Monday, October 31, 2011

Slight Delay

As you can see, there will be a slight delay on the painting project. I’m willing to work under some trying conditions, but even I have a limit.

It sure is pretty though. The second shot is off my deck looking towards the lake. With all the snow weighing down the branches, it’s almost impossible to see any of the lake. Normally this time of year I have a nice view of the water.

We only received about 3 inches from this storm. Some parts of the state got over 2 feet. Something like 3 million people lost grid power in this storm. We weren’t one of them. The solar electric system’s batteries were fully charged. Firewood had been brought in the house for the kitchen stove. It wasn’t necessary after all, but sure felt good to be prepared.

The last few years, there’s been a pattern where many storms stay south of the White Mountains. They used to all come here to the far north. The only reason we end up with more snow at the end of the winter is our colder climate. What precipitation we get in the winter tends to be in the form of snow, and it sticks around longer.

Milder daytime temperatures are predicted for the next few days. If all goes well, I should get a chance to do more painting.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

At my current level of ignorance

A good friend of mine, gone over twelve years now, had a saying. After explaining something he’s often end with: That’s my understanding at my current level of ignorance.

This man was well educated, with degrees from Harvard and Yale. He had vast knowledge of many arcane and obscure fields of knowledge. His own research and writings were ahead of his time. His research was often attacked, not on its merits, but because it would upset current dogma. The man was absolutely brilliant.

Yet, as educated and intelligent as he was, he knew all knowledge was incomplete. What he “knew” today, could be overturned by discoveries tomorrow. It was a tremendous life lesson for me. Nothing is ever all figured out. You do the best with what you have, but always stay open for new knowledge.

That openness is a rare thing, especially in adults. Most people get a rough working knowledge of the world and are satisfied with that. Anything that threatens their world view is resisted. It takes the heart of a warrior to go forth boldly in a universe with no absolutes. Only the most courageous take that path.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Painting between snowstorms

Friday morning I woke up to a dusting of snow. By 2 p. m. the day had warmed up to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. My lovely wife and I put another coat of paint on the ambulance/camper project. That makes 3 coats, 2 more to go. The greatly thinned paint dried to the touch before the sun went down. Good thing as the temperature is supposed to drop into the teens tonight.

The news is going on and on about the big snow storm that’s going to hit the Northeast. Currently, projections show the worse of the storm will be to the south of us. We’ll still get some snow and wind, but not until later in the day Saturday. Before that happens, it might just be possible to get one more coat of paint applied.

Sunday the weather is supposed to be just plain nasty. However, Monday and Tuesday, temperatures should rise into the upper 40s during the day. If all goes will, I should have the vehicle painted “good enough.”

After that, it’s off to town hall to get the vehicle registered. Hopefully that will go without a hitch, but there is no telling when dealing with the government. Last year it took a number of attempts fore the boat and trailer were successfully registered.

I am optimistic that it will go well. There still needs to be a state safety inspection. One tire is badly worn, and needs replacement. My guess is that the front end needs a wheel alignment. Inspection and mechanic work should go smoothly. The vehicle was in service right up until the time it was delivered to me, so nothing major is wrong with it.

My lovely wife reminded me that if there were any parts I needed to order for converting it to run on waste vegetable oil, I’d better order then soon. Good thing she kicked me into gear, as there was a part that I could not get locally. That’s been ordered and shipped, so it’ll be here when I’m ready.

Cold weather painting is not recommended, but one does what one must. I am encouraged by the results. The third coat really made a difference. The fourth should look pretty good. If nothing else, my project has entertained the neighbors.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Odds and ends

Not much going on at the Sixbears domicile. Temperatures never climbed out of the 30s, clouds threatened rain or snow, so painting was put on hold. I’ll have to catch narrow weather windows when I find them.

It’s crapwood season. That’s the time of year when it’s cold enough to burn wood, but not cold enough to burn the best wood. Right now I’m burning bottom of the pile stuff from last winter. Some of it is punky. Plenty of pieces are oddly shaped and need to hacked down to stove sized chunks. This is also the time of year when I’ll burn popular, white birch and even softwood. The nice pieces of seasoned maple, ash, and beech are for those bitterly cold winter days.

Household chores, put off while doing other projects, have caught up to me. Dishes pile up when people are too busy doing other things. The magic laundry fairies haven’t been by. Even the bills got a few a glances -no checks mind you, but I did look at them.

Last night I put a big batch of pinto beans in the crock pot. They were nice and soft by morning. Dried beans are cheap and store well, but need time to prepare. By having them cooked, I can prepare quick meals. Tonight it’s refried beans with olive oil and onions. In a couple days some will go in a beans and rice dish. They also add body and protein to soups. Some beans are frozen until later. It’s much faster to thaw beans than to cook them up raw.

My lovely wife kicked around some potential sailing routes and destinations. We used guidebooks, charts, and Active Captain. I’ve become a big fan of the site. It’s an interactive cruising guide that’s constantly updated by users. Charts and guide books are great, but they won’t tell you if a storm has caused shoaling or if a marina has closed since the guide book was published. I like that it’s possible to view charts, maps and satellite views.

So, not much going on. Some days are just about chopping wood and carrying water.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Looks pretty odd right now, doesn’t it?

This is only the first 2 coats of blue paint. It’s going to get at least 3 more. Working outside, in cool temperatures, the paint has to be thinned a fair bit. Otherwise it’d never dry. I hope 5 coats will be enough to cover.

The doors, indicated with red and white paint will be painted a hunter green. The patriotic red white and blue motif is temporary.

There’s a chance of snow predicted for the next 4 - 5 days. I’m hoping to paint during the warmth of the day in time for it to harden up before the snow flies late at night.

Painting under these conditions sucks, but you do what you gotta do. Worse comes to worse I can always redo it later.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sailing the glossy magazines

I get a couple of those glossy sailing magazines in the mail. They were a fine gift and I enjoy reading them. It’s nice to check out some wonderful sailing destinations, even I’ll likely never sail to most of them. Being a pretty green sailor, there are sometimes useful bits of sailing information.

Two things really get my attention, new boat reviews and the advertisements -not that there’s all much difference between the two.

First the new boats: they are almost always totally out of my budget. That’s not a big surprise, many things are. I could not afford to maintain one even if it was given to me. These high end boats have a lot of specialized systems that would be an absolute nightmare to fix. As boats have gotten bigger, they’ve replaced crew with electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic systems -push button sailing at its finest. That’s all well and good, but everything fails. A rigorous maintenance and replacement schedule would lower the odds of failures happening at sea, but you’d better factor in the cost.

Then there’s all the gear, accessories, and equipment advertisements. Some of the items look useful, but the prices are crazy. One example of this was a set of Lexan glasses. That’s not a bad idea. Real glass on a boat could be hazard. Lexan is tough and looks good. The problem was the price. My daughter bought Lexan glasses to use in her hot tub. They looked exactly the same as the ones advertised in the sailing magazine. She got hers at a big box store for about 1/5 the cost.

It’s one thing for specialized sailing equipment to be pricey, but common items like footwear, hats, gloves, sunglasses and rain gear shouldn’t cost a fortune just because they have little sailing logos on them.

There’s no excuse for most of the sailing bits to be so expensive. I used to think that climbing gear was expensive, and it is. I cut them some slack because much of the gear’s function is to keep you from falling to your death. When similar sailing and climbing gear have a huge price difference, something is wrong. A harness designed to suspend you on Mt. Everest cost significantly less than a harness designed to work on a mast. How can that be justified?

I know there are plenty of people out there sailing on the cheap. Many do it my way, with a smaller boat that can be trailered, avoiding marina storage fees. There are lots of people who live full time on older boats, or even homemade boats. There are couples out there cruising on less than $500/month, and doing it safely.

Of course, you give up all of that fancy push button gear, but you gain systems that you can maintain and repair yourself. My rigging is so simple that I can tell at a glance if something is not quite right. Fixing those problems are usually pretty easy too. I wired the boat myself, so I know how to fix anything that goes wrong. There are plenty of systems I don’t have to worry about because my boat doesn’t even have them.

The problem with all those push button gizmos is that they all consume power. The motors, gas generators, wind generators, and solar panels are necessary to keep it all powered up. It’s complicated. On my tiny boat, the electrical system can be charged up from the outboard. Many times I go sailing and never even start the motor. Occasionally, I don’t even bother to put the motor on the sailboat. My power usage is so low that I can go days without charging the battery. I did get a small solar panel for charging, but not from a glossy magazine. Solar panels are meant to be outside in the weather anyway. All I do is make sure the connections are well sealed against the salt environment.

I’m not surprised there aren’t many magazines out there for those of us who sail on the cheap. Magazines make their money with advertisements, and we don’t buy anything.


Monday, October 24, 2011

From Sanding to Sailing

Wonder of wonders, we actually had a sunny day.

Much progress was made on the ambulance/camper conversion. I finally completed the removal of all traces of decal adhesive. That stuff is tenacious. There are products that can remove it quickly, but they also have the tendency of removing the paint along with it. A more careful but slower process using a pinstripe eraser, fine sandpaper and paint thinner eventually did the job. The vehicle is about 95% sanded in preparation for painting.

Sunny days being quite rare lately, my lovely wife and I tackled another job that’s been put on hold. Heavy rains raised the level of our lake. High winds moved the sailboat right up next to our beach. Before we could move it back to its proper place, the lake dropped about 6 inches.

What that left us with is a sailboat that draws 12 inches of water sitting in 6. The keel was grounded pretty solidly. Removing the outboard helped, but all we could do is turn the stern towards deeper water. The keel was still grounded. Finally, the boat was freed by rolling it up on its side. That lifted the keel out of the sand enough to push it into deeper water. I’m a pretty big dude, but could not have done it without the extra push from my wife. She’s always ready to give me an extra push.

Of course, once freed, we just had to go sailing around the lake. After all, we haven’t had many sunny days lately. In late October in NH, there’s no telling when we’d next get the chance. My next trip might be to haul the boat out for the season. This little excursion allowed me to test our new anchor. It should keep the boat from moving on its lines into shallow water.

After our little jaunt it was back to the conversion project. Rain had been predicted for the evening, so the vehicle had to be buttoned up. I reinstalled a dozen lights that had been removed for sanding. Those will have to come out again, but it was the best way to keep rain from getting between the walls.

Sure enough, in few more hours I was splitting woodstove kindling in the rain, by light of a headlamp. That’s a job that could have been done earlier instead of sailing, but what’s life with all work and no play?


Ism Goggles

Ism goggles cloud your vision. We put them on in the hopes they’d help us seem more clearly. Under the right conditions, they seem to work, but the failure rate is very high.

What the heck are Ism goggles? An “ -ism,” is a suffix affixed to words to indicate a belief or an ideology. Hence: CapitalISM, CommunISM, SocialISM, LibertarianISM, CatholicISM, SufISM, ConservatISM, LiberalISM, and so on and so forth.

The nice thing about Ism goggles is that once you put a pair on, the whole world is explained. The bad thing is that often the explanations are case specific, limited, out of date, misapplied, or just plain wrong.

Ism goggles are convenient and easy to use. They save us from having to think. It’s a great shortcut.

Should you toss out your Ism goggles? It’s pretty hard to do, and for most of us not necessary. What is important is to realize you have then on. They don’t aways work, so you can’t trust them. Remember that one size does not fit all. The Ism goggles that you wear may be an uncomfortable fit on someone else -even if they are useful to you. The Ism goggles you got from your parents might not fit you any more.The ones everyone else in your neighborhood are wearing may be the local fashion, but could still be uncomfortable on you.

That last thing you want is for someone else to shove a pair over your eyes. That could hurt.

Keep in mind to take them off now and then. Prolonged use could cause brain damage.


Sunday, October 23, 2011


It was my High School class reunion today. I did not go. The event was held only 25 miles down the road from me, yet I had little interest. What’s the point? I had a group of friends I was close to in High School. We kept in touch. As for the rest, there’s a reason we don’t hang out.

Some people go to these events to see how they measure up to their classmates. I don’t care. I measure success differently than most. Independence and freedom mean a heck of a lot more to me than money.

College reunions are even worse. I’m almost 20 years older than my fellow students. I’ve got grandchildren the age of their kids. A few lasting friendships were made, but not all that many. My path since college isn’t something they put in the college promotional literature -they measure success differently also.

I will stop by the Fire Station once in a while. There are still guys working there who I once served with. That’s a tight bond that lasts. They are always good for a cup of coffee and a few laughs. However, every year there are fewer guys I served with. Retirement and death takes its toll. When the last of those guys are gone, I probably won’t stop in there anymore. The new guys know who I am and would still be happy to pour me a coffee. We are still all brothers together, but we haven’t found the same dragons.

The past is the past. Looking back once in a while is fine, but treat it like driving a car. The occasional glance in the rear view is prudent. Don’t let it distract you from where you are going. Keep most of your attention on the present and future and you’ll be lest likely to drive into a ditch.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Racing the clock for project completion

Today I made more progress on the ambulance to camper conversion. Removed all the pinstripping. Also discovered the “paint” on the passenger side door was not actually paint. It was red decal material, the stuff I’ve learned to hate. My patience was all used up on removing the first half of it. My lovely wife volunteered to remove the rest, saving what little was left of my sanity. With her long nails she was better at it that I was.

The lightbar will not come off in one piece. When the ambulance was built, they bolted in the lightbar before finishing the interior. Too much of the interior would have to be destroyed to get to the bolts. Instead, I’m disassembling it from the outside in and saving all the pieces for reassembly later.

Removing hardware and sanding is next. There may be a clear day or two coming up. If all goes well, I’ll get some paint on the beast before the snow flies. Once painted, it’s on to registration and inspection. The rest of the conversion will go better once it’s road legal.

My lovely wife stained lumber for another project I promised to work on. Once the wood is ready, the rest of the assembly can be done inside.

There are boat projects still in the works. My buddy is still putting coat after coat of marine varnish on my custom tiller. The new cabin hatch with solar electric panel mount is partially completed, but that project was pushed back when the ambulance arrived.

The UPS van showed up at my place today. My Florida and the Bahamas cruising guides came in. That’s what all the hustle is about. I want to sail on those warm waters so bad I can taste it. After a hard day working on projects, I often spend my evenings studying charts and planning trips.

There’s a lot of craziness going on in the world right now. Very little of it can be affected by my actions, but I do what I can. Once all my projects are completed, I’ll be more than ready to head south, out of the frost lands. The world’s problems can’t really be left behind, but some days we go sailing and forget about them for a while.

All I have to do is get these darn projects finished in time.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Post Gaddafi Libya

Gaddafi is gone, by all accounts a mean bastard and crazy whack job.

Now the real battles begin. The oil companies can squabble for the spoils of war. French telecom giants can get those lucrative North African Contracts. Gaddafi built a huge canal system and water works. Clean fresh water is the new oil. I wonder what other riches the country has? I’m sure bean counters in the world’s capitals have a very very good idea. The battle is on for the spoils of war.

Do you think the Nato air campaign was donated to the rebels for free? Do you think the countries involved aren’t positioning themselves to cash in? It’s not called a Military Industrial Complex for nothing. War is business by other means.

Maybe I’m just a cynical old curmudgeon. Then again, we aren’t sending jets over Syria, where people are dying in the streets by the thousands. Syrian rebels have nothing to sell.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Outlaw cash

When cash is outlawed, only outlaws will have cash.

Louisiana has outlawed cash for second hand goods. They claim it’s to prevent criminals from selling stolen goods. Maybe it is, but it’s also a dandy control mechanism to find out where all the money is going and who’s buying what. When you know where it’s going, it’s much easier to take it away through taxes.

I see some possible outcomes from this law.

It could do exactly what’s intended with no negative side effects. (I give that outcome long odds.)

A lot of businesses could suffer losses. Many could shut down completely.

More and more business could be done “off the books.” That would make more people criminals who weren’t before. When government passes stupid laws that are ignored, respect for all law is diminished. Maybe that’s not totally a bad thing. Too many dumb laws are taken seriously as it is.

One interesting result is that it could be an incentive to develop alternatives to cash that also are not traceable. We could all decide to do business in something like Canadian dollars. We could make up a new local currency. Precious metals could be exchanged. Heck, people could set up a bookkeeping system of credits and exchange them in a totally independent economy. Hybrids of different exchange systems could come into play.

Business could take place totally outside the governmental system. Maybe this law is a good thing in the long run, as it’s a wake up call to the way money works.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Broken window theory

I haven’t commented much on the Occupy Everything movements in a while. They have my attention though. The movement has gone on long enough and is diversified enough that corporate media have been forced to acknowledge it. Occupy Wall Street has grown into a world wide movement.

Movements come and go, but overall, I’ve been a bit surprised on how this one is unfolding. There’s been violence, but mostly started by the cops. It’s a good thing I’m not there, as I’d be arrested for punching a cop by now. It’s simple. Someone hits me, I hit back. Tactically, that’s the wrong response, but I am what I am.

OWS has resisted being taken over by organizations with their own agenda. Remember when the Tea Party was anti-corporation? They wanted an accounting on where all the money was going. Big business gave them money and took them over. OWS has rejected self proclaimed leaders and a specific message.

That confuses the press no end. They interview a Socialist, and then the movement is socialist. Unions march, and suddenly it’s a union movement. College kids who are debt slaves speak out, and it’s a young people movement. Retired folks complain about losing their pensions and now that’s what it’s about.

Can we just call it a general speaking out for economic justice?

Where’s it going to go from here? James Howard Kunstler is waiting for the first broken window. The old curmudgeon is expecting trouble, violent trouble. The elements are there: angry people in the street, oppressive police tactics, and the 1% and their minions in their financial towers.

The right spark could turn things nasty -bankers hanging from street lamps nasty. Some politicians want to get in front of the movement. They’d better have solutions, and pretty darn quick. Business as usual with a thin veneer of new rhetoric isn’t going to satisfy the masses. Corporations won’t reform themselves from within. Those people sipping champagne in high towers may feel the occasional cold shiver down their backs -a premonition of danger ahead.

The economic situation is poised to get worse, not better. The Euro is going down. Can the dollar be far behind. There’s unrest in the world, and a lot of it is in places of strategic interest to the USA. A sudden Middle Eastern war could cut off oil imports in days. Even something like a major earthquake or storm could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Those people in the street won’t take kindly to more austerity measures, especially when the big boys got bailed out in high style.

Right now, protests are mostly peaceful. Decisive action could turn things around. Prosecute some rich law breakers, institute reforms, provide relief to the poor and middle class, and we could muddle through. Screw up, and cities go up in flames.

I don’t see any hint of that decisive action. It looks like the powers that be hope to wait it out until the protesters get tired and go home. (if their home hasn’t been foreclosed.) In New York, eventually it’ll snow and living in a tent on the street won’t be a good option. Will those first windows get broken before the snow flies?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Conversion continues

The ambulance to camper conversion is moving along. Perhaps not as fast as I’d like, but progress is being made.

Today the last of the decals were finally removed. It was a slow and time consuming operation. Glue residue remains and will have to be cleaned up. My son-in-law told me about using a product that works well. He can’t remember the name of it, but it’s designed for auto body shops. His step father has a small auto body place and should be able to set me up.

The sun came out briefly, giving me a chance to do a bit of painting. All the red flasher lenses were removed and painted black with a special plastic spray paint. A couple hours later the clouds moved in and rain threatened. The paint was dry enough to mount the lenses back on the vehicle. That last thing I need is rain working its way into the insulation between the walls.

The weather turned nasty just as I was just starting to figure out how to remove the light bar. Removing it isn’t hard. Removing it without destroying it is another thing entirely. So far, no damage.

It’s probably a good thing that the flashing lights are now disabled. I must admit to playing with them a bit. Word reached me that people across the lake have started to wonder about all the flashing red lights. They wonder if there’s been a lot of medical emergencies or fires on this side of the lake. Maybe I’d better disable the siren soon too.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Home comfort

My lovely wife and I were gone from the house all day. It was about 50 degrees inside when we got back. As soon as I got in, I lit the woodstove. It’ll warm up to a shirtsleeve environment before we turn in for the evening. This time of year, as long as the house stays above freezing, I’m fine with it. I’ve got a sweatshirt on and my wife is on the sofa under a fleece blanket with warm dog by her side.

It would have been easy to set the thermostat at 72 and have a warmer house when we got in, but for me, that’s a waste. The house doesn’t have be at a constant temperature to be comfortable. The human body, if given a chance, can adjust to a wide range of temperatures. Putting on a sweater never hurt anyone.

Eventually, the kitchen woodstove heats up the whole house. Long before the rest of the house is warm, there’s a nice warm area around the woodstove. During the really cold months, we’ll move our activities to the kitchen. Nothing keeps a family close like huddling for warmth.

When I was a kid my grandparents did not have central heat. There was a kerosene stove in the kitchen and one in the living room. The bathroom was warm enough that the plumbing usually didn’t freeze. The bedrooms were tiny, and only really used for sleeping. It was normal to see your breath in them. Beds had a good pile of warm blankets.

My wife grew up in a house that didn’t heat the bedrooms. She often entertained herself by scratching drawings in the frost on her bedroom window. It didn’t take her long in the morning to get dressed and down to the heated part of the house.

As the price of heating fuel goes up and incomes go down, people are going to have to be more discriminating on how they heat. How warm is comfortable? How much of the house has to be heated at all? Are there alternative methods of heating that are more sustainable? My house still has an oil furnace, but it’s rarely used these days.

I could buy oil and heat the whole house, but then I won’t have money for other things. Another option would be to keep the house totally warm by burning a lot of wood. Even when I get the wood for free, it’s still takes energy to process it -my energy. It has to be split, and piled, then carried into the house and loaded into the woodstoves. Keeping only part of the house toasty, and not all time, frees my time up to do other things.

One nice reward about using the kitchen woodstove, there’s a big kettle of water that will be ready for tea soon. Hot tea next to a warm fire. That’s not really suffering.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

At first we backpacked

When my wife and I met, I was an avid backpacker. She soon joined me on a lot of my hiking trips. Even after having kids, we still went hiking. Before long the kids were hiking with us.

Later, we did more canoe camping. We’ve always been water people and a canoe allowed us to take more comfort items. I even built a 20 foot cedar strip expedition type canoe. We had some great times.

Eventually the kids grew up and moved out. At the time, I was involved heavily with an on-line magazine. It occurred to me that as long as I could occasionally get to an Internet connection, I could do my work. My wife quit her job and we hit the road. Our car at the time was a tiny Dodge Neon. We put a canoe on the room, a tent in the back, and loaded up the dog. We spent up to 6 months a year living out of that tiny car.

Then I picked up an old Mercedes 240 D and converted that car to run on waste vegetable oil. It was roomier than the Neon and cheaper to run. I put a trailer hitch on it and towed a small utility trailer. Once again, the canoe went on the roof and the aging dog in the back.

We moved from that arrangement to a big Ford F250 extended cab diesel. It could carry a ton of stuff -and a canoe on top. Like the old Benz, this too was converted to run on waste veggie oil. After my wife had surgery on both shoulders, we thought it best to not do as much canoing. Instead, we got into sailing. Of course, the big truck worked out well as a tow vehicle for the boat.

Now I just picked up an old ambulance to convert into a mini camper. It’ll make a pretty good tow vehicle for the sailboat. This vehicle will also be converted to run on waste vegetable oil. We’ll be able to travel at a more relaxed pace. To avoid paying for hotel rooms, I’d often drive for 24 or more hours straight. I’d leave NH and drive non-stop for up to 1600 miles. With the new vehicle, I’ll just pull into a safe place to stop, crawl in the back and get a good night’s sleep.

Recently my lovely wife was reflecting on how complicated we’ve gotten since our backpacker days. Of course, we aren’t in our 20s anymore. My wife can’t hoist a backpack like she used to. I could, but the trips would have to be either longer in time or shorter in distance. That’s fine once in a while, but I do like to have adventures with my wife. The sailboat allows that to happen. It’s a small enough boat that either one of us can handle it alone, but it’s big enough to be able to comfortably lie down and get some rest.

The common thread in our lives is the desire to go on journeys. We like to get away from it all and see things. Some places become favorites and we keep going back, but we are always searching out new places to go to. When a person travels, they aways learn something. Staying in one place and doing the same routine would be deadly to me. Even though I like where I live and what I do, I still feel the need to travel.

I’ve gone from a 35 pound backpack to tons of vehicles and gear. Where will I be 5 or 10 years down the road? Who knows? Maybe we’ll simplify to living in a yurt half the year and on a small sailboat the other half.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

People on the edges of things

In our travels, the wife and I meet some interesting people. It’s amazing what people will tell you once you start chatting. All they need is some nonjudgmental listener and they open right up.

My wife and I stopped to watch a street magician. After his little act, most people moved on -if they bothered to stop in the first place. We chatted with him a bit. Business was slow, and he had one eye out for the cops. Before you know it, he was showing me how his tricks worked. That was pretty cool for me. In exchange, I was able to warn him about a nearby city that had gotten particularly hostile towards street performers.

We’ve met people who lived in their vehicles. Everyone knows about living in the road in a nice new RV, but we met a lot of people doing it a bit different. We met a guy in New Mexico with a small older battered RV who normally spent the winter in a desert in Old Mexico -a real desert rat. There was a disabled Vet living in a Toyota sedan. He’d taken the passenger seat out to make room for his bed. Everything was in its own compartment and container, very organized. Most impressive was a converted cube truck that still looked like a work truck. The stairs and windows were hidden when it was closed up. I didn’t get a real close look at the interior, but what I did see was top notch work.

We’ve given hitchhikers riders who were living out of their backpacks. There are people who travel the country on bicycle, finding work where they can. There are people who do this as a one time adventure, but for quite a few, it’s their life.

We met one guy who spent half the year in the Florida Keys. He had a battered old car and an old bicycle. The guy new every cheap place to stay in the Keys. Camping cheap in the Keys takes some work. My wife took notes. The other half of the year he lived on an old houseboat on a big lake in Tennessee. The guy looked like a homeless bum, but was incredibly articulate and well educated. I’m glad we made the effort to get to know him.

Now that my wife and I are traveling around in our little sailboat, we’ve discovered another class of character. They live on small, often older, sailboats that never see a marina. Instead, they are tied up alongside river banks, tucked deep into the marsh grass, or in some other out of the way place. Of course, we see them because we are doing the same thing. With the keel and rudder up, our boat only draws a foot of water, so getting out of the main channels is easy. Some of these people appear to have been out on the water for a long long time.

All these people have something in common. They are living on the edge of society. The life of a cubical farmed human is not for them. Many of the things that tie down most people -house, 9 to 5 job, car payments, loans, and all that, have no grip on them. Like weeds that find cracks in the pavement, they thrive.

Something occurred to me: evolution happens on the edge. In the natural world, evolution is fastest in the transition areas: where the sea meets land, where grasslands meet forest -anywhere different environments meet. It also takes place in harsh environments.

Humans, due to our outrageously large brains, have developed a much faster method of evolution: cultural evolution. We can change our culture much faster than our bodies will evolve. The people we meet on the edge of things are experiments in cultural evolution. They are surviving outside of the mainstream and have lessons for any one who doesn’t fit the culture around them.

Most of those people appear to be a lot happier than the “normals.” As the American dream and the world economy implode, it might be good to check out what those happy people on the edge are doing.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winter house sitters

My lovely wife and I had dinner with some young friends of ours. They are newlyweds and found themselves in an awkward situation. They were working on a farm and a rent free house came along with the job. Without warning, the farm was sold. They find themselves without a job and housing too.

Come January, my wife and I plan on leaving for Florida and sailing adventures. Normally, I winterize the house and shut everything down. It’s a bit of a pain, messy and time consuming. When I start the house up again in the spring, there always seems to be some little thing that needs repair. Still, it’s a lot cheaper than heating an empty house.

We invited our friends to spend the winter in our place. All they’d have to pay for is heat. Since they have relatives in the firewood business, even that won’t be too bad. They have to be out of their current house just when we’d be heading south. Looks like a win win for all of us.

It sure will make leaving a lot easier. No winterization, finding homes for house plants, and hauling all the guns out for safe keeping. There will be someone right here keeping an eye on things. They also have a couple of good sized dogs. That can be a problem when apartment hunting, but for me, it’s a security bonus.

I love it when two problems can be solved for the benefit of all.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ambulance photo

Here’s my ambulance to camper project. At this point I’ve removed about 2/3 of the decals.

As you can see, the emergency lights are still on. I’m going to have some fun removing those.

There’s going to be plenty of taping and sanding before the painting starts. My lovely wife and I are still discussion exactly how it will look. We have general agreement on the basic color scheme, but the devil’s in the details.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vehicle Project

Today I took possession of a decommissioned ambulance. Several months ago a nearby EMS company ordered a new ambulance. The trade in offered for their old one was pitiful. I made them an an offer of pitiful plus a tad more. Nobody offered better than that so now I’m the proud owner of a second hand ambulance.

One of the things that surprised me was how little was removed from the vehicle. It still has its emergency lights, siren, PA system, medical suction pump, flood lights and fire extinguishers. The 1100 watt inverter system is up and running and fully wired. They took the O2 tanks, but everything else, the hoses and fittings, are still there.

There were a few things that attracted me to this vehicle. It has a 7.3 liter power stroke diesel engine. I can convert it to run on waste vegetable oil. The motor is more than powerful enough to tow my sailboat. The back is roomy. There’s a captain’s chair and three jump seats. Storage is not a problem. It has a zillion compartments. About all I really have to add is a folding bed and table arrangement. It’s so well lit back there, a person could do minor surgery . . . and probably did.

Of course, it has to be turned into a civilian vehicle. All the emergency lights will have to go. The decals have to be removed. Believe me, there are an awful lot of them. It will need a paint job, something other than the red and white motif it has now. The siren has to go. I will keep the PA system. That thing is cool. Lots of potential to annoy people with it. The built in spotlights will be useful. I’ll never have to load my sailboat in the dark ever again as the lights turn night into day.

Once the decals are removed, I’ll post some photos. If the weather holds, I might get done with decal duty soon. Some loosen and peel off using paint thinner. Unfortunately, that works on less than half the decals. For the rest, I use a propane torch. It’s a delicate balance. The decal has to be warm enough to soften the glue, but not so warm as to weaken the vinyl letters. By the end of the day I was getting the hang of it.

With the power, room, multi-fuel capabilities, and ample storage, this will make a fine bug out/camping vehicle.


Solar for sailboat

My solar panel order came in. I bought a nice little 30 watt mono crystal solar panel with a charge controller. A bigger panel might have been better, but my sailboat is small and there’s not a lot of good places to mount panels. The 30 watt panel will fit on top of the cabin hatch, so that’ll work out well enough.

The boat’s little 6 hp outboard has an alternator, but I don’t want to have to run the motor just to charge the battery. Often, we sail all day without using the motor at all. The solar panel fits with my general alternative energy philosophy. It also fits in with my sense of frugality (I hate to buy gas) and my laziness (I won’t have to make as many trips lugging jugs.)

I’ve never been a big fan of the cabin hatch that came with my Oday 19. Rather than mount the panel to the crappy fiberglass hatch, I’m building a plywood one. Today I went down to the lake to see how well my new hatch is going to fit. It almost fits -some minor tweaking and it’ll soon be ready for the solar panel.

Of course, since my lovely wife and I were down to the lake anyway, and the sun was shinning, and the wind was blowing, we had to sail around the lake a few times.


Monday, October 10, 2011

The power to walk away

It’s nearly a super power. Most of us have the ability, but few of us exercise it.

Many of us have been trained to be ready to do this when buying a car. The “best deal” the seller is willing to make is still higher than you really want to go. Walk away. Leave the deal behind. Give up on that sweet set of wheels. Sometimes it is the quickest way to discover that the “best deal” isn’t really. There’ s still room for negotiation. That’ s what most people focus on, the fact that being ready to walk way will sometimes get negotiations going again. We’ve all heard stories of people who’ve done well that way.

You must be willing to accept that you may kill the deal completely by walking away. That really was as low as the person was able or willing to go. What do you do then? Keep walking. You walked away from the deal in the first place because it really wasn’t good enough for you. don’t try and stretch yourself to do a deal that is more than you can afford.

People are most familiar with walking away as a business tactic. Car deals are common usage due to there being some much room to negotiate. There’s the whole with trade in, without trade in deal. Is your old car being assessed as in excellent condition or only good. How much profit is built into the price? How desperate is the seller? You and your neighbor can buy exactly the same car, yet pay vastly different amounts for it. Being able to walk away from a deal is not just for cars. It’s used when buying real estate, furniture, major appliance, or just about any purchase.

The walk away principal can be used for a lot more than buying things. You can walk away from bad relationships, jobs, schools, religions, countries -just about anything.

On a personal level, the first time I dropped out of college I was a “A” level student. One semester was enough to figure out that it wasn’t for me. Once I quite a good part time job where I was making a lot of money.

The thing about walking away and letting go of something is that your life then has room for something that might fit you better. After quitting college, I eventually found a job that I absolutely loved. As for the part time job I quit, it opened up a lot of my days for me to go hiking and fishing. I’m not sure I’d have met my wife if I had kept that job. There are only so many hours in the day.

The Buddhists have a powerful practice known as letting go of attachments. There is immense spiritual freedom in letting go. Attachments can be a trap and a prison. Walking away can be a spiritual experience.

More and more people are walking away from financial commitments that no longer serve. Who hasn’t heard of “jingle mail?” A home owner gives up on making house payments and mails the keys to the bank. The walk away from the mortgage.

I look at the protesters around the world and wonder how many of them have walked away from a system that no longer serves them. How many have let go their attachment to the old order? Quite a few, is my guess. There is an awful lot of power in a person who’s made those decisions in their lives.

I’m not advocating being a quitter. Some people walk away from everything, all the time, for little reason. There’s no power there, just an inability to stick with something through a bad patch. I’ve been married to the same person for over 32 years. I was a firefighter for 17 years until they hauled me out of the fire house on a stretcher. I don’t quite things lightly.

Walking away is best used sparingly, with your eyes open to the consequences, and with a clear head. The ability to assess something, find it wanting, and to let it go, is big medicine. Use your power wisely.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bonus days

For this time of year, near 80 degree temperatures are rare indeed. After nearly a week of cold and rain, it’s especially welcome.

There is a bit of dilemma: do I get my outside work done, or do I enjoy absolutely wonderful weather playing in the sun.

Today I sort of split the difference. I did run into town to the hardware store and stocked up on the materials I needed. As for outside work, I decided to mount some folding cup holders on the boat. Of course, then my lovely wife and I just had to test them out by sailing around the lake for a few hours.

The good weather is supposed to hold until Wednesday, so I’m going to be pretty busy until then. There’s some painting and varnishing that absolutely must get done during good weather. Of course, I could take the boat out for a short sail between coats.

Life is supposed to be all about balance, right?


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Waiting for phone calls

“I’ll get right back to you on that.”

That could mean: You’ll get a call back in a few minutes, hours, days or never.

“I’ll call you at 11 a. m..”

That one is already over a day late. The person was supposed to call yesterday morning. She called in the evening when we were out. Then she missed the morning call time again. Since it’s about an event on Sunday, the person better make that call soon.

I hate waiting for people to get back to me. Phone calls are the worse. Remember back in the day when phones were mounted on the wall or sat on a desk? Those days never left where I live. There’s no cell phone service here, so I’m stuck waiting by the land line.

Have people gotten used to everyone always being available at any time on their cell? That’s my guess. They can’t imagine that someone has to actually wait by a land line.

Most of the time I’m very happy to not be tethered to a communication device 24/7. This is one of those rare times when I wish I could be reached by cell phone. It’s the first nice day in a while when I could be on the sailboat.

*We said the heck with it and went sailing anyway. Thats what answering machines are for.


Friday, October 7, 2011

More Police State News

Now it comes out that there’s a secret panel that can put Americans on a kill list. Look how far we’ve fallen. That’s not the sort of thing that happens in a country ruled by laws and a constitution. That’s what happens in a Police State.

At one time, the US had rules against assignation. Now it’s policy. Sure, the early examples are always people like Osama. This American, Awlaki, was supposed to be a bad man. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. After they killed him, his importance seems to have been raised retroactively.

Early targets of this sort of action are aways people whom almost everyone agrees are deserving of it. Once the machinery of assassination is in place, it’s very easy to keep using it to solve political problems. Rules keep getting relaxed. Where does that take us? Do we start doing drone strikes in Boston?

I think back to Machiavelli. To paraphrase, he said to take over a country, you keep the outward signs of the old system, but change the way it actually works. That’s what’s happening here.

How far down the Police State slope will we slip? Am I an alarmist? I hope so but fear that I may be right.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The neutron bomb of disasters

Economic collapse is the neutron bomb of disasters. The disaster hits, everyone gets “wiped out,” yet all the material things are still standing. The buildings are still there. None of the factories have disappeared. All the farms are still intact.

Unlike a real neutron bomb, the people are still standing too. The only thing that’s really disappeared is the medium of exchange. Since our “money” has no intrinsic value anyway, it’s like losing nothing at all. Most money isn’t even in paper, but ones and zeros in a computer somewhere.

In a more perfect world everyone would blink their eyes, shake their heads, and realize that the whole fiat currency thing was a bad idea. They wouldn’t go right out and replace it with another make believe money system. Perhaps the smart thing would be some sort of elaborate barter system. Maybe something like the barter networks that are springing up in Greece right now.

Those barter networks function just fine on the local level, and there’s no intrinsic reason the whole world could not operate on a similar system. Instead of dollars, we could be trading things like hours of labor or calories of energy.

The problem that Greece has is that it’s one of the first to hit by the financial neutron bomb. Those areas less affected, like Germany, are heavily invested in the old imaginary system. They want the real things in Greece: land, resources, and labor, to be turned into these imaginary “Euros” and sent back to the rest of the EU. The best thing for Greece, and other countries and regions in the same boat, is to say no. Eventually those financial bombs will hit the rest of the world and everyone can wake up from the bad dream.

It’s not the collapse of the fiat currency that’s the problem. It’s all those obligations and relationships that are held over as the money itself disappears. Those imaginary monetary units have been concentrated in a relatively small number of hands. Right now it’s possible to trade those imaginary units for real things: houses in the Hamptons, yachts, pretty cars, and sexual favors from much younger women. Of course, those people want to keep the game going as long as possible.

Those with big imaginary numbers want the economic disaster to happen slow enough that they can take the last real things from people who still have stuff. As long as police and the military will accept those imaginary units, they can provide real enforcement. The way those with big piles of ones and zeros want the game to play out is for them to get all the stuff.

It’s a silly rigged game. It’s hard to see how silly as it’s the one we were born into. It’s like being born into a bizarre religious cult. Growing up, you don’t notice how crazy the cult is. If most of the world is in the same crazy cult, it’s even harder to become sane. The only people not in the cult are those who’ve been kicked out -the ones without any money.

The good news is that they might have kicked too many out of the cult. After the initial shock, many are shaking their heads and saying: wasn’t that crazy? Let’s not do that again. Lets find other ways of exchanging things of value. Now if only those crazy cult members would leave us alone. Of course, you can’t be too hard on those cultists. Most of the sane people believed the crazy doctrine once too.

Now that tiny percentage of the people who understand the game are really worried. Their only real talent is running a crazy cult. They fear everyone will go sane. Then they’ll be unable to exchange their imaginary money for real things. They have few other useful skills. They fear no one will love them.

They might be right.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Everything’s the same

Until it isn’t. People forget how fast their lives can change. One day, everything is fine. The next, disaster strikes. It could be anything: fire, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, injury, layoff, or one day you come home to a note that the wife has run off with the pool boy.

Stuff happens.

In a long enough life, it will happen to you. It will be bad. How you cope with it will have some bearing on how bad.

Those of us who are preppers try and foresee likely disasters. We prepare for those events we think might happen. Often our preps help us in ways we don’t forsee. We might have food and water stored up because we expect blizzards. Instead, we get fall floods that take out the roads and isolate us. No problem, we can still eat and drink. Basic preparedness: food, water, medicine, energy backups, and so on, work in a wide variety of situations.

There are some situations so big that your preps reach their limit. It can be dramatic and affect millions: like the massive tsunami that flattened Sumatra. (you thought I was going to say Japan, right? Current disasters push out earlier ones) It can be personal: suddenly getting laid off from a job you thought secure.

A sudden disaster can wipe out all your preparations. They may be washed out to sea, at the bottom of a sink hole, scattered across the countryside by a tornado, or too radioactive to use. However, time itself may be the enemy. The disaster, while not too hard to deal with at first, goes on way too long. Time eats away at your preps.

I think back to when I got hurt at work. Usually these claims get settled within a year. I can do a year standing on my head. There were some preps in the house. Our living costs weren’t too extravagant. I made my last car payment with my last paycheck. I even had a supplemental insurance for the first year. Year one, from a financial standpoint, was easy. Year two was a bit tougher. The insurance ran out. The car needed repairs. Preps ran out. Still, we got by. Year 3 was bad, really bad. The car died completely. Debt piled up. Legal expenses exhausted my credit. Year four was insane. That’s when the house was scheduled to go up for auction for non-payment of taxes. At the last minute, my case was settled and we kept the house.

Time wears you down. There are a lot of people that have been in bad shape the last few years. In a way, I was lucky. My problems hit in the mid-90s, when there was still a functioning economy. There are people who’ve been in tight financial straights for years. Unlike me, the economy looks to get worse before it gets better. It will never be the way it was. Many people are in the same boat, fighting for dwindling resources.

When the basic underpinnings of your life changes, you need to draw on your most important prep: mental preparation. You need to take a clear headed look at the situation and deal with it. Don’t dwell on how this is not the way things are supposed to be. Don’t complain that life is unfair. Waste no time waiting for the miracle cure. Look at where you and try to find a path to where you want to be. That might require adjusting your wants.

It’s Okay to grieve, maybe even healthy. Take the time you need to honor the fact that the old way is dead. Get it out of your system.

Then roll up your sleeves and get to work.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tenting in wet weather

The near daily rain storms we’ve been having has got me thinking about tent living. There’s nothing worse than a leaky tent. Well, a leaky house isn’t too great either. With the promise of 5 sunny days, I once removed the roof from my house so as to put up a second floor. It started raining the evening of the first day and didn’t stop for a month. The weather man is the Prince of Lies.

A tent is a house. Maybe you are using it for just the weekend, or maybe for months on end. It’s your shelter; it’s where you live. A leaking tent is just as uncomfortable as my house was with a missing roof. You can’t sleep with water soaking your bedding. Water drips into your coffee and makes your cooking splatter. It’s a miserable way to live.

A common solution is to stretch a tarp right over the tent. That can either work just fine or be worse than useless. A tightly rigged tarp, well tied off and with no water collecting valleys can keep you dry. Many tarp arrangements, however, just blow off, collect water to dump in one big splash, or provide little protection on a windy day.

I’m not a big fan of the tarp solution. It’s better to have a well made tent that doesn’t need a tarp. Tents with separate rain flys, in my experience, work best. The rain fly should almost completely cover the tent, nearly reaching the ground. A good fly has a lot of tie downs so as to keep its shape and position in windy weather.

Tent seams should be sealed on at least an annual basis -more often if needed. I like the seam sealers that go one like roll on deodorant. They are easy to use, so are likely to get used. There are also sprays to restore a fly’s waterproofing. Even a very good tent, if used often or constantly, will need a waterproofing touch up now and then.

I prefer a tent where the rain fly extends beyond the main body of the tent and forms a small screen room. Tents can get claustrophobic, especially if you are stuck inside due to bad weather. The screen room is a good place to set up a couple chairs and a small table. You can look outside, cook without water falling in your food, yet you can keep your mud boots on. It’s a good transitional space between the outside and the main part of the tent. It’s your tent’s mud room, (if you are from the north,) or your Florida room. (if from the south).

If the weather is sunny, the tendency is to not even think about your tent will perform in a storm. That’s how tents get set up in low spots with a sloppily assembled fly or no fly at all. When a surprise storm hits, you want to be the guy sitting comfortably in his screen room drinking a hot coffee. You don’t want to be the guy he’s watching for entertainment. The wet guy running around in the rain trying to secure a tent that the wind’s tearing out of his hands.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Odds and ends at the hardware store

When money’s really tight, certain things just don’t get replaced. I use things I’ve already got. Food is the big one, but once that’s replaced, I can buy other things.

Small tools take a beating. I lost one of my vise grips on Rt 95 in CT. Long story. Finally got around to replacing it. Rather than buy a cheap knock off, I waiting until I could afford quality. That’s the sort of tool that’s used when it’s time to get mean. The regular proper tools haven’t worked: bolts are stripped, parts are corroded, and so on. Vise grips are abused. Cheap ones will break and bust your hand.

I bought tacks and a proper tack hammer. Having the right tool for the job makes all the difference. For too long I’ve had to drive tacks with a framing hammer. It’s like trying to perform delicate surgery with a machete.

Then there’s all the other bits that get used up: screws, glue, stain, pencils, clips, tape and whatnot. That stuff adds up. By the time I got out of the hardware store, my wallet was $70 lighter.

There’s nothing I bought that I absolutely had to have, but it’s not possible to do everything with nothing. A tool using animal needs tools.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

When protests start to have impact

The leading edge of a protest movement is usually young. They are people who are outside of the mainstream of society. Often they look pretty scruffy. If the population of a protest is comprised only of this group, their impact will be limited.

It’s when the make up of a protest changes that you have to take notice. When the middle aged blue collar guys join in, pay attention. When the guys in business suits march, the movement is really gaining momentum. When the mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers appear in the crowd, something pretty darn serious is going on.

Zoom in on the protesters in Greece. To me, they kinda look like a cross section of Greek society. Trouble is definitely brewing there. It’s obvious that there’s widespread opposition to the politicians and their austerity program. That has wide implications for the whole Eurozone.

Now check out protest footage of the Wall Street Protests. You might have to go to the foreign press to get good coverage. Main stream US media is barely covering it. At first it was the neo-hippy scruffy types, with ratty T-shirts and banging on drums. Now they have union supporters. There’s a lot of guys in business suits. Plenty of people look like they drove in from the suburbs in their minivans. Here and there I see gray and bald heads in the crowd.

Support is widening. Could it be that Americans are waking up to economic disparity?


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Friends and Relatives invading the Bug Out Location

Is it a real fear? It’s a common subject on the survivalist type forums. Who, if anyone, do you let in to your bug out location? You scrimp, save, and get prepared. You might have food to last you and your family a whole year. What happens if all your friends and family show up in a times of trouble? That food might only last a few weeks.

Will it really happen that way? Probably not, but like much else: it depends.

Can all those people actually make it to your place should a disaster happen? If they are within walking distance, better put up a few more bags of beans. If they have to drive hundreds of miles to get to your place, they might not be able to show up at all. If the disaster is sudden like a major earthquake or flash flood, the roads and bridges may be impassable. Even during something like a hurricane that provides hours and days of warning, traffic can make evacuation difficult.

What happens at your place now? Most people have power outages, ice storms, floods, blizzards or other local and regional disasters. When the lights go out, does everyone show up at your door, begging bowl in hand? Do most people muddle though on their own?

If you live in a densely populated area, it doesn’t matter how large your preps are. Nobody can take care of a city’s population. I’ve heard stories about people who feared to run their generator during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The generator would get stolen, or their supplies taken. People who could have lights at night kept them off to avoid attracting attention.

Fortunately, I live at my bug out location. I bugged out of town over 20 years ago. That’s the key, get out ahead of the crowd, be it 10 minutes ahead or 20 years ahead. The devil takes the hindmost. During blizzards and ice storms, my few neighbors pretty much take care of them selves. They’ve come by and asked if I needed anything.

Should my family and friends show up at my door, I’d be relieved. If they don’t show up here, I’d worry about them. They are smart enough to load up their cars with supplies before heading to my place. When they get here, it’d be share and share alike. We’d eat a lot of stone soup. Everyone should be able to find something to throw into the pot.

There are enough tools to keep everyone busy. Firewood needs to be gathered and chopped. Meals need to be cooked. Kids need to be taken care of. I’ve enough firearms and fishing gear so some wild good could be added to the pot. With more people, jobs can split up, and there can always be someone looking out for trouble. If that means my supplies run out faster, so be it. There’s also more people to hunt, gather, and farm.

Is that the best plan? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that I’ll sleep better if I don’t turn friends and relatives away.