Friday, September 30, 2011

Real Anger Here

It's bad enough that I had to drop my medical insurance. Today I checked my bank statement and the premium was deducted from my pension once more. I'm a bit upset. Coming up almost $1,000 short will do that do you.

I've already contacted the NH Retirement System. We'll see where that gets us.

As best as I can figure right now, I've got the worse of both worlds: no insurance and no money.

I hope to god I don't have to try and get the money back from the insurance company. They are not the best people in the world to deal with.


Sailboat upgrades

Wednesday I loaded up my sailboat’s rudder assembly and hauled over to my friend’s place in Maine. My buddy Max has been working on a nice new ash tiller for my sailboat. I’ve wanted to replace the old one ever since I got the sailboat. The previous owner replaced the tiller with a carved up piece of 2X4. It’s not very pretty, and a bit on short side to boot.

Max’s tiller is a thing of beauty. We did some fine tuning and fitted it to the rest of the rudder assembly. Then we took it back off so he could apply another 7 coats of marine varnish. Max has a single minded attention to detail that I lack. While the varnish on new tiller is drying, I’ll get one more week out of the old one. Can’t miss any nice sailing days this late in the season.

Yes, it’s late in the boating season up here in northern New Hampshire. Many people have already put their boats away until next summer. That’s not for me. When I do put my boat away, it’ll be only until January when I’ll haul it down to Florida for more sailing.

I am taking advantage of some end of season sales. Our Lake Champlain trip showed us the need for another big anchor. In a tight anchorage, we deployed both a bow and stern anchor. The smaller one dragged a bit, so it’s getting replaced with heftier ground tackle. The small anchor will get demoted to a “lunch anchor.” That’s a small easily deployed anchor used for a short period of time, like a lunch break, where perfect holding isn’t a big deal.

Another lesson learned from our frequent sailing is the need for a solar panel. The boat’s outboard charges up the battery, but we use the motor as little as possible. During the last month of sailing, I don’t think I’ve used the motor for a full ten minutes. Our electrical usage is small, but it does add up over time. A solar panel will keep the battery topped off.

I’m keeping an eye out for a cheap but good hand held VHS radio. With the number of sale catalogs flooding my mailbox, it won’t be long before I find one for the right price.

My sailboat, while loads of fun, is also an emergency bug out vehicle. If I ever need to get somewhere by water, the boat will be squared away. Now matter what your bug out vehicle is, frequent use will point out areas for improvement better than anything.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just stuff

My dad lives in a retirement community in Florida. There’s nothing unusual about that. Lots of people end up in those places. There’s a fairly high turn over. To be brutally honest, people die there all the time. Relatives are always cleaning up after the funeral.

One of the things that struck me is how little stuff of value most people leave behind. By the time they’ve moved to a trailer in Florida, they’ve cut back on the amount of stuff they own. Life gets pared down to the essentials: some clothes, a few dishes, a TV and a few mementos. There may be a car and/or a golf cart.

Most of the clothes and kitchen stuff is given to charity. Maybe someone takes the TV, but often those are sold or left behind. Someone will claim the car. What surprises me is how many of the mementos end up in the dumpster. Old family photos, albums and albums worth, are tossed away. Too often the things that documented a person’s connection to the people of the world isn’t worth anything to anyone.

A couple of years ago my mother-in-law had a great idea. She gathered up all her old photos. They were put in nice new albums and carefully labeled. Those albums were given to her kids, and grandkids -the only people in the world those photos will have any meaning to. We all appreciated getting them. It connected people to their past and to their ancestors.

Most of us don’t leave much stuff behind when we finally shuffle off this mortal coil. If you want to leave something that means something, better do it before you go. Otherwise, in the haste to get things squared away, the story of your life will go into the trash.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Good thing most people are still asleep

They won’t stay that way. Now is the time to act. FEMA is broke because it’s the year of the natural disaster. Keep in mind that many of those disasters impacted cropland. American farmers are having a bad year. The rest of the world’s farmers have also had it rough.

Even the main stream media is letting slip that there will be food shortages starting this fall. They aren’t emphasizing the problems, but it is starting to get some mention in the news.

Now is the time to top off your food storage. My wife and I are putting together a shopping list to square away our supplies. We had some tight months and dipped in our pantry a bit deeper than normal. I figure is about our last chance to buy food at reasonable prices.

Our food system runs on a just in time basis. There is no big stockroom in the back of the store. Stop deliveries and your average grocery store is stripped bare in just three days of normal shopping. If there is a panic, the store can be cleaned out in a matter of hours. Once most people become aware of food shortages, there could be a run to the store to stock up.

It could get ugly. You don’t want to be there. Picture the shopping craziness the day before a big storm. I’m guessing a real food shortage panic will make that look like a good day. People stocking up before a storm figure everything returns to normal in a few days. Imagine if the idea gets out there that this might be the last food available for a long long time.

There will be food shortages. How the pain is distributed is anyone’s guess. Will it be more starvation in third world countries, or will the pain hit home? Maybe all we’ll see is higher prices and reduced selection. Should everyone wake up to the possible extent of the shortages, panic shopping could wipe out supplies. Forget trying to stock up then. You’d be labeled a nasty hoarder.

Now I could be reading this all wrong, but what’s the downside of having a few more groceries in the house? You’ll end up eating it sooner or later anyway, right?


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Belief inventory

When we are little, a lot of stuff gets stuffed in our heads. Since we start out as little more than inept monkeys, that makes a lot of sense. Someone has to show us how all this human stuff works.

We start out with the basics: what to touch, what not to touch, how to communicate, what to eat, what to drink, how to pee and poop. All very useful and necessary stuff.

Somewhere down the road, we are taught a whole bunch of stuff that we are suppose to believe. If we’ve been raised half way decent, some morals and ethics have been poured into our empty empty little heads. Often that comes with a religious framework of some sort.

Of course, the whole belief thing is reinforced by our community. If we grew up around people who hate or love something, we pick that up too. We might grow up believing in democracy, or theocracy, or the Republican party, and Santa Claus . . . wait, maybe only Democrats believe in Santa. Republicans believe in Satan.

So there we are, many years later, our heads no longer little and no longer empty. We are all grown up and totally programmed. You do know you’ve all been programmed, right?

Here’s where the belief inventory comes in. Grownups can and should self program. Once in a while we should examine our beliefs and see if they still make any sense to us. Just because it might have make sense to our parents and grandparents doesn’t mean it’s still useful to us. Conditions change.

I’m not saying that you have to throw out all your programing. Be aware that it is programing -something poured into a blank mind. Once you assess your beliefs, then you can see if there is any basis for them. Maybe all you’ll actually do is monitor your beliefs to see if they are still useful. If a better belief comes along, you might want to consider going with that.

My dad surprised me when he changed a long held belief that he grew up with. Dad was raised in a strict Catholic household. Now in his 70s, he suddenly believes in reincarnation.

I said, “Dad, where does that come from?”

“From nature,” he said. “Everything in the world is reused. Plants are eaten by animals. Animals die and fertilize plants. Nothing is ever destroyed, only changed. Now I can’t imagine God making a whole new soul just because some chick gets herself knocked up. He’s going to take one that’s not being used at the moment and recycle it in a new body.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. The point is, he changed a long held belief. (much to my surprise.) In his old age, this new belief somehow brings comfort to him. It’s useful and doesn’t hurt anyone.

Before you laugh too loud, take inventory of your beliefs and see if they are still useful, or even believable.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Not the retirement we hoped for

My lovely wife and I were watching the news the other night. Main stream media is finally starting to cover people who are affected by the poor economy. There’s the typical stories about young people with degrees who can’t find jobs. The news covered families who’ve suffered job loss, foreclosure, or other major economic setbacks. Recently it was retired people in the news. Their big complaint was “This is not the retirement we hoped for.”

Okay, then. Stuff happens. The thing is, they had a place to live and weren’t missing any meals. Their big complaint was that they had planned on traveling and now they could not. Their investments are in the tank. Yes, they got screwed, but so did a lot of other people. Many homeless and hungry people would love to trade situations with them.

These people feel betrayed. They played by the rules all their lives. They worked, saved and invested. Sacrifices were made so that they’d have wonderful golden years. Now the golden years lack the pot of gold. People a few years ahead of them were able to cash in on the deal. Many whiled away their last years flying to Europe, vacationing on cruise ships, and enjoyed days on sunny golf courses. Many retirees no longer have the funds to do such things. They may have even gotten a taste of the good life before the punch bowl was taken away, but it’s over now.

Some of these people are just sitting around hoping that their investments will rise from the dead. Life is on hold. I’ve got news for you people. Don’t hold your breath. If the markets come back, it might not be in your lifetime. Do you expect to live forever?

If something is really important to you, find a way to do it. My lovely wife and I have traveled a fair bit and seen a lot of things. Often people say they wish they could travel like we do. They don’t really mean it. It’s not that hard to throw a tent and some camping gear in a 15 year old vehicle and wander the country. They could never travel that way. They’d need at least an RV or to say in good hotels every night. Let me tell you something. The sunset at Key West is just as nice if you’d gotten their in a jet or cruise ship or if you’ve driven down in an old car burning waste vegetable oil. We save enough money traveling the way we do to occasionally treat ourselves to really good restaurants.

Now we are “cruising.” We’ve seen a lot of interesting places in our old 19 foot sailboat. We won’t cross the ocean with it, but that’s not what we want to do right now. Our boat might be smaller than most, but we sleep and eat on it just fine and go to the same anchorages as the expensive boats. As an added bonus, we can get our small boat into places the big ones cannot get to. That opens up more experiences for us. In my book, it’s all seeing and experiencing things.

I’ve friends who’ve accepted that the old fashioned retirement probably won’t happen for them. A fair number have taken the attitude that their unemployment check is as a close to a retirement as they are going to get. Many make the most of it. No, they can’t fly to Europe or see the great wall of China, but they aren’t sitting in front of the TV either. They spend a lot of time hiking, canoing, kayaking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing or hunting. They are making the most of what’s available to them.

For some, they might be better off than if they’d stuck to the normal retirement path. How many people actually are healthy enough to enjoy their retired. years? The retirement investment industry loves to show those trim and fit seniors walking on a beach somewhere. In reality, how many of us will look like that at 70? How many won’t be on a beach then because our bad joints act up on uneven surfaces, or the walker legs sink into the sand?

How many stories have you heard about people who retire and pass away soon after? How about the guy who buys that big sailboat, launches for the around the world cruise and dies of heart attack leaving the harbor?

So what can we do? If you are retired on a lot less money, don’t just sit back lamenting your reduced circumstances. As long as you still breath, you can find something interesting to do. For younger people, don’t fall into the put life off until retirement trap. If you want some freedom now, there are ways of getting free. There are always choices, just maybe not the ones you thought you’d get to choose from. In the end, all we really have is today. What are you going to do with the present?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

The smart grid dream

To me, it’s a nightmare.

On the surface, it looks like it would make perfect logical sense. Tie all the grids and all the devices in a single network. That would allow the most efficient use of power. Rather than have to build more power plants to deal with peak loads, the smart grid makes sure those loads never happen. To reduce power, it could do things like turn off a select number of water heaters for 15 minutes or so. Looks good on paper.

Unless you want to use a lot of hot water at that time.

The thing that really creeps me out it that some central organizing agency knows exactly how you are using electricity and can regulate that usage. I’m just leery of that level of information gathering and control.

I’ve been arguing against the whole idea of a grid in the first place. It makes a lot more sense to generate power as near the point of use as possible. Ideally, that’s at the individual home level. In some areas, it might make sense to have neighborhood, town or small regional grids. The best way to avoid transmission losses is to avoid transmitting power long distances.

Security is a concern. Imagine a national grid that get hacked. It’d be a window into every home and business in America. In a diffuse energy arrangement, hacking would be very limited. For example, my home solar electric system isn’t connected to the Internet. It stands alone. It’s not connected to the local power grid either. A national system could be shut down all at once.

Many people report their electric bill goes up when a smart meter is installed. The old meters have a mechanic aluminum disk. A big electric spike, like a motor starting, isn’t fully registered as the disk has a bit of inertia. By the time the disk spins up to speed, the surge is past. Smart meters are electronic and catch every electron that slips past.

People sensitive to electromagnetic pollution complain that the smart meters make them sick. The meters communicate using a wifi type system, so that might be a valid complaint.

Off grid people are used to dealing with different demands in energy usage. Rather than size an alternative energy system to the absolute peak possible load, they watch how they use it. It goes like this. You could calculate the size system that would be needed if every electrical device was on at once. That would be a pricey system. Instead, the prudent person decides things like not vacuuming the house at the same time they are doing laundry. Maybe they don’t run the microwave, toaster, and coffee maker at the same time. They can do everything, just not all at once.

An off grid person makes those decisions all the time. A smart grid would make those decisions for him. I’d rather be the one deciding how to use my power. The idea that some central agency could take those decisions out of my hands is unsettling. Right now I buy some power from my local grid, but they still have the old fashioned meters out here. If they ever come to pull it off, I’ll tell them to not replace it. The smart meter/smart grid is my line in the sand. That’s all the inspiration I’d need to go completely off grid.



Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dish draining closet

This is such a simple, yet useful idea that I had to share it. The Finnish invention combines a dish drainer and a cupboard. Picture your typical cupboard located above the kitchen sink. Instead of the shelves having bottom boards, they have wire racks.

Normally when we wash dishes by hand, we put them in a dish drainer to dry. Then we either dry them with a dish towel or leave them to air dry. If air dried, we have to put them away later. With the dish draining closet, you just wash dishes and put them away -no hand drying or waiting. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the time savings add up. Dishes are washed every day.

I used to really hate washing dishes by hand. I once moved apartments because the new apartment came with a dish washing machine. Times have changed. Last winter my home dishwasher failed. It’s not going to be replaced.

There’s a common argument that dishwashers use less water than washing by hand. I’ve discovered that I use a lot less water and electricity hand washing. I follow my electric use carefully. My water is pumped up from my well with an electric pump. It runs a lot less now. One big energy savings is a simple on/off valve at the nozzle of the kitchen sink. It makes it very easy to turn the water off between dishes.

Electric dishwashers still have to be loaded and unloaded. Often, really dirty dishes need a good rinse before being put in the machine. Dishes that don’t come completely clean have to be either hand washed or run through again.

I think the Finnish dish draining closet is an excellent alternative to the electric dishwasher. It saves energy and it saves space. There’s one less machine to break down. It requires a lot less resources to install and maintain. It’s low tech, but good design.

I’m really tempted to retrofit my kitchen. I’d put in the draining closet before buying a new dishwasher, that’s for sure. The next kitchen I build will definitely have this clever invention installed from the get go.


Friday, September 23, 2011

When plans come together

One of the big bonuses of this blog is that I get a lot of useful feedback. Some of it shows up in the comment section of the blog. I’ve other readers who won’t leave a comment, but e-mail me directly. Some of my local readers actually come and talk to me in person.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my lovely wife really fell in love with yurts. She loves them so much that we formed a plan to eventually put one on a piece of land across the road and move into it. The original plan was to buy a yurt in about 5 years or so. We’d sell the place on the lake to family so we’d be able to keep using the beach.

One of my local readers stopped by and told me about a yurt a few towns over that might have to be moved soon. There’s a good chance I could buy it for very little money. It might be possible to get it for the price of hauling it away. The basic structure and the platform are in good shape. The company that sold it is still in business so parts are available. Set up instructions can be downloaded free off their website.

While we still don’t plan on actually moving into it, setting the yurt up has a lot of advantages. In the near term, it’d be a great place to build a small sailboat. That’s a project scheduled for next spring and summer. Working in a nice dry space would certainly speed the project along.

After that, I can slowly add the things necessary to turn it into a residence. Of course, it’d be off-grid. I could build a shed next to the yurt to mount solar panels on and house batteries. The shed would also be a good place to put the washing machine. Keep the noisy things out of the living space. The wheels in my head are turning.

Thanks to one of my readers, I may get a huge jump on the yurt project. You guys are great.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Really did it

It took a few days, but I really did drop my medical plan. Since my insurance was handled through my former job as a firefighter, I had to deal with City Hall. That’s never fun. We played phone tag for a day and a half. Then I went down to the offices.

Back when I first worked for the department, if I needed something done at a city office, I just walked in to the right office. Usually the doors were left open. If they were busy with someone else, it was usually a short wait. No biggie. Back then they knew what they were doing too.

The person I had to deal with had only been handling insurance about two weeks. They recently added it on top of her other duties. I really tried to cut her some slack. The city workers are the lowest paid in the state, and it shows. You get what you pay for.

Today all the offices are behind security doors and bullet proof glass. Times have changed. First the Police station put in security measures. Not long after, City Hall did. Of course, the Fire Department doesn’t have any security. Doors are unlocked and people walk right in. I guess most people still love firefighters.

Of course, they don’t love former firefighters enough to provide reasonably priced medical insurance. That’s life.

Some of the money saved from canceling my outrageously expensive insurance plan will be put aside for medical expenses. The rest will go towards improving my lifestyle.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Critters and food

I was really looking forward to my filbert harvest this year. For the first time, my trees were starting to produce a significant number of nuts. During the night, a bear came by and cleaned me out. Not only did he take the nuts, he ran off half of my most productive bush. In the end, we only harvested 3 nuts. Good thing we don’t have to rely on them for our winter’s food.

Our little garden was under constant attack from slugs this year. I blame the rainy and cool summer. Our squash suffered the most. Not a single one survived. Too bad, as squash stores well and is another good winter food.

Now gardening for us is at a hobby level. We don’t rely on it for a significant portion of our food. Still, we did get a fair number of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, sunchokes, potatoes, herbs and other odds and ends. Every little bit helps.

The grocery stores are still well stocked, so it’s not a crisis. I can buy what I need for my winter storage. While fresh garden food is nice, a bad harvest wouldn’t be the end of the world. During tough times, however, a herd of deer could completely wipe out a survival garden. That would be a crisis.

Today I can laugh off the damage caused by a bear. In a survival situation, I’d be hunting down that bruin.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stealing the troops retirement

Our soldiers are tough. The can deal with a lot. Should they have to deal with being stabbed in the back by their own government? Military retirements are under attack. They want do the same screw job that private industry did to their retirees. Traditional defined benefit plans are to be replaced with 401 type investment plans. How has that worked out for the average Joe in the private sector?

The government wouldn’t be looking at it if wasn’t going to save them a boat load of money. It could also be a way of kicking some investment money to the corporations that run America. Ask the average worker who got switched to a 401 if they are better off. Most got screwed. Now grandpa has to work until he drops.

The assault on the soldier started years ago when they greatly reduced the funds available for college. The old GI bill helped build America’s middle class. It was eliminated years ago in favor of a plan that cost the government a lot less money, and provides a lot less aid.

The strains of empire have reached the point where they can no longer afford to take care of the troops. You do remember the medical treatment scandals of a few years back, right?

When Communism collapsed, Russia couldn’t even feed its troops. Malnutrition was such a problem that many deserted so they could eat. We are no where near that point yet, but that’s the road we’ve started marching down.

So far, he military has been able to meet its recruiting goals. What other options do poor and middle class kids have? Even college grads can’t find meaningful work. How can you survive if you only have a high school degree? It’s not like in the old days when many could find good factory jobs. Maybe the government thinks it can get away with reducing benefits because the options out there are so limited?

In the end, Empires always eat its own. One way to measure the fall is to watch how a country treats the average grunt.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Going nowhere, slowly

My lovely wife and I took the sailboat for a little cruise around the lake today. Except for the occasional gust, there was very little wind at all. It didn’t matter. We were sailing. The sun was out. It was a nice day. It’s not like we had to be anywhere.

This sort of “waste of time” would drive a lot of people nuts. The boat was barely moving. No matter, it was still a fine afternoon. We soaked up the sun, watched the wildlife and enjoyed the scenery. Since we weren’t using the outboard, it was nice and quiet for talking. A sailboat is a great place to visit on a slow day.

There were a few power boats on the lake. They went round and round in circles as fast as they could go. To each their own, but I couldn’t see the point of what they were doing either -not that it’s any of my business.

Maybe sailing is a metaphor for my life. I don’t care that I’m not making a lot of progress. It doesn’t bother me that people are getting ahead a lot faster than me. I’m in good company and the scenery is great.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don’t work against gravity

My neighbor has to pump his sewage uphill, away from the lake. Unlike my house, his sits right on the water, but I’d rather walk to the lake than pump sewage uphill. He’s not alone. Most of the places near the water have to do the same thing.

When they get a power outage, not uncommon out here in the sticks, they can’t flush toilets, take showers, or wash dishes. Some have big generators to keep everything running. That works, at least until the gasoline runs out. However, it’s using another complicated system to keep a bad design going. Then again, that pretty much sums up most of our industrial society.

It’s hard to beat the simplicity of a system that relies on nothing more than gravity. So far, the gravity has never failed. Sh*t runs downhill.

Ideally water would come from a source higher than the house. My folks once owned a summer place that got its water from further up the hill. It was great, as no power was needed to keep the plumbing going.

Alas, I have to pump my water uphill. You do have to get the water from where it’s at, not where you’d like it to be. My well does have an overflow pipe. To get water, all I have to do is catch it in a bucket. Then my legs do the work against gravity as I bring it up the hill. At least water pumps are more efficient than septic waste pumps. Those pumps have their work cut out for them, pushing nasties uphill.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rat Bastard Medical Insurance Company

Yesterday, I got a letter in the mail. Apparently, my evil medical insurance company raised my insurance rate by $240/month back in July. It’s news to me. I just got a bill for $480 because they “forgot” to bill me the increase for two months. This raises my monthly insurance bill to just under $1,000/month.

Two things that ain’t going to happen. I’m not going to send them the $480 dollars, even though they provided an envelope “for my convenience.” The second thing is no way I am going to send them $1000/month.

I know what you are thinking: what if I have a major illness. Well, then I go bankrupt. However, even with insurance, medical bankruptcy is common. My dad had the same insurance I have, but when my mom suffered from medical issues, it bankrupted them anyway. Too many co-pays, travel expenses and uncovered medications did them in. I’m going to be one of those freeloaders who gets his medical attention at the ER.

The main reason I kept medical insurance is for my wife. However, just this month another insurance option became open to her. She’s covered.

What am I going to do? Get serious about taking better care of my own health. Sure, I’m a big fat guy in 50s, so on paper I’m not a great risk. However, my blood pressure is pretty normal. I’m not on any medications. Currently, I do use a CPAP on a low setting. Occasionally, I have to get new supplies for that. My usual order costs the insurance company about $460. A quick search on-line found the same gear for $59. Maybe when I take off a few pounds I won’t need the machine at all.

Looks like diet and exercise for me. I can take some of that $1000/month and buy new hiking boots, some cross country skies, a bit of exercise equipment and a bigger medical kit. Just to be on the safe side, I’d better start drinking a glass of red wine every night.

This is the line in the sand for me. If you aren’t rich, we have the worse of all medical systems. If we had universal health care, no one would have to suffer the fear of not being able to afford insurance. In a truly open market, medical costs would be reasonable.

By 2014 insurance is supposed to be mandatory. I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

In the mean time, I’m just angry.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Capitalism and the apple tree

Capitalism is very good at extraction, optimization and efficiency. Let’s use an apple tree as an example. Just for fun, let’s make it a big old heirloom variety mature tree.

If there’s a market for the heirloom apples, the capitalistic system can optimize the tree. Pesticides, and fertilizers make sure the tree produces as many apples as possible. Bird nets and fences make sure no apples are lost to birds or deer.

If there is a better market for apple wood, the tree is cut down and that’s the end of that.

Perhaps there’s no longer a market for heirloom apples, but the apple market in general is strong. Then the logical thing is cut down the tree and plant one that produces apples suitable for the market. The new tree will be optimized for quick growth, high production and ease of harvest. It’s all very logical.

It’s also soulless.

Take the same tree, but this time it’s owned by a person with different values.

He likes the heirloom apples for their unique qualities. Maybe they are good in pies, or cider, or maybe they store well and are tasty all winter long. He takes care of the tree, but is focused on keeping it healthy, not maximum production.

He keeps an eye on the deer. If they get a few apples off the ground he does’t worry about it. If they nibble the occasional low hanging branch, he lets it go. On the other hand, if too many deer come by too often, he harvest the occasional deer.

Branches that fall off the tree or are trimmed, are saved. He might cook his apple pie in a wood cook stove. The branches might heat his house in a rocket mass heater.

If there’s a bird nest in the tree, he may just enjoy watching the birds. Maybe they eat the insects around the tree. Some birds may eat a bit of fruit, but there are acceptable loses. The person may bring his kids and grandkids around to watch the birds lay their eggs and hatch their young. They can all enjoy the miracle of birth and the cycle of life.

The man’s house is situated to take advantage of the windbreak the tree offers. On a hot day, the man may lay down next to the tree in the shade. He may bring his lover with him to lay down on a blanket under that tree. Together they can watch the sun go down and moon come up. Birds serenade them from the branches.

In the eyes of capitalism, that man is inefficient. He doesn’t get the most money possible from the tree. He’s poor.

Capitalism is blind to the finer things.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Boat projects, racing the clock

Right now my sailboat is lying on its side at my beach. It just received a new coat of bottom paint. There’s only so much time left this season to work on the boat. Saturday, temperatures are supposed to drop down to the 20s. Between rain and cool temperatures, my painting opportunities might soon run out. There’s a few spots left to paint, but I can get those when the boat is on the trailer. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another warm spell and won’t have to wait until I haul the boat down to Florida in January.

I finally got hold of the guy who’s building my new custom tiller. Connected with him on Skype video. Next week I’ll haul the rudder assembly over to Maine and we’ll install the new tiller. He’s an out of work engineer friend of mine. This project has taken him forever, thanks to his annoying attention to detail. Months went by until he found exactly the right piece of wood, and so on. For a guy who’s officially out of work, he’s a hard man to get hold of due to his busy schedule. However, it should be worth the wait, as he does excellent work.

Last year when I bought the boat in October, the weather turned nasty and I never got it in the water. It was too cold to even change the Coast Guard numbers. All my projects had to wait until I got to Florida. This year, things are much further along.

Besides sailing on my little lake, I do have hopes for a few more big water trips. It’s been a relatively mild September, but October can fool you. One year some friends and I planned an overnight canoe trip on lake Umbagog. That weekend we received 6 inches of snow. We went the following week. It was sunny and in the high 50s. The trip was excellent.

By November, I seriously doubt the boat will make it off the trailer. December is right out. After a couple months without sailing, we’ll be happy to wet the hull in Florida. Then I’ll appreciate having new bottom paint.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When a prepper comes to visit

A prepper friend of mine finally came over to my house for a visit. He said it’s such a relief to talk to someone who doesn’t think he’s crazy. The day was beautiful. We sat out on the deck, drinking coffee and swapping tales. I think we each learned a few things from each other.

I’m one of only a handful of people who know his bug out location. Circumstances have him staying in town right now, but it not a good place to weather trouble. One of the things we discussed was different ways of staying in touch. When the phones and the Internet go down, some other form of communication will be needed.

Another nice thing about having a prepper visit is the gifts they bring: canned goods, rice, seeds and ammo. It was a nice gesture; one only another prepper can appreciate.



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stuff falls apart

My buddy in Kentucky called today. Always good to hear from an old friend. He mentioned that on his way to visit his son in Louisville, the bridge was closed. The linked news article didn’t go into much detail, but apparently boaters noticed parts of the bridge falling into the water. That can’t be good. This is a major highway with a normal traffic volume around 80,000 cars per day. I myself drove over that very bridge last year -twice. How long has the bridge been unsafe?

Today I noticed there’s still detours on major roads to the south of me. There aren’t a lot of passes through the mountains. When a single road is blocked, detours can get lengthy. I’m surprised the road is still closed since hurricane Irene. The damage must be worse than originally thought.

I ran into my cousin today. She makes a weekly trip to the feed store from her house near the Canadian border. It’s about a 100 mile round trip. She’s quite concerned about the bridges and roads she travels. They are in bad condition and she fears one more storm could take out the only road to her house. As it is, she uses a big 4X4 SUV to make the trip, and is very careful how she loads it.

These are just a few snapshots of disintegrating infrastructure. I can’t but help wonder how bad things must be across the country. My guess is that we don’t really know. If a major bridge can be ignored until chunks of it start to rain down on boaters, something is wrong. Want to bet there’s a lot of “somethings” wrong?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Veggie Summer

This summer I think I’ve eaten more veggies than during any other time in my life. We’ve only got a small garden, but it’s produced a fair amount. Friends and family have done well with their gardens this year. We’ve taken some of their overflow.

Then there is the farmer’s market. We have to support local agriculture, right? For me, the main attraction to the market is the chance to visit with people. The local farmer’s market always has some sort of live musical entertainment, and that’s worth catching. It’s a fun afternoon, and we can’t but help come home with a good assortment of veggies.

With all the veggies coming in, I’m making an effort to use them up before the next load. For example, instead of cooking a few plain sausages, I’m throwing in onions, zucchini, summer squash, and whole bunch of assorted herbs. Pasta sauces are homemade using fresh tomatoes and other veggies. We are eating fresh salads by the bucket full. The pressure cooker is making short work of root vegetables. I didn’t eat this many veggies back when a doctor put me on a vegan diet.

A few years back, I planted a half dozen filbert trees. They all survived and have taken off. There’s enough nuts this year to make it worth harvesting. I just tried a couple and they are delicious. Once they’ve had a chance to dry, they’ll store well. Planting those trees was a good idea. The first year I kept them well watered, but since then they seem to have thrived on neglect.

It’s been a pretty good wild berry year too. Cultivated blueberries don’t have any where near the flavor of wild ones. The blackberries are still producing too. Together they make a heck of a mixed berry cobbler.

As great as it is, the growing season up here in the North Country is short. Next Thursday is the last farmer’s market of the season. Last night it got down to 38 degrees. Frost is coming. The apple season has a while to go yet. I can’t wait to stock up on them. I make a mean apple pie.

Once the cold weather settles in, the local fresh stuff will only be a memory. Sure there will be some canned, pickled and frozen veggies to remember the summer by. Winter squash, potatoes, and apples will still be good months from now -a reminder of our all too brief summers.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Summer People and 911

It’s a decent weekend, finally. We certainly needed a break from the rain. Up here on the lake, things certainly slow down after Labor Day. The kids are back in school, and people are closing down their summer places already.

There is some activity this weekend. All that really means is that I keep a closer eye on my dog, as an occasional car goes by. During the middle of the week, I can safely ignore my town’s leash law. Not that I follow it all that closely at the best of times. The main consideration is that my foolish young pup doesn’t get run over.

Quite a few docks and boats have been pulled out of the lake. I just put my sailboat back in the water. There’s plenty of good sailing days yet to come. Maybe it’ll be nice enough until November, which would be pretty late for New Hampshire. Last October, when I bought the boat, I didn’t get to put it in the lake at all. Last fall was cold and wet.

Of course, I’m aware of the September 11 anniversary. As a former firefighter I took it especially hard. We are all brothers. Back then I knew that no matter what happened, the nation was going to lose a lot of freedom. I’d hoped we wouldn’t be so foolish as to get into a prolonged war. Hopes were dashed and fears were realized.

Ten years ago I knew that all the first responders and the regular people who helped with the rescue and clean up were at serious risk for health problems. A few months ago I had long talk with a firefighter who was there. He looked in his early 30s, but his lungs were bad enough the department couldn’t keep him on.

One of the weird things about the anniversary is that’s when I know it’s time to clean my furnace. My furnace technician was working in my basement when the towers were hit. Back then It was still possible to get broadcast TV (one channel) and we watched it in my kitchen on a portable TV.

This year, I told my furnace guy not to bother servicing my heater. My wife and I became really disgusted with the oil wars. We’ve steadily reduced our use of petroleum as we don’t want to be part of the problem. Last winter we only burned a half tank of heating oil -hardly worth servicing the furnace for that.

This year, we don’t plan on buying any oil at all. Better insulation in the basement and wood heat should do the job. Well, that and heading down to the sunny south in January. The house will be shut down: power turned off and plumbing drained. We’ll be using our waste vegetable oil powered truck to tow our wind powered boat.

In my mind, the disappearance of the summer people, 911, and the oil wars are all jumbled together. That’s just the way everything happened. It’s an odd time of year for me. The lake is beautiful and quiet. This evening my wife and sat at the picnic table at our beach and watched the loons and kingfishers. It was a beautiful and peaceful evening. Yet in the back of my mind, I can’t but help reflect on what happened to our nation.


Yurt possibilities

My daughter rented a yurt at a nearby state park and invited my wife and I to check it out. My wife was really impressed by it. I liked it too. A well designed and equipped yurt can make a pretty good home.

The one we checked out was only about 16 feet in diameter. We thought one just a bit bigger, say 20 feet, could make a good seasonal home. With a small woodstove, a bit of solar electric and a composting toilet, it would be very comfortable.

My wife wants to live in one -seriously. Not right now she said, but maybe in about 5 years. We could sell our current house to the kids for a low low price and put in a yurt across the street on the parcel of land we own there. During the mild weather, we’d live up here in New Hampshire in the yurt. During the cold of winter, we’d move onto a sailboat in southern waters. I think it’s a fine idea.

Both a yurt and a sailboat require efficient use of space. We’d have par down to the essentials, but that’s not a problem. Thoreau was always one of my heroes. He lived quite well on Walden Pond in a one room cabin. Simplify, simplify, simplify was his motto. I think he was on to something there.

These wild ideas of ours often get acted upon. We are currently living in a solar electric dome out in the woods. It’s not like we haven’t done things out of the ordinary before. We still love our house. It was a great place to raise the family. However, with just the wife and I, it’s way more house than we need. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Of course, anything can happen in five years, but without a plan, nothing happens.


Friday, September 9, 2011

San Diego lost power (and so will you)

As I write this San Diego is without grid power. Early reports point to transmission line problems.


The whole transmission grid is a problem. It’s really a crappy way to power anything. Two thirds of the power transmitted through the grid is lost. Not really an efficient system, isn’t it?
It might have made some sort of sense when the idea of electrifying the country was a new idea. Even back then, there were those questioned the whole set up.

When does throwing 2/3 of anything make sense? You can afford to do that with electricity under a few circumstances. If the electricity is really really inexpensive to generate, it might not matter if you lose a lot of it along the way. Another way it makes sense is if someone else is paying the bills. That someone else is the rate payer -you, that is. The cost is just passed along.

Power is getting more expensive. That’s no surprise if you’ve been paying electric bills. Transmission is also getting more expensive. There’ s a huge amount of materials tied up in grid infrastructure. The price of those materials has gone up fairly high. Stories appear almost every week about local power outages caused by metal thieves. Does that sound like a secure system to you?

So what have we got here? An wasteful system that throws away 2/3 of mostly non-renewable fuel. It’s transmitted through an aging and stressed network that has growing scrap value making theft profitable. It’s unreliable and expensive. There’s also incentives for big business and government to keep the old grid monster alive. Big business controls the power and government rakes in tax money.

Is it any wonder there’s almost no support for home generated power? I paid one time for my solar electric system. Since I was working on my own house, I didn’t need an electrician and could do all the work myself. (legal in NH, your mileage may vary) No monthly check is sent away to a big company for that solar electric power. The government can’t collect any taxes on it.

Is it any wonder the government has minuscule support for alternative energy and huge support for the old fashioned non-renewables? Follow the money. Follow the power -electric and political.

Can you afford to support the old way of doing things? Doesn’t it make sense to have at least some home power capability? Start small and build on it. Instead of stringing materials across the countryside with huge power lines and transformers, use less material, and wire up individual houses.

1.7 million people in San Diego might agree with me -if only they had power and could read my blog.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vermond Flooding High Res pics

My daughter sent me this link to some photos of the flooding in Vermont.

The second to the last photo is quite near where my wife and I spent a night on the sailboat. We were just a bit further up the river that comes in on the right hand side.

I'm glad we sailed Lake Champlain between the floods.


The miles between us

I got a call Wednesday night from my dad. Hi girlfriend just passed a way. She’d had a knee operation. While trying to recover from that, she got pneumonia and never recovered from it. There’s not much I can do about that. However, I’m trying to see if there’s something I can do for my dad.

The problem is that he’s in Florida and I’m way up north in New Hampshire. 1600 mile separate us. It’s time like this when I wish we lived a lot closer. Phone conversations can only do so much. Dad and his girlfriend were supposed to come up to New Hampshire and stay with us this past August. However, she that operation so the visit was delayed.

I hope my dad will fly up for a visit. Being around family and old friends might do him some good. Baring that, maybe I’ll have to make a quick run down to Florida. It all depends on what dad wants to do, of course.

My wife’s parents are over 2000 miles away in Texas. Will all the fires there, we’ve been worried about their welfare. The closest fire was 15 miles away, but the Forest Service was able to extinguish it. We haven’t seen them in about 11 months. They are getting on in age, but seem to be doing well enough. At least my sister-in-law lives only 75 miles away from them.

I’m glad my kids and grandkids are pretty close. Family is important to us. When there are problems, we wish we could all be closer.

In todays troubled world, sometimes all you have is family. Many don’t even have that, so I’m counting my blessings.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Debt Delusions

The biggest delusion about debt is that most of it is going to be repaid.

On the macro level, we have nations that have debt that will never be repaid. Greece and Italy are in the news right now. Those countries are deeply in debt to European banks. Austerity measures won’t work and may make the problem worse by taking money of the economies. Never mind that the average Joe in the street is outraged. Expect protests and civil unrest.

Other European countries are not doing much better. Portugal and Spain are on the edge, but bigger economies like the UK aren’t doing all that much better. Anyone think Japan’s economy will produce enough income to pay off it’s massive debt? It wasn’t doing all that well before the earthquake, tsunami and the on going nuclear disaster.

US debt is in a category all its own. People don’t even want to really think about it. Maybe as far as national economies go, the US is the country equivalent of the banks that are “too big to fail.”

Speaking about banks. They are still holding a lot of phony wealth on their books. They know if they release their foreclosed houses on the market, the housing market would plummet. It would reveal that the rest of their holdings aren’t worth anywhere near what they claim they are worth. The government has even floated the idea of buying up most the foreclosed houses and then renting them out. Quite the sketchy scheme to keep prices inflated.

Then there’s the individual level. I know quite a few people who’ve stopped paying on their debts. Some people have stopped payment on their credit cards, student loans and car payments. They are keeping up the house payments. They drive a junker car after the nice one got repossessed. Others have taken the opposite track. They let the house payment go so they can save up for a deposit on a rent. The car payments are kept current as they need a good car for their jobs. Minimum credit card payments are made so they can keep charging on them. Some people have done unofficial bankruptcies. They don’t have the money to pay a lawyer to do it legally, so they just stop paying their bills.

Back up to the macro level. Iceland renounced their debts and the country is on the road to recovery. It worked years ago for Argentina. Sure beats being shackled by IMF loans and austerity measures.

On the micro level, individuals are catching on, if only on a gut level, that something major has changed. The infinite growth paradigm is dead. Rising debt and interest rates only worked in a growing economy. The world has reached the limits to growth. The yeast has reached the edge of the petri dish. We’ll all have to figure out a way to live with stagnant growth or even decline. It’s the new normal.

The sooner we accept that, the sooner the world can figure out a new economy. The big problem is how to avoid getting hit by the death throes of the dying economic monster.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

. . . and the rain came down

New England doesn’t need any more rain, but it’s coming down in buckets. The ground is so saturated that it can’t absorb any more. Water flows directly to the streams and rivers.

My house isn’t in any direct danger. I’m on the height of land that divides two water sheds. The only real concern is that flooding might take out the roads. There are only two ways in and out of my area. It doesn’t happen all that often, but they have both been cut off in the past.

Hurricane Irene’s rains took out the shoulders of one of the roads. Last years new pavement project seems to have held the bulk of the roadway together. However, with the shoulders now gone, any new flooding will directly attack the road.

In the old horse and buggy days, it wasn’t unusual for people in my neck of the woods to be cut off for weeks on end. There are a few ancient ladies in my wife’s church who remember those days. They have some interesting stories to tell.

While the buggies, and later cars, often couldn’t get through, people were used to walking. My grandfather never drover a car. Every weekend he used to walk home 30 miles one way from the logging camps. That’s after doing hard manual labor all week in the woods. Sometimes he hitched a ride on a buggy, but often he walked the whole way. It wasn’t unheard of for people to get washed away in flooding or to die of exposure.

Since hurricane Irene my house has lost the grid twice. As I write this, it’s currently up so I’m using it to top off the batteries of my solar electric system. One of my off the gird friends has lent his backup generator to people who’ve been without power since Irene. Another friend has grid power but most of his area doesn’t. He too lent out his generator. That’s pretty darn generous as his basement is prone to flooding and he relies on pumps.

Rain is predicted for the next few days. After a short break, more heavy weather is supposed to come in. Hope this pattern doesn’t continue into the winter. If all this water had come down in the form of snow, we’d be buried to the second floor.


Monday, September 5, 2011

US Postal Troubles

The US Postal service is in deep financial trouble. There’s even talk of them shutting down and going bankrupt. The NY Times article went on to explain how it got into trouble, but for me, that’s not the main issue.

The issue is that even in dirk poor backwards third world hell holes, their postal service isn’t going bankrupt. That sort of thing only happens when capital cities are in flames and enemy armies roam the countryside. How far has the US fallen?

Sure, supposedly all of us are doing everything on-line with a computer these days. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I’m not comfortable doing all my business on-line. I still like getting the occasional dead tree magazine. I can mail a package at my local post office. It’s many more miles down the road if I wanted to send something by the brown shirts.

When the grid and Internet go down, mail still arrives at my house. I can still pay my bills with a check and an envelope. Heck, I’ve even been known to hand write a personal letter. (Okay, I am a dinosaur, so what?)

When a country lets basic services like mail delivery fail, it’s circling the drain. Maybe the government should focus more on providing basic services than crashing the system to make a political point or to save a couple bucks.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Storm Damage

The economic costs of various disasters keeps adding up. It’s putting a huge strain on an already wonky economy.

The widespread flooding damage from hurricane Irene was unexpected. Nobody even gave a thought to places like Vermont being heavily damaged. Who could have expected a tropical storm would eventually bring the Northeast to its knees? Every time I check the news reports about the storm damages, the estimated price tag goes up a few billion.

Right now tropical storm Lee, which seems to have sprung up out of nowhere, is soaking Louisiana. Billions of dollars were spent upgrading flood protection in New Orleans. Last time I checked it appeared that the protections are working. What if it fails? What if another storm appears while the system is at maximum capacity? My bet is that New Orleans won’t be rebuilt. The French Quarter and some other tourist and rich sections might be saved, but most of the city would be abandoned.

Hurricane Katia could hold some surprises. What if it follows Irene’s path? How’s that for a nightmare scenario?

Federal disaster money is insufficient to fund current disasters. Many have already forgotten, but the winter provided some damaging snow and ice storms. Spring brought flooding and tornadoes. People are still dealing with storms that most of the world has already forgotten. Fresh disasters force old ones out of the news.

One can question the Federal Government’s role in all this. Some politicians are saying it’s not the job of the Feds to rescue and rebuild. Many of the same people were all for rescuing banks, corporations and CEOs. Trillions were available for that. There’s no problem sending helicopters to Iraq and Afghanistan, but Vermont’s National Guard had none left in country for rescue operations. There’s plenty of “Socialist” support for big business. (Should I say “Fascist?”) When it comes to helping real people and mom and pop businesses, the politicians are all Libertarian about it. It’s their own fault not carrying enough insurance. As if people in mountainous parts of New England are going to carry things like flood insurance, or better yet, earthquake insurance. Isn’t the whole idea of government to be there for the things local people can’t deal with?

What will the future bring? Nobody knows, but I’m guessing more and more, we’ll be left to deal with problems on our own. Better have some preps and local community support.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

September got a whole lot better

I used to hate September. Now I hold out some hope for it. Growing up the worse thing about the month was going back to school. When I was a kid school felt just like prison. Summer break was never long enough.

Now September is my wake up call that summer is almost over. It’s time to get serious about finishing projects before the snow flies. Today I stained my deck. All the outdoor furniture and potted plants had been removed in preparation for the hurricane. Tomorrow I can haul all that stuff back out there.

It’s the time of year to check the woodstoves and make sure the chimney is clean. I still have firewood to pile up. My attempt to redo the sailboat’s bottom paint got put off. One of my daughters hit us up for babysitting duty. Grandkids take priority. They grow so fast and childhood is short. Before you know it the little ones will be in prison -I mean school.

September can have some very nice weather. Today was in the mid 70s and sunny. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll never forget sitting in a stuffy classroom, looking outside at a beautiful day. Pure torture. I don’t take my freedom from school for granted.

October can be drop dead gorgeous, with the trees exploding with color and a crispness to the air. By November, however, it starts to get bleak -the gray times. Trees are bare and everything looks dead. Days are short. Thanksgiving is a welcome break. It’s my favorite holiday. Get together with family and friends and eat well. Nothing wrong with that. By December we have the whole crazy run up to Christmas. That’s also the month when the shovels are kept handy and home fires burning. Come January, god willing, I’ll hitch the boat to the truck and head to Florida for a winter of sailing. Beats the heck out of shoveling snow and splitting firewood.

September is that last little taste of summer. It’s like that bit of wine at the bottom of the bottle. It can be sweet, or it could turn bitter.

Now if only we can keep those hurricanes away, I might be able to get everything done before winter.


Friday, September 2, 2011

For our listening pleasure

My lovely wife and I went out to an Acoustic Cafe night. The performer was none other than David Maguire. It was an evening of great music and story telling.

David lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where I went to college. He grew up on the ocean, and a lot of his songs reflect his early love. It was a nice surprise to hear so many nautically themed songs in the middle of New Hampshire’s Great North Woods.

We knew we were in for a treat when one of his first songs was set in St. Augustine Florida, one of our favorite little cities. He lived in the old city for a couple years. It turns out we hung out at a lot of the same places.

We got to talk with him during breaks and after his performance. He too is a builder of boats and we compared notes. No doubt we’ll soon meet again on boat building forums. All in all, a most excellent evening.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Umbagog Day

My lovely wife, Brownie the Sailor Dog, and I went sailing on Lake Umbagog again. Summer in the North Country is short. We’d only have ourselves to blame if we didn’t make good use of it. We sailed across the lake and beached the boat at a friend’s camp. He happened to be there, so we had a couple beers together on his deck. The wind died on the way back so we used the iron sail the last few miles. We made it to the boat landing just before sunset.

When we bought our sailboat, an Oday 19, we figured it’d be our learner boat. Most people move on to something bigger once they become comfortable with sailing. We’ve yet to feel the need for anything larger. Sure, there are times when it’d be nice to have a bigger boat, but it’s not worth the trade offs.

Right now we can hook the trailer to the truck and go sailing wherever we want. We’ve only been sailing since February, but have already sailed the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic off the Keys, Lake Champlain, and lakes in New Hampshire and Maine. Our boat’s large enough for the big water, yet small enough for for some serious gunkholing. With the swing keel up, it only draws a foot of water. We take our sailboat places where other people can only reach with their dinghy.

If all goes well, we plan on hauling the boat down south again this winter. We have some seriously long coastal trips planned. Expenses are minimal. We sleep and cook on the boat. Should we decide to tie up at a marina, they charge by the foot. That’s where a it’s much better to have a 19 foot boat rather than a 50 footer.

To be honest, I do plan on building a sailboat next summer -a smaller one. One of my dreams is to compete in the Everglades Challenge. My Oday is actually too big for that race, as all boats have to be launched from the high water line on the beach. In my spare time, I’ve been studying different hull shapes and sail designs. I looking forward to the adventure of the Challenge. What’s life without a little excitement now and then?