be taking a hit. It's not easy to find out how badly this is affecting world wide industry. It's early yet. These things can take a little time to shake out. However, my guess is that we'll see major disruptions before too long. The whole world has gone to just in time delivery of parts. There's no slack built in for supply disruptions. It's a terribly efficient system -when everything works perfectly, that is.

So, keep an eye on how well Japan copes with its power losses. If they do well, then maybe the world wide system has more slack in it than I've been told. It's certainly worth watching.

One scenario is that Japan learns how to do a lot more with a lot less electricity. The whole world would benefit from a good example. Another scenario is that it can't cope and Japan's economy collapses. They'd take down a good chunk of the world economy with it. Then there's the scenario without clear cut lessons. They cope a bit, and fall apart a bit, but muddle along with a slowly shrinking economy, with everyone being terribly polite about it.

On a personal level, I know it's possible to have a reduction in power usage and still maintain a good quality of life. I was an early adopter of energy efficient lighting. As far as I'm concerned, the power savings made up for any inconveniences like slow start up time. My appliances, are energy efficient. I'm concerned with how well a refrigerator keeps things cold. A beer cooled in an energy efficient manner is just as tasty as one cooled in a power hog fridge. The new front loader washing machine saves a lot of energy. The solar electric system is showing a net gain in conditions what used to show a loss. One of the big energy savings is a by product of its lower water use. The electric motor on my well pump runs less, a lot less. Water pumping is a major power draw. My solar electric system can now carry more of the household load, reducing power purchased from the utility. My quality of life goes up, with less power usage, as I don't have to get a job to pay the bills and can go sailing instead.

Quality of life can be improved while lowering energy use, but can it be done on a country wide scale, under emergency conditions?


Sailing on a small body of water

One nice thing about being home is that I can keep my Oday 19 sailboat tied up on the small lake I live on. 80 or so acres isn't a lot of sailing space, but it's bigger than a bathtub.

Yesterday, my cousin joined the wife and I and we sailed for about 4 hours. We had 15- 20 mph winds with 35 mph gusts. Add in sudden wind direction changes and occasional dead air, and it was interesting sailing. All in all, loads of fun. Plenty of sail adjustments and tacking to keep us from getting bored.

I used to joke that we started sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, moved up to the Atlantic, and finally were were experienced enough for our little lake. Turns out that's not really a joke. The steady winds of the Gulf and wide open spaces gave us room to make mistakes in. On the lake, there's not a lot of room for error. It'd be very easy to crash into someone's dock.

With the high price of gas, the lake's pretty empty of boat traffic. There are some canoes, rowboats, and a few fishing boats with small motors, but that's about it. It's quiet out there. We don't seem to bother the eagles, osprey, or the loons. In fact, the loons seemed awful curious about us and would come in quite close.

We've got some big lake trips planned, but it's great to be able to walk over to my sailboat and just go. Once again, the decision to buy a smaller boat has proven to be a good one. Had we bought any of the bigger boats we looked at, they'd have been too big for our lake. We'd have missed out on a lot of fun sailing. As it is, I can sneak away for a couple hours at a time and still get other stuff done during the day.

I was told that if I bought a small boat, I'd sail it all the time. If I bought a larger boat, I wouldn't sail nearly as much. That's proven to be true.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shabby excuse for a collapse

Anyone with a hint of the doomer in them has an image of what collapse looks like. Maybe we've seen too many movies or read too much Science Fiction. We expect things to happen in a dramatic fashion: "Red Dawn" type revolt, asteroids from space, nuclear attack, heck might as well throw in zombies while we are at it. Maybe we picture ourselves heroically defending our families, AK in hand, at our wilderness bunker. It's great fiction.

The reality has turned out to be pretty shabby. The economy struggles along in fits and starts. People are leery about eating oil seafood from the Gulf, radioactive fish from the Pacific, and a good chunk of US farmland is flooded. If you live in Japan, the disasters are only one Godzilla short of a disaster movie, but for the rest of us, it's far away. Tornadoes have been bad, but concentrate a lot of damage on a relatively small area. This spring's floods are a disaster for many people, but it's a slow moving disaster.

For most of us, the collapse looks like plunging housing prices, no raises, diminished buying power, driving older and older cars, (maybe getting your nice one repossessed). You aren't fighting off the Golden Horde. No, you've got to worry about some unemployed guy breaking into your parked car. Collapse looks like a benefit dance for a mother of five with no health insurance who needs a kidney. It looks like food stamps and the very last unemployment check. It's all kinda sad and depressing.

It's also uneven -unfair, if you'd like. Plenty of people are sipping champagne on their yachts, while you can't afford to sit on the tailgate of your truck and sip a good beer. There's a slow grinding down for a lot of people, but not everyone. Should you happen to be in Japan, or in a tornado's path, or flooded out of your home, the disaster collapse is dramatic enough. We see the collapse is here, but not evenly distributed.

If we were all in the same boat, there might be more of a feeling of pulling together through hard times. It happened in the great depression and WWII, but I don't get much sense of that yet. People seem to be stumbling around, not even sure exactly what's happening or where to place the blame.

Poor shabby excuse for a collapse.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trying to do too much with too little

I'm a frugal guy -cheap, if you want to be unkind. However, sometimes even I have to back away from a job when I'm trying to be too thrifty.

Today I pulled out the old washing machine. The new one is coming in Tuesday. Somehow I got the bright idea I should really fix the water supply to the washing machine. A few years ago a lot my plumbing froze. It was a mad scramble to get the house up and running again. All the plumbing to the laundry room froze and broke. My temporary fix was to run a single cold water PEX pipe with a garden hose shut off on the end. The best thing that could be said for that kludge was that it worked and didn't leak.

Of course, now we have a new washing machine and a proper shut off valve would be nice. Same goes for a hot water supply. I did have to buy the shut off valve, but tried to do the rest of the job with salvaged and stored parts. Probably got about 80% of the job done, but finally gave it up as a bad deal. The straw that broke the camel's back was having a salvaged fitting leak, after laboriously trying to reuse it.

Finally it occurred to me that it would not be the end of the world to buy a half handful of brand new parts. The job could be finished tomorrow. Continuing on would only make me crazy. I could fabricate parts, steal bits from other projects, and eventually make it work in a day or so. On the other hand, I could drive to town, get the right parts, and be done in under an hour.

That's the plan. With the time saved, I'm going to take the sailboat around the lake a few times.


Electronic sound wall

It's pretty normal for people to be walking around with earbuds plugged into their MP3 player, lost to everything else. I've come to wonder if it's a fortress against the world. There are things out there we don't want to hear, so we plug in and only listen to our private soundtrack. Music goes right to the primitive part of the brain that controls emotions. It can be used a sort of musical Prozac, to sooth the savage beast within.

Don't get me wrong. I like music as much as the next person. However, I try to be aware of what I'm listening to. More importantly, silence doesn't bother me in the least. I need a certain amount of quiet daily. Yes, I can hear myself think, but I can also hear what's going on around me.

If you've got your earbuds on, music blasting, and everyone else has started running or dropped for cover, you'll want to join them while taking the earbuds out. You might just have missed the tornado warning, the gunshots, or sirens. Your musical fortress doesn't protect you from flying lead, or an oncoming bus.

Now I can understand why people would want to block out the world. It I spent all my time in an urban environment, I wouldn't want to listen to it either. Most of the time I can hear the wind in the trees, or the cry of the loon. This is the sort of place that if I hear a car, I go out to see who it is. It's so quiet here, compared to the city, that visitors often bring something that makes noise so they can sleep.

Don't let your music cut your off from the world. Be aware of your environment. There are nasty things out there you should listen for. There are also good things out in the world to hear too. Maybe something as simple as a hello from a friendly face.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Walking the dog and neighbors

Our town technically has a leash law, not that we pay attention to it all the time. Still, I do walk the pooch a lot. It's good training for the dog, good exercise for me, and it's a chance to see what's going on around the lake.

We meet other people out walking. It's good to catch up with the neighbors. Like it our not, they are the other people in my lifeboat. When disaster strikes, those are the people around me. It's best to know them.

There are new people moving to the lake. Summer cottages and year round homes used to change hands a glacial pace. When they did change, usually the property went to a descendant or other relative. Those days are over. Property is being listed and sold on the open market. Anyone with the bucks can move it. That's fine. I'm all for the freedom for people to live where they want to. It just takes a bit more effort to get to know them.

A couple years ago, some real jerks moved in across the lake. They put in a water skiing boat that was way too big for the lake and ran it all hours of the day and night. Traditionally, the early morning hours were left to the fishermen. The play boats would come out a bit later. The new people didn't care about the fishermen. They paid for their boat and cottage and were going to use the boat when they wanted. Sure, it was legal to do so, but darn rude. Some people don't care about others. That was but one example in a long list of "don't give a darn about anybody else." Their place burned to the ground. I was actually surprised to learn it was because one of their kids was smoking in the attached shed. Had their immediate neighbors did it, it would not have surprised me. They shed no tears.

The dog also seems to be a pretty good judge of character. She really doesn't much care for the guy who lives down the road. He's not the nicest guy in the world, and it's no secret. He used to be a boss in the mill, and still thinks he's a boss. However, even he makes some effort to get along with the neighbors. He most likely doesn't care that much for me either, (long haired hippy freak) but we both are cordial to each other. Things are smoother that way.

The place right next door to me has a sale pending sign. I'm going to introduce myself to them on one of my dog walks. Can't wait to see what the dog thinks of them.


Friday, May 6, 2011

The 40 foot Ketch

A good friend of ours was playing his guitar at a cafe last night. My lovely wife and I thought we'd catch his performance as he's one heck of singer. Bad weather kept most people home and the place was nearly empty. Those that were there decided to all share a large round table. As a few more straggled in, they just pulled up a chair to the table. My guitar friend decided play right the table, instead of on the stage. It was all very cozy.

Between sets, we were asked how our trip south was. We went on and on about how much we loved sailing. A lady at the table asked us if we wanted her boat. Her and her husband aren't sailing it anymore and would be willing to just give it to us.

Turns out it's a 40 ft,1930 wooden ketch in good condition. It's on the hard in a marina in Maine right now, but they sailed it all last summer. The boat is ready to go. Put it in the water, add provisions, and it could sail anywhere in the world.

My wife and I had a heart to heart talk last night, and we aren't going to take the ketch. I was all for it. A 40 foot classic boat for free? Who can refuse such a thing? My wife, as it turns out. Okay, her reasons are all good. She's got some health issues we are following up with right now. The grandkids are at that age where you don't want to leave them too long. They grow so fast. It would really stretch the heck out of a budget already stretched. Unlike our trailer sailor, we'd have to keep the boat moored out in Maine, a few hours drive away. Now I thought we could get the boat, get used to it sailing off the coast of Maine, then bring it down to Florida in the fall. We could even leave it down there. My arguments did not sway her.

Now it's not like my wife is afraid of adventure. She's willing to coastal sail our 19 foot Oday down the ICW. Has no problem living for weeks at a time on a tiny sailboat. She's not interested in serious off-shore cruising. Under the right conditions: Nantucket, the Bahamas, or the Dry Tortugas doesn't bother her, but she's most comfortable with coastal cruising. Our current boat can do all that. It doesn't need a marina, is cheap to keep, and easy to launch.

That didn't completely convince me. My concern was with regret. Would she regret not getting this boat? A couple years down the road, would she really want a bigger boat, one that could be lived on full time? If we decided that's the direction we want to go, she's perfectly willing to sell and house or do anything else needed to make it happen. I believe and trust her, as that's how our lives have been. If we really want to do something, we make it happen. This door is not shut forever.

She had another point that reminded me just how much I love her. It's easier to break the law with a 19 foot boat than with a 40 foot boat. I understood her perfectly. It's not so much about breaking the law as the rules, especially the unwritten ones. With our little boat, we can lift the keel and get into places no one expects to see a sailboat. Even the mast can be dropped to pass under low bridges. It's a gunkholer's boat. One could be sneaky with it.

I do feel better after our talk last night, but must admit to a few pangs about letting such an opertunity go. However, it's not like we won't be sailing. We expect to do a lot of sailing in New England, from Lake Champlain in Vt to the coast of Maine.

We have let other generous offers go in the past. A friend's brother heard we were doing a lot of tenting and offered to give us his motor home. He couldn't use it anymore and was losing his storage space. It wasn't a new one, but was registered and road legal. He didn't want to bother with selling it and wanted someone who enjoyed camping to use it.

A lot of people would have jumped at the chance, but we let it pass. Sure, I was tempted, but my wife thinks tents are terribly romantic. Who am I to argue with that? Had we gone the motor home route, it's likely we'd never have gotten into sailing, so I guess it works out.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Building Stuff

Eventually, Spring will really get here in the North Country. There's a chance of snow tonight. It's been cool and wet, so not much has gotten done outside. Sooner or later, I'll be able to dive into some building projects.

One of my plans is to build a rocket stove water heater. A couple years ago I built a solar hot water heater out of a salvaged propane hot water tank, salvaged windows, and some scrap lumber. Only problem, often it doesn't get enough sun to bring the water to a truly satisfying temperature. A wood burning rocket stove should be able to give it that needed boost on cloudy days. It'll also give me a chance to play with rocket stove technology. I'm still debating on whether or not it'd be a good idea to build one in my house for heating.

Today I wandered my cedar swamp, checking out the winter damage. There are some downed trees that might work out as the base of a new boat dock. It would be handy to have a nice place to tie up my sailboat.

Then there is the dinghy project. How hard can it be to slap together a dingy our of plywood and cover it with fiberglass? Probably easier than picking out which boat to build. I must have looked at 30 designs so far. None are quite perfect.

Here are the parameters I've set out for myself: It must be less than 12 feet long, to avoid having to register it. Capacity has to be somewhere between 650 - 800 pounds. That implies a fairly beamy little boat. It must tow well. Should move well under oars and sail. Construction should be cheap and relatively fast. The quest goes on.

Now I have found a few designs that technically roughly fit my parameters, but they don't have soul. They don't appeal to me. What's life without a little poetry in it anyway?

There's a fair backlog of repair and maintenance that has to be done on the house. There's nothing major, but left alone long enough, little problems become big problems.

My lovely wife is going to insist on some more raised beds for veggies. She's gotten serious abut raising a bit more food. How serious? She's dug up flower beds to make room for veggies. Pretty darn serious in my book. She loves her flowers, but sees trouble ahead in world food production.

As soon as it stops raining and warms up a bit, I'll jump right into . . . sailing . . . then my projects.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New washing machine

My lovely wife and I just picked out one of those high efficiency front loading washing machines. The old one developed a new glitch while we were away. It won't stop filling. To do a load of laundry, I've got to shut the water valve on and off by hand. It's a bit tedious.

If I was going the whole hippy route, we'd be washing clothes in a 5 gallon bucket. It can be done, but not by my lovely wife. There are limits. Besides, she's had surgeries on both shoulders and shouldn't do that sort of thing anyway. As for me, there are only so many hours in the day.

Now one of those high efficiency models makes a certain amount of sense to someone heading towards a lower energy lifestyle. Right off, it uses less electricity than the old style machines. It also uses a lot less water. Since my well pump runs off my solar electric system, less water usage leaves more energy for other things. Less water uses also means less stress on the septic system. They also use less soap, another plus.

They also cost a few bucks. We stretched our budget a bit and did the deal. We'll cut something else out. Another hand me down washing machine wasn't going to cut it. It's no longer worth the strain on my back to haul them around. The last one I put in only lasted a few months. Besides, it makes my wife very happy to have a new washing machine. If she ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

My dishwasher failed at about the same time. That won't get replaced. It's not all that hard to wash dishes by hand -unlike washing clothes by hand. A guy's got to pick his battles.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eating low on the food chain

Food's going up in price, what can you do? Eat low on the food chain. Rice, wheat, and beans, that's your food foundation. The western diet has a lot more meat in it, but it's not necessary for good health. To the basics, add some fat. I'm fond of those big gallon cans of olive oil. Use it on a regular basis and stock rotation keeps it from going bad.

Starches, protein, and fat. That'll keep you going a long time. It's the foundation of many an emergency food storage plan. Many people make the mistake of buying those inexpensive stables and the checking off little box in their emergency preps next to food. Then, on a day to day basis, they never eat that food.

That's a big mistake. Get used to eating your stored food now, before that's all you have. Learn how to make tasty meals from basic ingredients. Save money at the same time. Most of us save things like rice and beans because they store well and are cheap. Don't just store them, eat them.
One of the things you discover is holes in your preps. Take a simple bag of assorted beans sold as a soup mix. It's just a bag of 15 types of beans. Now you could cook them in a pressure cooker or crock pot and make something edible. Add rice, and now it's a bean and rice soup -and also a more complete protein. Fine, but that's still boring as can be. Throw in a can of tomato paste, an onion and a few spices, and then it's a darn yummy meal. It's something that you'd look forward to eating on a regular basis.

Then it occurs to you. Perhaps some tomato ingredients should be stored with your preps. Onions don't keep forever, but dehydrated onions do. If you are from the south, better store up some bottles of your favorite hot sauce. These things might not occur to someone who doesn't make meals from their stored food.

Baking bread from whole wheat berries takes practice. My loaves still come out a bit on the heavy side unless I cut them with a little white flour. (So I keep some in stock) . Pancakes, waffles, bagels, and dinner rolls I've got down cold. I also have all the baking supplies to make a variety of pastry goods. Now it's possible to soak wheat berries overnight and cook them up like porridge. How long do you think it'd take before that got boring? Sure, it'd keep you alive -if you could keep shoveling it down. To me, it's not quite as tasty as wall paper paste. I'd much rather be able to grind up a nice light pastry flour and make a whole wheat cinnamon bun.

The basic ingredients are cheap and store well. The addition of spices and a sprinkling of other foods transform survival food into good eating. It might be low on the food chain, but as long as it's high on taste, so what? I'd much rather have a well prepared beans and rice dish than a poorly prepared steak.

Use what's available. If you have a garden, learn to combine your fresh veggies with your stored food. If nothing else, you could take your basic beans and rice dish, add a bunch of veggies, and roll the whole thing in a wrap. It's easy. Making a soup? That's a great place for those garden veggies, or even wild gathered plants. Edible weeds pop up long before my cultivated plants do. They find a place in my dishes.

Now some people say they don't have the time to cook that way. It seems a man could starve to death waiting for a bag of dried beans to be turned into something edible. It certainly helps if you can plan. If you know you'll be around to cook a meal on Saturday, remember to soak the beans Friday. What? Forget again? No problem. I like to keep a few cans of already cooked black beans around. That way, I can whip a beans and rice dish together in a half hour if I have to. Sure, the beans are a bit more expensive in the can, but still a whole lot cheaper than most everything else.

I like to prepare a pound of beans at a time, cook them, and freeze the remainder in small containers. That way, it's easy to cook something at the last minute.

When times are tight, it's good to be able to eat from your preps. Then when you grocery shop, it's for a lot fewer items as your basic food needs are covered. You shop for things to augment what you've already got. If you do buy meat, you can use a lot less and not feel deprived. Instead of everyone getting a steak, you might buy one and use it in a stir fry.

This is all pretty basic stuff. There are benefits you might not have thought of before. They do weird things to meats these days: meat glue, pink slime, hormones, preservatives, and who knows what else? Now we have radiation to worry about. Radioactive compounds, like many other toxic materials, gets bio accumulated. A plant might have a tiny amount, but that amount gets concentrated when it's fed to an animal. Don't eat the animal and you only get tiny toxin exposure from eating veggies. Better yet, I know all my stored food was harvested before the disasters at the nuke plants in Japan.

Learn to eat low on the food chain. It's low in price and low in toxins.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Other people's kids, and prepping

In my young and foolish days, I made the mistake of giving some parenting advice to a friend of mine. That's the last time I'll ever do that. Next time I'll just stomp my boot down on a rattlesnake's tail -it's safer.

It doesn't matter that I was only trying to help. Certainly doesn't matter that years later he's paid the price. His grown kids don't talk to him. At the time, I was just a meddling busy body. It didn't matter how gently the subject came up, he didn't want to hear it.

That was a strong lesson in the futility of telling someone something they didn't want to hear. When someone doesn't want to face a hard truth, there's no convincing them. If the problem is near to their heart, it's even worse.

A common complaint is that preppers can't convince those around them of the necessity of being prepared. The prepper just wants to help. There's real concern for other people, but they just won't listen. Nobody wants to believe their world isn't a safe place. Nasty things don't happen. Disasters just happen on the news, to people far away.

The best thing is to lead by example. That doesn't mean everyone is going to follow your lead. Even people who've suffered through hurricanes, ice storms, power outages, floods, and civil unrest, won't prepare for the next time. Many feel like: glad that's over and everything is back to normal.

However, a few will catch on. One day someone might come over to you and ask where you got your solar panels, and maybe could you help install them? Perhaps they ask you to take them along the next time you head out to the gun range, feed store, camping supply, or anything else you do to prep.

Be cool. They are just testing the waters here. Don't scare them away. Now is not the time to give them the list of things you've put together during the last ten years. However, they just might see the value of having a month's food stored, and some LED flashlights.

It's almost weird to be making this recommendation so late in the game. Anyone with eyes to see knows we are in a period of high weirdness. Enough people aren't making it and would have benefited by having some supplies and a plan. Some will hear the last minute wake up call. They'll be better off than those who don't. As someone who's prepared, the best thing you can do is help them focus on what they can do in the short amount of time left, and with the resources at their disposal.

As for the others . . . if you like confrontation . . .you might just as well tell them they are raising their kids wrong.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Splitting wood in a T-shirt and shorts

It's that time of year again in the North Country of New Hampshire. Sunday was a pleasant sunny 65 degrees -eventually. It was in the mid-20s in the morning and will drop down there again tonight. I was splitting in the wood so I could start my stove once the sun goes down.

Lovely time of year.

It's going to be cool and wet for the next few days. There's flooding around us, but we are fine here in the hills.

None of this bothers me all that much. While it was sunny, I went though the sailboat and got it ready for the water. Pumped a little water out of the bilge. Fixed a few little hardware problems and cleaned it up a bit.

Tuesday the garage is putting a new trailer hitch on my truck. It won't be long I'll be cruising the fresh water lakes around here. That though makes me very happy. Most people start small and work their way up. My lovely wife and I taught ourselves how to sail in the ocean and soon we'll be launching on a small mountain lake. The thought amuses me. It's not the ocean, but a day on the water is a day on the water.


Turkey for two

I roasted a whole turkey for just the wife and I. A lot of people only eat turkey on special occasions, but we cook them them up fairly often. Now the wife and I hardly make a dent on even a fairly small turkey, but that's not a problem. Once cooked, it makes excellent sandwich meat and left overs. Much cheaper than buying cold cuts at the deli. Much of the cooked turkey gets frozen for another day. The bones go in the crock pot for soup. Home made turkey soup is pretty good eating. It freezes well too.

Turkey goes on sale fairly often. That's when I usually buy it. Even its normal everyday price isn't all that bad. There's a very high ratio of meat to bone on a turkey.

I cook my turkey in an old kitchen woodstove. It takes a bit more care than in a modern oven. Most old stoves have hot and cool spots. The side near the firebox and the top of the stove are hotter on most old stoves. One way to deal with that is to rotate the turkey every 45 minutes or so. Keep an eye on the top of the bird and cover with a lid or foil if the top gets too crispy. I've been known to even flip the turkey upside for part of the cooking process.

Some people cook turkey in a deep fryer. I don't do it myself, as it takes an awful lot of good quality cooking oil to do it right. It's an expensive way to cook. Often I've taken the used oil off people's hands because they don't what to do with it after. (I burn it in my converted diesel truck.)

As food prices keep climbing, we have to do what we can. Sometimes the solution is pretty yummy.