Friday, November 30, 2012

College and Debt

College is the best thing ever -if you can get someone else to pay for it. If you have to go into debt to cover expenses, it's a bad deal.

Yes, there's all these arguments about good jobs, special skills, personal contacts and all that crap. I'm not going there. Plenty of other people go there.

I graduated from High School way back in the dark ages of 1976. That's back when college was supposed to be affordable. It wasn't for me. By working my butt off all summer, I was able to pay for one semester at the local community college -not including books. My parents were in that interesting financial bracket too “rich” for financial aid and too poor to actually pay for college.

Mom always wanted me to be a doctor, but not so badly that she actually saved any money for medical school.

I dropped out before incurring any college debt. It's one thing to go into debt to get that career of your dreams. It's another to go into debt when I wasn't even sure what I wanted to do. Even at 18, I looked at student debt as a trap. Many High School kids don't think of student loans as real debt. It's money they can spend now. Some stranger, “future self,” will get stuck with the bills.

19 years later I had the opportunity to go to college on someone else's nickel. I was being rehabilitated. That was great. I took a wide variety of courses as I had a whole college at my disposal. There were cool and interesting people to meet. It was loads of fun. Of course, going to college at 37 is a bit different than going to college at 18. College students went to college to drink and get laid. I went home to drink and get laid.

I've no regrets for dropping out of college at 18. My life was really interesting. I read a lot of books and learned a lot of things not taught in college. I got married at 20 -and I was ready for it. That didn't stop the adventures or the learning experiences. Financially, I'm probably no worse off than if I'd gone to college. It's hard to judge these things. One way to look at it: I was working and earning money those 4 – 6 years when my friends were in college. Some are better off financially, but nobody else takes a few months off in the winter to go sailing.

If I was graduating from High School today, I'd probably have to make up some story to satisfy my parents. Maybe I'd head out to hike the Appalachian Trail and just keep hiking. Maybe I'm say I'm biking across the country and just not make it back in time for fall semester. Perhaps I'd kayak down the Intra-coastal Waterway all the way down to Key West. Once I hit Key West the odds are I'd be of no use at all to corporate America.

People think it's some sort of rule that if you've got the grades, you have to go to college. Nope. In fact, you might be too smart for college.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Human Scale

How much is too much? How big is too big?

Remember when the McMansion was all the rage? During the housing boom the trend was to buy the biggest house you could almost afford. With easy financing, some of those houses were big indeed.

At some point a house is no longer your home. A small house serves the owner. It provides warmth and shelter and doesn't take all the owner's time and money. As a house gets bigger, you don't own it, it owns you. All your time and money go into maintaining it. Just keeping it clean becomes a full time job. The rich can afford hired help to do all that stuff. There are cleaners, cooks, landscaping crews -you name it. At that point, it's not a house anymore. Too many other people come and go at will. Often a few rooms are off limits to the help so the owners can have some sense of privacy. At that point, they've recreated the small house within the big house.

I see the same trends with sailboats. The glossy magazines like to feature these monster boats that require a crew to sail effectively. Even with a crew, the boat relies on lots of power equipment to take the place of even more hands. On the other end of the scale, (where I live) are the boats that can easily be sailed with one or two people. Since there are so few gadgets in the boat, there's very little that can go wrong. With a small boat it's easy to go sailing a lot, and what's a boat for anyway?

Humans are only so big. They only take so much space, water, food, or shelter. Beyond a certain point, the human no longer fits in his life. They go around like a kid wearing their parent's clothes. Sure, it's cute for a short while, but after that it's silly.

So why do we strive to acquire more than we reasonably use? It's a matter of status and one oneupmanship. Stupid way to compete. Why don't we compete on who could be the nicest, most generous, or the most clever.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trash Day and Oil Jugs

When restaurants get fryer oil, it comes in 4.5 gallon jugs. My local restaurant puts the used oil back in the jugs they came in. At my convince, I collect them from a garage next to the restaurant.

One of my regular duties as a husband is to take the trash out. Someone has to. Most weeks I put out a bag or two of crushed 4.5 gallon vegetable oil jugs. They cannot be recycled because they had oil in them. It messes up the recycling process.

They are not particularly strong jugs. In fact, in recent years they've been getting thinner and lighter. Sometimes I'll use the ones in better condition a few times to collect oil from other sources. Once in a while one will spring a leak. Good thing I'm hauling them around in a converted ambulance. Those vehicles were made to be hosed out. I'm sure mine has had worse things on the floor than waste veggie.

Each jug weights about 35 pounds. Yesterday I picked up 25 of them. That's 875 pounds of fuel. Guess what I do to stay in shape? The money saved by using free veggie adds up. That's over 112 gallons of free fuel. It's replacing about $450 worth of diesel. That certainly makes it worth the handling. I've a rack to stack them on for when I need them. I always use the older ones first as they've had longer for the junk to settle out of them.

When I crush up those jugs for the trash, I think about all the money I'm not spending on motor fuel. Just like the government, I don't have to factor in the price of fuel when figuring the cost of living.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lessons of Iron Dome

Israel has touted the success of its anti-missile program known as “Iron Dome.”

For their sake, I hope they don’t really think it was the success they are crowing about. Figures vary, but it appears that they were able to stop most of the rockets. That means that some got through and there were a few fatalities.

As an anti-rocket shield, Iron Dome is a failure. The anti-rocket missiles of Iron Dome are expensive sophisticated devices employing the best of high tech instrumentation and materials. The rockets they had limited success against were essentially pipe bombs on over sized bottle rockets. The expensive smart missiles could stop some of the dumb cheap rockets. Big whoop.

Iron Dome could be defeated by sending in a lot more cheapo rockets. Now imagine how it would do against sophisticated, faster, and smart missiles? Imagine how it would do against a lot of those missiles?

What if Iron Dome was able to successfully stop 999 our of a 1000 attacks? Feel secure? What if the one that got through had a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon? Still feeling secure?

Maybe Iron Dome isn’t really there to make the country safe. What if it’s supposed to give the illusion of safety? If citizens feel they are protected from attack, they will be more likely to agree to military solutions instead of diplomatic ones.


Monday, November 26, 2012

A Lesson in Collapse

Once again we turn to the handy dandy example of Greece. By any reasonable assessment, the country is undergoing collapse. Unemployment is high. Living standards have plummeted. Suicide is up. Unrest is rampant. There are riots in the streets. People have turned to barter and the underground economy.

In spite of all that, the country functions -not well, but it does function. Most of the cops are still on the job. There is more bureaucracy, not less. A majority of companies do at least some business. Government benefits, while much reduced, are still being provided.

Greek collapse will look fast to the historians. To the people in the middle of it, it’s a long slow grind.

Now picture an American prepper. Let’s say he’s better prepared than most. Assume a good year’s supply of food, and $10,000 worth of precious metals. Because he’s an American, he has a big assault rifle and 25,000 rounds of ammunition.

Early in the collapse, he loses his job. For a year, his family does well enough. There’s enough food and his precious metals cover other expenses. Property taxes still have to be paid. The utility bills keep coming in. Maybe there’s some doctor or dental expenses. His car needs gas. Actually, he does pretty well to make that $10,000 last a year.

Year two it starts to get interesting. The stored food is gone. Savings are gone. Any government benefits are exhausted. His resources are pretty much gone, except for that assault rifle. That’s not doing him much good either, as he can’t even afford a hunting license. The game wardens are still on the job.

Eventually, he’s going to get evicted from his house. Where does he go? Maybe he had a plan of bugging out to the National Forest. How would that work for him? It’s fine to camp there for a while, but eventually he’d have to move on. What if he’s got school age children? They can’t just disappear from the system.

He probably had some idea that when he’d bug out to the forest, he could do what he wanted: clear land, build a log cabin, set up game traps, build a fish weir, plant a garden -all the things a homesteader would do. Of course, he can’t do that as there are still rules and people to enforce them. Maybe fewer people, but enough. In fact, because of government shortfalls, fines and penalties may be a lot higher.

In a collapse that takes years a different strategy is needed. What’s working in Greece? Most people are getting by. Families have crowed in together. The quality and quantity of food has gone down. People with gardens, fruit and nut trees, are glad they have them. Lot’s of informal work goes on -off the books. The barter economy has replaced part of the money economy.

Government gets less and less effective (which is saying something for Greece), but it does not go away. Most police still come to work. Politics are getting harsher. Fascism has gotten a solid foothold. People are desperate and willing to try desperate solutions. The collapse keeps on grinding down. Relationships are important. Who can help you and what skills do you have to offer others? Family and friends become more important than ever.

How will it play out in other countries? There will be similarities, but different countries have different national characteristics. Some expect collapse in the US to get more violent and sooner. (maybe that assault rifle won’t be a bad investment after all.) If you’ve lost your job, the collapse is well underway -at least for you. There are already plenty of desperate people. Collapse is here, but not evenly distributed.

It’s rarely a single event. For the individual, it manifests as a series of ever more serious challenges to be dealt with. Don’t think of it as an event but a process. The more adaptable a person is, the better off they are. It’s true in Greece. It’s true everywhere.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Work, wages, and dignity

One of the things that bothers me is people standing on the side of the road waving signs for different businesses. It tell me two things. The first is that wages are so low that it’s possible hire someone to do a job that could be done by a stick in the ground. The second is that plenty of people have no better options.

I’m sure these sign holders are not getting $20/hour with medical and dental. It’s not just kids either. Some appear to be healthy mature adults. Now I’m not cutting these people down. They are doing what they have to do to get by. It’s just sad to think our economy has come to this.

When I graduated from High School back in ‘76, there were still people heading to work in the local factories. They made a decent living: bought cars, houses, boats, and had cottages on the nearby lakes. Many of their kids went to college. Only fragments of those factories remain, and wages are much lower. Some of their college educated kids are working at big box stores for starvation wages.

There were scattered protests and job actions at Walmart on Black Friday. Walmart claims sales were not hurt at all and that sales were very good. They may be telling the truth. What they are not talking about is how much those tiny actions upset them. They may have won a battle but have already lost the war. A change is coming over people. They are mad as hell and ain’t gonna take it anymore. It is too much to want to be treated with dignity and respect? When a job has reached the point where wages are too low to survive, what’s to be lost by fighting the man?

I’m really bothered by the waste of human potential. So many people could be doing so much more if only they’d get half a chance. Companies are telling workers they aren’t worth much, while at the same time incompetent executives get multi-million dollar bonuses. There’s no money to pay a living wage but unlimited funds to break unions.

Year after year, the big boys have tweaked the system so the little guys have no power left at all. The rich and powerful are proud and satisfied with the machine they’ve built. Unfortunately, they’ve made a grave error. When the system is totally against the little guys, the only thing left to do is to break the system.

The choice is clear: reform or face revolution.

Just a head’s up. The working poor won’t be bought off with food stamps much longer.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I've always loved that poem.

He took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference. We are left to think that the difference was a good difference, but it's never really spelled out. For all we know, it could have been a horrible difference.

Probably not, though. Like much of life, it's just different.

This poem came to mind when I think of how close we came to dropping everything and sailing the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) this fall. We'd be having the adventure of long and interesting trip. On the other hand, we would have lost out on all the time spent with friends and family. Maybe next fall we'll finally get to take that trip.

I sometimes wonder if there are parallel worlds out there. Perhaps in some version of the world, my lovely wife and I are sailing southward to warm waters. Maybe that me is wondering what would have happened had we stayed home for the holidays.

Some scientists theorize that every decision splits the world off into multiple realities. Boggles the mind. If that is true, I'm sure I'm not in many of those realities. There have been enough close calls in my life that's the odds are against me still being around. It's a sobering thought. Some of those less traveled roads kept me from being run over. Other times, those less traveled roads brought me to the edge of nowhere.

I wonder what old Robert Frost was really thinking of. He once lived on a couple farms not all that far from me. We've traveled some of the same roads.

I don't regret the decisions made in the past. The past is the past. We don't know where all roads lead. Life seems to have a horrible element of chance -or a wonderful element of chance. We are often pretty bad at judging how something will affect us in the long run. Those horrible experiences may be what gave us the skills and will to overcome something bigger that might have destroyed us.

Well, one thing for sure. We've got to choose one path or the the other -else we'd never get out of the woods.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Frigidaire Affinity Washer

My fairly new Frigidair Affinity washer wasn’t behaving right. Fewer and fewer of the washing cycles worked. The reviews of the machine are pretty bad. Of course, those reviews came out after we bought ours. Everyone complains about expensive repairs. Often repairs cost almost as much as a replacement machine.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to attempt to repair it myself. There’s a great YouTube video on how to disassemble the machine. The video is very clear and saved me time and effort.

Removing the top cover of the washer revealed something of critical importance. Taped to the inside was a mechanic’s manual. It explained how to do a self diagnostic. There were a couple pages of error codes and what they meant. The manual also explained how to reset the washer to the factory default settings. Pushing those buttons fixed the problem. Of course, I’d stripped everything down to the circuit boards and then resembled it before trying the reset.

The thing that puzzled me was what the heck was the manual doing inside the machine? Was it there for the highly paid repair technician to find? Are they afraid that, armed with the manual, there’d be a lot more people doing their own repairs?

I’ve no problem with the way it washes clothes. When it’s running the way it’s supposed to, the clothes get clean using very little water and soap. That’s fine. I’ve had worse washing machines. One actually had a large cement block bolted to the inside of the washer to dampen the vibrations.

A washing machine is one of those appliances that actually save a lot of time and money. When the dishwasher died there was no pressing need to replace it. Washing dishes by hand is no big deal. I’ve lived without a dryer in the past and rarely use mine now. Should something major on it fail, it won’t get replaced. Life without a washing machine, on the other hand, is a hardship. Beating my clothes on rocks by the riverside is not my style.

I’m glad I found that manual. Christmas is saved.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Welcome to the Panopticon

The Panopticon is a prison design where a handful of watchers can keep an eye on many prisoners. The psychology behind the design is that the prisoners cannot tell when they are being watched. They then behave like they are always being watched. One person can control the behavior of many.

Our surveillance society, with cameras in more and more places, has turned our world into a giant Panopticon.

The watchers want us to believe they see us at all times. They don’t. Think about it. Lot’s of those cameras are getting old. How long does your electronic devices stay in top shape? Many of these cameras are mounted in harsh environments. Quite a few no longer work, but we are supposed to assume they do.

Sometimes the cameras aren’t even real -just cheap fake dummies. Remember, the idea is not to actually watch people, but to change people’s behavior by making them believe they are watched.

Remember your first digital camera? Piece of crap, wasn’t it? Many of the older cameras have very low resolution. Combine that with security tapes that have been reused and reused, and everything becomes a blurry mess.

Let’s, however, assume that the equipment is top notch, the recordings are the best in high end digital, and actual human beings are watching on monitors. Assume that these cameras are being focused on potential criminals instead of hot women. Can the camera prevent crime? No. They can only record things that may or may not get used to prosecute after the fact. There is no SWAT team hiding in a closet ready to apprehend a mugger.

In a massive public action, the cameras can only watch. Later analysis can be used to pick faces out of the crowd, but what happens when the camera records 3000 people wearing Guy Fawkes masks? Ski masks? Large brimmed hats? Heavy makeup? Powerful infrared lasers that blind the cameras?

The surveillance state only works when the threat of punishment is real. If the state can only look but cannot act, it is only a sad joke. Usually punishing a few high profile cases keeps everyone in line. What if a lot of people have little to lose? When thousands break the law, only a few get punished and the odds of getting away with it go way up.

Another thing the surveillance state did not count on was people’s changing attitude towards privacy. Us old farts remember privacy, but the young ones don’t. In fact, through social media, they broadcast their every move. What are cameras to them? Coupled with little sense of shame, the Panopticon loses its psychological hold. Things once kept secret are now speedily posted on YouTube. They don’t care. Blackmail has no handle on them.

As government resources become more and more constrained, gaps will grow in the surveillance net. Faulty equipment will not get replaced. Maintenance becomes spotty. Screen watchers are laid off, requiring the remaining staff to monitor too many screens. Power failures can make the whole system go dark.

The modern Panopticon state is getting larger and larger, but ironically, it’s real power is getting weaker. Plenty of cracks for naughty little folk to play in.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Energy independence

There’s a lot of hype about all the non-traditional oil and gas being produced in the United States. People even talk about the US becoming a net energy exporter.

It’s not like there’s been a sudden discovery of all these energy sources. Petroleum engineers have known about them and how to recover them for years. They just haven’t been economically viable until now.

Oil at ~$90/barrel makes them worth going after. The big question is whether or not the economy is viable with $90 oil. There’s some evidence it isn’t.

I’ve some grave and serious doubts about the boom as it has all the hallmarks of being just another bubble getting ready to burst.

Never mind that. Let’s say that it is really a good investment. Assume that the energy yields are significantly larger than the energy invested. Pretend that the recovery processes are not harmful to the environment. While we are in dreamland, let’s say there’s 20 years of energy surplus.

Great. Then what? Eventually, we start to use more oil and gas than we produce. All the heroic effort and investment no longer produce the needed energy. Where is the country then? I’d say we’d be worse off than before.

In the mean time, the rest of the world goes down another path. Efficiencies are increased. Sustainable alternatives are developed. While the US is grubbing in the ground for the last drop of oil, other places will be enjoying clean, low cost energy.

I know this can happen because it did happen. The United States used to lead the world in wind and solar technologies. Then cheap Alaskan oil flooded the market. The US dropped development of alternatives. Other countries did not and are now reaping the benefits.

Germany has produced over half it’s power from renewables. Other countries are catching up. (except for the US) Now the United States imports wind generators and solar electric panels from the rest of the world.

There’s not a whole heck of a lot that I can do to influence national policy. That doesn’t mean individuals have to make the same mistakes their government makes. It wouldn’t hurt to take energy conserving measures in our personal lives. Producing even a little renewable energy at home provides a taste of energy freedom. Your home energy policies are too important to leave in the hands of politicians.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving plans

Our family “Black Friday” plan is to actually celebrate Thanksgiving on that day. That’s when we’ll be able to get the most family members together. Afterwards, we plan on heading into town -not to shop but to take the kids to a parade.

I absolutely refuse to get swept up in all the shopping hype. The more I get away from the commercial aspects of the holidays, the better I feel about them. For me, the best thing about holidays is getting together with friends and family.

My wife’s church gave a free turkey dinner to the community. I’m not a member of her church, but I did bake over 5 dozen rolls for the dinner. They had a good crowd, plenty of food, and a friendly relaxed atmosphere. No one had to pray for their dinner. It was open to everyone, no matter their income. I like that, as we can all sit down and just be people.

I’m looking forward to cooking a turkey dinner on the new wood cookstove. One of the big selling features was its large oven. This will be the second turkey cooked in it. A couple weeks ago I cooked one for practice. Good thing I love turkey.

It’s easy to focus on the things in life that aren’t going the way one would hope. For me, it’s a time of year to focus on the good things I do have.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Location and lifestyle

For years expatriates from the United States have searched out places where a tiny US income goes a long ways. For some people it’s a simple as going next door to Mexico. Others seek out remote corners of the globe. Often it’s retirees stretching a buck and having an adventure. Younger people may be living on small investment returns or rental income.

Living expenses vary dramatically within the US. My in-laws retired early and sold their home in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York. They then built a nicer place in rural Texas, and another one on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Had they stayed in NY, their income would not have even payed the taxes on the old place. As it is, they live very comfortably on a surprisingly modest income.

My income provides a comfortable life out here in the woods, but city life would be a struggle. Here I’ve access to resources that don’t show up on a tax form. There’s clean water, firewood, wild foods, and some garden space. I can store materials and build things that improve my life. None of that would be possible in city or even a suburban development with rules and agreements.

I’ve family and friends here that make my life better. Favors are traded back and forth. There are people who’ll help you out in pinch. It makes life easier all around without having to spend a lot of money. A High School friend of mine moved back to his hometown when his daughter was born. He and his wife figured it was worth it just for the free babysitting. Quality childcare is not cheap.

It never hurts to occasionally examine one’s living arrangements to see if things could be better somewhere else. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving down the street to a more affordable house, or maybe it’s moving to the other side of the world. Family obligations make keep you in a region. Then again, maybe some distance would be just the thing to improve family relations.

Sometimes you don’t change, but the place you live changes around you, and not for the better. You can buy a place out in the country, only to have the city grow up around you. My father-in-law grew up working on farms. He fished and hunted. As the years went by, farms turned to housing developments. There were fewer and fewer places he could do anything he enjoyed. After his early retirement, he set himself up where he could live like he did as a kid.

You want to make sure you live in a place you love. Saving money in a place you hate is a false economy. It’s all about living well, not how much actual money you have.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

It came from Space

Short post today. My lovely wife and I spent the evening with friends and family watching the Leonid meteor showers. We got home late.

By the way, the best vantage point on a cold New Hampshire night is from a hot tub.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Comedy and Tragedy in Capital City

Anyone else sick and tired of hearing about the “Fiscal Cliff?” It’s billed as high drama and potential tragedy, but really is nothing more than low comedy. We are supposed to get all worked up about this. There’s something for everyone. Conservatives lament defense cuts. Liberals cry about weakening the social safety net.


The White House and Congress built the cliff. It didn’t exist until they constructed it. It’s like some clown pulling out a revolver and threatening to shoot himself in the foot. “One false move and the clown gets it!”

Please, give me a break.

We’ve even seen this same show before with the so called “Debt Ceiling.” That was another made up crisis. Our debt keeps getting bigger and bigger, but the debt ceiling language has gone away. That was last year’s show.

This year’s model is “Fiscal Cliff!” Boo! It will sneak up and get you in the dark. Fear this!

Real problems are not in vogue at all. Neither Republicans nor Democrats talked about serious issues. It’s impolite to point to the gorilla in the living room. You know, the Emperor really has no clothes.

I’m not going to even bother to point out what our real problems are. If you are even half awake, you’ve got a clue. If you haven’t noticed anything major wrong . . . well, you can go worry about the fiscal cliff.


Friday, November 16, 2012

What’s in your pocket?

We all like to talk about bug out bags, but what if you don’t even have that? What do you carry in your pockets during normal day to day life?

Most of us carry a wallet. Does it have any cash in it? It’s easy to get used to debit cards for most of what we buy. However, when the grid goes down and cards don’t work, cash is king.

How about your key ring? Anything extra on that? Mine has 3 tools besides my keys: metal match, P-38 can opener and a flashlight.

The metal match is used all the time for lighting propane or gas stoves and lanterns. If starting a campfire, a tinder bundle to catch the sparks works really well. Being able to put together a tinder bundle from available materials is a good skill to have and practice. I like the fact that there is almost nothing that can go wrong with this tool. Drop it into water; pick it up and it still works.

P-38 can openers are probably one of the world’s best engineered inventions. Mine gets regular use and I’ve carried the same one for a couple decades. In a pinch, the back of the can opener makes a serviceable flat headed screwdriver. Oh yeah, it does a pretty decent job of opening cans.

My flashlight is a small LED unit that uses a single AAA battery. Now I’ve got many flashlights that are much better than this one, but this one fits on my key ring. Unlike the others, this one I always have with me. It’s surprising how often it gets used.

I carry a multi-tool, my favorite is a Leatherman Skeletool. It’s a good balance between function and size. I would not want to carry anything bigger. (I’ve got all that junk on my key ring after all) Sometimes I’ll carry a micro multi-tool instead of the Skeletool.

If I’m going to conceal carry, I’d most likely carry my Ruger LCP. It’s a tiny gun, but I would not want to be shot with it. Unlike my other handguns, this one is small and light so it’s not a big deal to haul it around. Better a small gun that will be carried than a big gun that stays home.

One thing I don’t carry on me is a paracord bracelet. They are a good idea, but I’ve never been comfortable wearing something on my wrist. Even wristwatches never worked for me. All my life I’ve worked with power tools and machinery, so I avoided anything likely to get caught in the gears. Too bad, as a good bit of rope is nice to have. That way you don’t end up using your boot laces like I have to do.

My normal pocket carry certainly doesn’t provide all the goodies of a bug out bag. It does provide a lot of useful stuff without much weight and bulk.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Licking your wounds in your den

So you’ve got a well functioning household. There are supplies stored away and the members of the household have many different skills. Should a catastrophe hit, you are well prepared.

Then someone in the household gets sick or injured. Instead of being able to count on their help you now have to take care of them. You lost their labor and much of your own. How does that affect your ability to function and survive?

There’s so much attention on what people will do in a disaster that we forget we may be unable to do much of anything. Can your household survive neglect or does it need your constant attention? Can the basics of food, shelter, and water be provided with little effort?

Does your garden need constant watering, pruning, weeding, or will it survive just fine on its own for a few weeks? If you got animals, pets, chickens, rabbits, goats or whatever, how much neglect can they tolerate? Are there low effort ways to provide at least a minimum level or care?

Will all your food require time and energy to prepare or can you just open a can or eat peanut butter out of the jar? The last thing you want to do when exhausted or sick is to hand grind your wheat berries so you can make a loaf of bread. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just open a package of crackers?

What if the grid goes down? Do you have a generator that requires you to leave a warm house and hike a hundred feet to a generator shed to maintain the generator? Heck, can you even pull start it with that injured shoulder of yours? Wouldn’t at least some solar power be nice? Solar can go months without any attention at all.

Do you heat with wood? Does your wood have to sawn and split before you can burn it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a good pile of split seasoned wood close to the stove? Now imagine you’ve hurt your back. Is at least some of your wood cut down to easily handled pieces? Maybe a younger child has to do the job as the adults are both laid up.

A household that can function with a minimum of attention is a huge advantage over one that needs constant active attention. Energies can be put towards other things like patient care. Maybe you just want to lay low for a while. It could be something as simple as not wanting to go outside during several days of bad weather.

Learn from the bears. Hole up in your den and wait for conditions to improve.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Veggie van field repair

My waste veggie powered started to sputter at the start of a 300 mile trip. It ran fine on diesel, but diesel costs money.

One advantage of having engineered the diesel to veggie conversion myself is that I know the system inside out. It behaved like a fuel supply problem. The veggie filter was brand new, so that wasn’t the issue.

My fear was that it might be the diesel filter going. Here’s what happens when those start to go bad. The filter is not quite completely plugged so straight diesel flows through it. Switching to veggie is an added strain as the veggie is more viscous and has a filter of its own. The added resistance overwhelms a bad diesel filter.

Due to extremely poor filter design, it would take 2 - 3 hours to change it. I know, I’ve done it before. All the necessary tools and a spare filter were on board, but I didn’t have to time to do the job. My lovely wife and I had an appointment to make and only had a half hour’s leeway.

The easier thing to check was the fuel line in the veggie tank. That can be unscrewed and removed by hand. Sure enough, there was a big ugly fibrous plug of something blocking most of the fuel. Removing that restored fuel flow and it ran great the rest of the trip.

Where did that junk come from? It could have been anything. After all, I am using a waste product for fuel -essentially garbage. Most of the time I’d notice something that big and not pour it in the tank. It might of happened one night when I was fueling up in the dark. Rarely is there anything big enough to plug the line. Normally, the veggie filter catches the grit and grime. (Fleetguard FS1000 filters or NAPA 3406, for those who want to know)

Considering my fuel sources and a home made veggie fuel system, it’s a wonder it works well most of the time.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Earthquake awareness

I’m certainly no expert, but it seems like the world’s going through a period of big earthquakes.

If you live in an earthquake prone area, you should already know what to do. If the warnings haven’t penetrated by now, there’s no hope for you. People like myself who don’t live in major earthquake areas have no reason to be smug. While quakes may be rare in your area that doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

A moderate quake in an area no used to them suffers a lot more damage than places that get them regularly. Remember how a category I hurricane devastated New Jersey and New York? In areas used to hurricanes, they’d coast through a category I. (Of course, hit them with a snowstorm a week later and see what happens.)

People travel all over the world. We may be well prepared for whatever calamity is possible while at home, but on the road it’s different. Once again, a basic bug out bag should travel with you everywhere.

A buddy of mine lives in the Northwest. His job was just 15 minutes from home by car. He kept a fully loaded Alice pack in his truck at all times. Hi coworkers made fun of him at first, until he explained his logic. His work location was on an island, connected to the mainland by one bridge. Should that bridge go down, he’d be stranded on that island a long time.

Short trips by mechanized travel can be a long long way on foot. Throw in downed bridges, damaged harbors, buckled airport runways, and the trip gets even longer. In some cases leaving may be impossible for the short to medium term. Are you prepared for that?

Storms we see coming and can take precautions. Earthquakes give little to no warning. That’s why we have to do our thinking and planing before a quake hits.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Feet of Clay

The sordid Petraeus affair is one more in a long line of powerful men betraying a basic trust. Politicians and preachers who fall from grace are too numerous to name. Just about anyone in a position of authority, even football coaches, have sordid secrets.

All these people were honored and we underlings were supposed to look up to them. They may have done good things at one time or another, but nobody’s perfect. We are human. It seems those who strive to looked upon as greater than human fall the hardest. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who claims moral authority is instantly suspect.

Maybe the we deserve half the blame. We expect humans to be perfect, and they never are. There’s an old saying that those the gods would destroy they first raise up. The powerful being brought low is not a new thing.

We’ve had a lot of smart people, strong people, rich people, powerful people, charismatic people, popular people, beautiful people, clever people -but what we really need are wise people.

Of course, those with wisdom know the best way not to fall is to not climb up a pedestal.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Data storage

Even in this day and age, the most secure form of information storage is a good quality book printed on acid free paper. There are exotic long term storage methods, but they are well beyond the reach of the average person.

Digital storage is a problem. Home computers have been around long enough for people to experience a number of storage schemes. Odds are you’ve lost at least some information that could not be retrieved from obsolete equipment. Recently, I discovered some personally important information was only stored on 3.5 floppy disks. Luckily I was able to fire up an old lap top and moved data to a USB jump drive.

Personally, I like e-books. Being able to carry around the equivalent of hundreds of pounds of books in my hand is a technological wonder. I can’t imagine trying to carry all that around in my small sailboat. Project Gutenberg is a good source for free books. Great place to get all the classics.

That being said, all my practical how to and reference books are paper. A few are also duplicated electronically, but that’s secondary. Paper is the thing. E-books need an electronic device to read them on. It doesn’t have to be something as nasty as an EMP -just dead batteries are enough to make them useless. Wouldn’t you feel silly if your only copy of your generator repair manual was electronic?

Recently, I bought a new printer and printed out about a 100 pages of information. The information did not exist as a normal book, so a printout had to do. If you are really hard core about long term storage, it is possible to purchase high quality paper and archival quality inks. Fortunately, my printout isn’t something I plan on leaving for the grandkids. Regular paper and ink is fine, and a whole lot cheaper.

There are many paper books on my shelves over 100 years old. None of my original digital information from 10 years ago is stored on its original storage device. Some of those formats are completely orphaned. For the average Joe, paper is the way to go.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stress kills

Day after day most of us are healthy enough to get by. It’s amazing. We eat bad food, drink the wrong things, carry dangerous viruses and bacteria in our bodies. Cancer cells appear all the time.

How come all of use haven’t dropped dead? Most of us have pretty decent immune systems. We are exposed to nasty stuff and most things are dealt with before we even know it. When we do get sick, usually our immune systems fight back and heath returns.

People with compromised immune systems know how dangerous the world is. A normal person’s sniffles turns into pneumonia for those with weak systems. Their days are filled with risk avoidance and powerful antibiotics. It’s a tough way to live.

Stress can quickly weaken your immune system. We’ve all seen people get deathly ill after a stressful event like a divorce or the death of a loved one. Often after a spouse’s death, the surviving one does not survive very long.

Disasters of all kinds cause immense stress, both physical and mental.

We are well aware of the physical problems. Preppers concentrate on keeping warm, dry, hydrated and well fed. Those are key to avoiding physical stress. We’ve got stored food and water. Most of us have alternative ways of cooking and keeping warm. Some thought has been giving to emergency shelter. Even a good tarp is way better than nothing at all.

Mental stress is often glossed over. Most of us think we are strong willed and don’t have to worry about that. Maybe so, but day after day, stress can wear anybody down.

Lack of security is a big stress factor. Just having an assault rifle will not eliminate your stress. Everyone in a war zone has a rifle, yet they all have very high levels of stress. They might have a gun, but they don’t have security. Someone hidden away from the battle in a remote forest or cave will feel a lot less stress, even if they don’t have an assault rifle. Which situation would you rather be in: all alone but with the best assault rife in the world, or with a group of trained people but only armed with hunting rifles? I’ll take the group any day.

Security is never a 100% thing, at least for the living. Sometimes people are stuck in a situation and have to make the best of it. It might as simple as being less visible and a bit tougher than most other people. A looter rather go to an upscale unprotected house than a humble house with watchful eyes. You don’t have to outrun the bear, as long as you can outrun the slowest camper.

We stress over loved ones. What do you do if not everyone makes it home or to your bug out location? What about your friends and family who aren’t prepared for disaster? Then you’ve got to ask yourself some hard questions. Do you have a reasonable chance of finding these people and helping them? If so, do that. If searching for one lost sheep costs the whole flock, don’t do that. Figure out what makes sense and come to terms with your decision. Then stop worrying about it. Either you’ll be doing something or there is nothing to do. Stress won’t help them. Once I’ve done all that I possibly can, I then turn to a higher power. God has wide shoulders, he can worry about it. Works for me.

Our imagination can be our worse enemy. When we lack solid knowledge, our thoughts can spin out of control. Scenario after scenario goes round and round in our heads. Stop that. Get the best information you can, realizing it might be incomplete or even outright wrong. Ask yourself if that information is actionable. Can you do something about it? If not, don’t worry about something you can’t change.

Develop some ways of dealing with stress. Stress can turn you from a rescuer into a victim. Be part of the solution, not another problem.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Old contacts

While rummaging around my office the other day, I came across my old PDA, a Palm TX. They were pretty common at one time, before everything became available on people’s phones.

Just for grins and giggles, I charged it up to see if it still worked. The device worked fine. One of the features was an address book. Looking through the old addresses I saw a lot of what I expected: addresses and phone numbers are now out of date. People move. Land lines are done away with in favor of cell phones. That didn’t surprise me.

Two things really did hit home. Quite a few of the couples are no longer couples. Divorce is common, but you don’t really notice it day by day. It wasn’t all that many years ago that I used the PDA on a daily basis. The other surprise was the number of people who’ve died. They will never answer my call ever again. Maybe that’s just a side effect of getting older, but I don’t have to like it.

On the positive side is all the new friends I’ve made who weren’t around then to list. Some friends feel like they’ve been around forever, but they aren’t in the old lists. Life goes on.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sailing on a desolate shore

Looking over the destruction to the Northeast waterfront gave me a few ideas. We’ve all seen the boats piled up on shore, the devastated marinas, and the debris pulled out to sea. The destruction is bad, and a Northeaster is currently churning up the debris.

Imagine being in a sailboat and looking for a safe harbor. Good luck. Most modern sailors use plenty of shore services. Many cruisers rely on marinas heavily for fuel, water, food, and electrical power.

Fortunately, there are relatively few cruisers traveling the Northeast coast this time of year. I did read a report from one brave soul and things are pretty much as one would imagine them -not good.

What if things keep getting worse? The sea rises, storms become more frequent, larger, and building near the waterfront becomes a very bad idea. Different sorts of boats than what we have now would travel the coast. People would still travel on water, in spite of the risks. Hundreds of years ago mariners braved stormy uncharted coasts for adventure and profit.

There’s no need to reinvent the past. Rugged coastal sailing ships like the Crystal River Scow, would do the job nicely Maybe something based on Dave Z’s Triloboat. Squarish, flat bottomed boats with simple rigs would not need a lot of shore support.

A boat that can safely sit flat on the bottom during low tide can go places no deep keel boat can travel. Simply constructed of ordinary materials, they are independent of marinas and boat yards. No need to wait for a specialized carbon fiber and stainless steel do dad when a chunk of wood and a bit of line can do the job.

Smaller boats of similar construction would get in and out of tight spots not accessible from land. My active imagination can picture a small crew in a rugged little boat doing a lot of unofficial salvage.

Hopefully, my dystopic futuristic vision remains Science Fiction. There are less developed parts of the world where cruising in such a boat makes perfect sense. In fact, some of those areas still have traditional boats that meet their needs quite well.

Even in regions with fully equipped and staffed marinas, the budget sailor would do well to have a boat that doesn’t need those facilities. The coast gets a lot bigger in a boat that can go places others can’t.

The recent storms and coastal destruction got me thinking what kind of boat could most easily travel such a coast. Then I got to thinking such a boat doesn’t need a disaster to make sense.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So that’s that

My phone has fallen silent this morning. After the last few months in a battleground state, it’s finally peaceful. I’ve a backlog of political mailings to burn in the woodstove.

I, for one, am relieved this election is not a repeat of the Bush/Gore fiasco. At least we have a winner and it’s over.

The local elections were kind of weird for me. All my favorite candidates were eliminated in the primaries. In the general election, it was second choices against people I hated. My second choices did fairly well, so it could have been worse.

It looks like New Hampshire swung on woman’s issues, and women politicians. We now have a woman governor and two new female congress people.

The show’s over folks. Time to get back to work.



I was about 800 words into a blog post and the word processing program closed unexpectedly. Lovely. Don’t you just hate computers sometimes? Of course, I wouldn’t exactly be blogging with parchment and quill pen.

My “deal with computers patience” had already been used up. The old printer finally had to be replaced. It could be coaxed into producing a page or two, with much persuasion. No way would it deal with the 100 or so pages I needed to print.

On my day to day computer, the preferred operating system is Ubuntu Linux. I only use Windows for the one or two programs with no good Linux equivalent. The last couple of printers ran just fine in Ubuntu, so I didn’t give it much thought when I bought a new printer.

Or course, my new printer was not recognized. The drivers were missing. Now I could have worked around that, but I did something else instead. My version of Ubuntu was an older version. I’d put off downloading the newest version. At the very minimum, it would eat up a few hours of my time. At worse, it would turn my computer into a lifeless brick for a while.

The update actually when pretty much the way it was supposed to. Even better, when I plugged in the printer, it was instantly recognized. Soon my documents were printed.

I’m not really much of a computer geek. I just want to use them as tools. I only deal with computer stuff when I have to. Learning my way around these machines is self defense. Who can afford good technical help?


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hand tools for everyone

Growing up we used to spend summers at my folk’s small cottage at the lake. My dad would let his friend and his family stay on a trailer on my dad’s property. His friend had eight kids, so I had plenty of kids to play with in the summer.

Dad figured he had plenty of free labor. Everyone was expected to do some work around the place. Dad had a pretty good collection of hand tools: hammers, saws, screwdrivers, shovels, rakes, axes, sledge hammers -you name it. All us kids made quite the labor force. Many hands really did make for light work.

A little work didn’t do us kids any harm. In fact, two of the boys went on to careers in the building trades. One now manages a lumber yard, the other owns a thriving construction business.

Most of the hand tools have come down to me. Like my dad, I’ve been able to keep friends and family busy. If volunteer labor shows up, I’ll always have something for them to work with. My three daughters were no strangers to tools. When they were fairly young, we had a bad ice storm. The kids were stuck at home as school was closed. I gave them all hand saws and instructed them to cut up branches the ice storm took down. Those branches heated the house for days.

Some preppers expect friends and family to find their way to their place in a disaster. With that in mind, many of us have put up a bit of extra food. Easier to feed them than send them away. Have you given any thought to what you are going to do to keep all those people occupied? Most people want to be productive, especially if they are taking advantage of a person’s hospitality.

My guests will have plenty of tools at their disposal to keep them busy.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Not all energy is equal

Most people have no idea how much actual energy is locked up in liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel. It’s also fairly convenient to handle. That’s what makes it so good as a transportation fuel.

During WWII, the Germans were converting coal into liquid fuel. It was a fairly inefficient process. A lot more energy was used to do the conversion than ended up as a liquid fuel. Why do it? If you were going to use the liquid fuel to run a power plant, that would be foolish. It’s better to burn the coal directly. However, fighter planes don’t run very well on coal.

The Alberta tar sands project is almost as bad. Here it’s not coal that being consumed but natural gas. Massive amounts of fresh water is used plus there’s a serious environmental cost too. It might make more sense to just use the natural gas, but few vehicles run on it. It’s all about liquids. Gas requires a whole different infrastructure.

Liquid fuels are so important that food crops like corn and sugar cane have been diverted into ethanol to run vehicles. Some people have to starve so others can drive.

That’s the world I find myself in. It doesn’t seem to be a very ethical world.

I’ve been contemplating liquid fuels as I pile my firewood. Not all that long ago most of my heating needs were provided by heating oil. A truck would pull up, fill the tank, and that was that. Well, except the bill. Oil prices have risen and my income has gone down. Heating oil is out of the question. It certainly takes a big pile of firewood to replace a couple tanks of heating oil.

Liquid fuels are too valuable to waste heating a house. A couple gallons of gasoline powered the chainsaw that cut my wood and the woodsplitter that split it. That’s a pretty efficient use of a liquid fuel. The dump truck that delivered my wood runs on a blend of diesel and waste vegetable oil. I gave the driver a fair of waste veggie after he dropped off my wood.

Maybe I’m living in the future -a future where liquid fuels are less abundant and cost more. Gasoline at $20/gallon would still be worth buying for things like chainsaws, woodsplitters, rototillers -anything that saves a lot of hand labor.

Countries could decide to ration fuel to run fire trucks and ambulances, but I’m guessing the first priority will be tanks and planes. History has ugly lessons. Nazi slave labor ran those coal to liquid fuel plants in WWII.

Anyone who’s had their gasoline supply interrupted suddenly realizes how much of their day to day life relies on liquid fuels. It’s a frail system. Now we are seeing shortages in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. It doesn’t take a hurricane to disrupt the system.

Several years ago the gasoline delivery trucks of just one company were a day late. A snowstorm shut down the delivery. 20 hours later, my town was out of gas, even though gas stations that carried other brands had no interruptions. They were not prepared for the increase in business. Half the gas stations in the next town over had also run dry. Deliveries resumed the next day and the problem went away.

Here’s a thought experiment. You’ve got a 5 gallon can of gas. A disaster hits and cuts off electricity and gasoline supplies. Do you run your generator? Do you put the 5 gallons of gas in your car and see if you can leave the area? It depends.

Maybe you feel safe in your home. You wisely use that generator occasionally, just often enough to keep your refrigerator and/or freezer cold. Either the power comes back before the gas is gone, or you’ve at least had a chance to eat your refrigerated food before it spoils.

On the other hand, that 5 gallons of gas might be enough fuel to drive you and your family out of harms way. Maybe. What if it was only enough gas to get you stranded out on the highway with thousands of other people? Decisions, decisions.

Liquid fuel is marvelous stuff. Don’t take it for granted. Consider how to get by with a whole lot less of it. That might be something you’ll have to deal with, whether or not you want to think about it.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Out of the woods

“We’re New Yorkers, and we’re going to get through it, but I don’t want anyone to think we’re out of the woods.”

-Mayor Bloomberg

What’s wrong with the woods?

“We are wild and free people, and we’re going to get through this, but I don’t want anyone to think we’re out of civilization yet.”


Kings and peasants

I’ve a lot of friends who participate in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms.) Basically, they are Medieval reenactors. They have a good time. They dress up, eat and drink well, play Medieval music, shoot crossbows and have battles. A lot of old skills are kept alive because of them.

There is one thing that prevents me from joining: royalty. They take their Medieval society stuff seriously enough to have kings, queens, and all the rest. I’ve a dislike of royalty that goes all way down to my DNA. It’s so bad that even phony pretend royalty, all in fun, triggers an aversion response.

One can imagine my distaste for real royalty is much greater. It’s one thing if a country like England wants to keep pet royalty, but why should other peoples care? When Americans fawn over visiting royals, it turns my stomach. Didn’t we have a revolution to do away with such foolishness?

Of course, I dislike anyone who claims authority over me. Yep, I’ve got a real problem. Maybe it’s never outgrowing my teenage rebellious years? I actually wasn’t all that much trouble as a kid. My folks and I got along well, as I respected them. Some teachers had problems with me, but I still got decent grades.

As an adult I was a Firefighter. My commanding officers had earned my respect so following their orders only made sense. I trusted them. What about the occasional officer who didn’t have my full trust? Frankly, then it was a matter of picking and choosing what commands to obey. How could that happen? Any number of ways. Let’s just say in the chaos of a fire, all commands are not followed. Sometimes the radios just go dead. It helps if your buddies back you up.

Government officials, both elected and unelected, don’t automatically get any respect. I judge them as individuals. Titles and badges carry little weight. Kings and royalty, are the worse. We are supposed to respect them because of an accident of birth? At least some titles are earned and have qualifications. Being born in an ancient band of thugs who crawled to the top of the heap should be an embarrassment. There are a few “royals” who’ve made a mark in the world, not because of their birth, but in spite of it.

My aversion to royalty has plenty of logical reasons, but there are enough of those. Who knows, maybe I got caught poaching on the king’s land in a former life.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Can’t leave this alone

The ongoing mess created by hurricane Sandy confirms a number of things I’ve been saying for years now. Of course, the big one is to get the heck out of big cities. For me, that means don’t live in one. Other people like cities. Good for them. Don’t like them so much that you don’t leave when trouble’s coming.

Imagine how much of a mess things would be should an unforeseen disaster happen? People had plenty of warning. It would have been worse if they didn’t. Look at the boatlift that took people off Manhattan Island during 911. When the towers came down, that was actually a very limited area of disaster. Horrific for the people there, but in reality a tiny geographical area.

Don’t depend on government to save you. I could not believe that cops are being assigned to help out with a marathon when there are still looters in the streets. The NY National Guard almost was sent to an exercise in Missouri, even though they knew the storm was coming. It was only at the last minute that they were assigned to the real disaster. That’s just a sampling. I could go on.

Connecticut closed the Interstate highways. So much for bugging out at the last minute. If that’s your plan, leave early. A good road atlas is worth its weight in gold. Don’t rely on a GPS that assumes the roads are all open. Be aware of choke points like bridges and mountain passes. Knowing the back roads doesn’t do much good of you can’t cross major rivers or get to the other side of the mountains.

Some people had generators. Some of those generators worked. Often people die because they don’t vent them properly. A noisy generator tells people you have power and probably other supplies too. Most people with generators run out of fuel to run them in a day or two. Refueling can be difficult or impossible.

People have to provide their own security. New York and New Jersey have very strict gun laws. That doesn’t seem to have hampered the criminals much. Nice for them that most of their victims are unarmed.

How many people lack basic tools and materials to do repairs? How many people don’t know how to fix things. Being able to secure a good tarp over missing roof shingles will save thousands of dollars of damage.

I thought I was don’t writing about Sandy, but I can’t. I have to point and say, “There, I told you so!”

I really hope people learn from these things, hopefully with as little suffering as possible.

With any luck I’m done venting about this. It’s hard when hugely stupid things keep coming to light.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Not even the natives

Northern New Hampshire always was a tough place to make a living. Winters are long and cold. Soils are thin and acidic. Farming is hard. In fact, when the Ohio valley open up for settlement, New England farms were abandoned. Often the last thing they’d do before leaving was to burn the house down so they could sift the ashes for the nails. The woods are littered with old farm walls and cellar foundations.

Even the Native Americans didn’t winter here. In the summer, they’d set up fish camps. Ryolite, a flint substitute, was mined for stone tools and weapons. As winter approached, they’d head down the river to the coast. Coastal winters are milder and there’s an abundance of seafood.

The west was settled before the North Country of New Hampshire. It was hard to get here. Those in Androscoggin River valley were isolated from communities just 15 - 20 miles away in the Connecticut River valley. Water power and timber provided an economy. Later, paper making became a huge industry, now much diminished. There are some remaining dairy farms, but they struggle. It takes more feed to produce the same amount of milk as dairies in milder climates. The cows burn a lot of calories just keeping warm.

Surviving the winter used to involve storing up enough food during the brief summer to last until the next harvest. People ate a lot of potatoes and squash. A bad harvest would make for a very bad winter. There’s a New Hampshire story of a hunter who shot several moose, thus saving the town from starvation.

Living off the land here in the winter would be tough. Maybe you’d be lucky enough to kill a moose or a deer, but maybe not. Trapping rabbits would produce some meat, but it’s a lean meat without any fat to speak off. A smart survivalist would make sure to eat the eyes and brain too. Grouse provide fat, but they are hard to catch with primitive weapons. Fishing requires drilling holes in the ice.

Plant matter is an even tougher proposition. Cattail roots are frozen under the ice. I’ve eaten rock tripe. It contains rock dissolving acids so should be boiled in a change of water. The inner bark of pine trees is edible. Of course, it kills the tree, so should only be done in emergencies. Tea make from spruce needles provides vitamin C and is about the only winter source of the vitamin.

Prepping is normal in an area where it was the only way to survive the winter. People planed ahead, or died. Now, many of us head south for at least part of the winter. It worked for the natives. They weren’t stupid.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Gray Month

I call November the Gray Month. (or Grey, for the rest of the English speaking world.)

Here in Northern New Hampshire, it’s a particularly bleak time of year. The leaves have fallen from the trees but there usually isn’t any permanent snow covering. Days are short and often overcast and gloomy. The world is gray.

December has less daylight, but snow on the ground makes things a lot brighter. For me, one of the most beautiful winter sights is moonlight on freshly fallen snow. There’s a magical, unearthly glow to the crisp night.

October foliage is a riot of color. People who’ve only experienced it through photos find it hard to believe the real world looks like that. A mild sunny fall day is hard to beat. The apple harvest is in. Apple pie is one of my favorites. Fresh apple cider is a treat. A plain crisp apple fresh off the tree is a simple but mighty fine pleasure. October is the best of what fall has to offer.

November is a month to endure. It’s a bridge month. Good thing we celebrate Thanksgiving -my favorite holiday. It comes near the end of the month, just when it’s needed most. For me, it’s the only high point of the month. What’s not to like? Get together with family and friends. Enjoy good food and drink.

It is the month to get the last bit of winter preparation done. It’s a chance to square the house away for the cold blasts of winter. Maybe a few more sticks of wood are piled in the woodshed. I walk my property and make sure everything is put away for the winter. Anything left outside on the ground won’t be seen again until late spring. November is the last chance to get prepped for winter, but don’t count on it. Snow that falls in October has sometimes lasted until May. Recent years haven’t been that way, but people who’ve seen it don’t forget.

This year I’m not going to let November depress me. I’m taking my vitamin D to make up for the lack of sun. I’m going to take care of myself, eat right, exercise, and not let the gray get to me.