Thursday, February 28, 2013

Empty Nest -not again!

My lovely wife was wandering around the house today. We've a few more things to move to our youngest daughter's place and the last of the kids' stuff will be gone. A couple of the rooms are looking pretty empty. She tells me she has a bit of an empty nest feeling going on.

Oh no, I thought, not again. We've been here before, several times. Each time it wasn't very long before the house filled up again. It might be family. It might be friends in need. Before long the place is packed.

I'm not complaining. We're lucky that we can help family and friends. It has even been fun. That doesn't mean there isn't a certain amount of stress. People get used to living their own ways. Having to share space requires compromise.

Then there's the fact my lovely wife and I don't quite live like a lot of other people. We have a TV, but only for watching movies. It's not connected to the main stream media. Sometimes what we do is planned around the solar electric energy generated that day. Right now our only cookstove is wood fired. I've a clothesline set up in the kitchen to dry laundry by the woodstove. We are out in the middle of nowhere. Things are different.

We also live on lake, have a private beach, and plenty of boats to play with. That's certainly a plus in the summer. This time of year it's a good place if you want to ice fish, snowshoe, or ride snowmobiles.

So yes, there's just the two of us here now, but I won't be deceived. Before long someone will be here for a stay -maybe a few days, or even a number of months.

I think it runs in my blood. My dad tells me of how when he was a kid relatives would come for a visit and leave years later. My mom did the same thing once she and dad moved to Florida. One of her friends moved in for over a year. My dad complained a bit about it, but ended up doing the same thing for a neighbor a few years later.

With our history, I don't expect the empty nest feeling to last too long. Maybe we'll have a visit while someone's house is being renovated. Perhaps a good friend will have their house foreclosed. Maybe my dad will come for an extended stay. It will be something.

Besides, if people don't move into those rooms, they'll just fill up with books.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wandering life

I'm home less than a week and yet I find my thoughts already turning to the wandering life. Maybe it's seeing fresh snow on the sailboat. That just doesn't look right.

There's the old saying that it's about the journey, not the destination. Most of us focus on the destination. With our modern means of rapid travel the journey has been reduced to something to get over with quickly so we can get to the good stuff. That attitude makes sense for those with more money than time.

Those of us who focus more the journey have a different attitude. The destination is almost immaterial. Ask them where they are going and you might get an answer like south, or west. My wife and I spent quite a few winters traveling in our car and living in a tent. Sometimes we'd leave a campground and have absolutely no destination in mind. We'd pick a random direction and drive. As the day wore on, we'd look for some place interesting to spend the night. Even places we absolutely loved couldn't hold us much longer than about 3 days.

The nomad life is even stronger when your vehicle has even a few more amenities. My sailboat is small, yet it easily carries everything needed for two people for at least a week. The boat is home. Even my van feels pretty homey. It goes beyond having a secure place to sleep and food to eat. I keep a small library on board. Pull the curtains closed, grab a good book, and it almost doesn't matter where we are.

While nice, it doesn't even take a vehicle to get that home in motion feel. A small backpack and the right attitude and the trail is your home.

I'm trying to be semi-nomadic and have the best of both worlds. Travel stimulates the mind. There are new people to meet and things to see. However, roots have value too. It's good to be in one place long enough to brew beer, plant and harvest a garden, and connect with friends and family.

With my winter travels cut short, my guess is that there will be a lot of shorter trips and adventures before the next big trip. A month and half trip didn't quite slake my thirst for travel.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rice farmer

This article caught my eye. It's about a way farmers are significantly increasing the yield of rice and other crops. There's no special soil additives, pesticides, or GMOS. It's a pretty low tech planting and field management system that works. No one has to buy anything or pay a license fee.

There are countries backing the method and millions are now using it. This is huge. One of the arguments against the system is that so far it hasn't scaled up well to big commercial operations. I looked at that as a plus. Nothing wrong with the little guy getting the advantage once in a while. I see a lot of articles and videos about problems that plague the common people. Rarely do I see solutions.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Solar Gain

There's nothing like a sunny winter day for generating solar electric power. By late February the days are a bit longer. Snow still covers the ground and is amazingly reflective. It's like giant mirrors are reflecting the sunlight onto my solar electric panels.

It's a bit counter intuitive, but solar electric panels are more efficient in cold weather. Hot panels are subjected to something called “electron scattering.” No, I don't understand all the science behind it. That doesn't mean I can't notice the effect.

Of course, solar thermal panels, like those that heat water, are much more effective in warm weather.

Have you ever heard about the condition called snow blindness? It's no joke. Good sunglasses can be more important in winter than in summer. That reflective quality of snow that's so useful on the solar panels can fry your eyeballs. It's not a pleasant experience. In the summer a wide brimmed hat can stop much of the sun. Snow reflects so much sunlight that a hat isn't going to save you.

The Inuit used a type of goggle to prevent snow blindness. It's basically a slit cut in bone, ivory, or wood, to reduce the amount of light reaching the eye. A person in a survival situation could easily construction something similar in an emergency situation. Sure beats being blind.

The sun is welcome on a winter day, but its power has to be respected.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Waterworld victory

Water is restored to the house. Huzzza!

It was exactly the miserable job I feared it'd be. Imagine being on your hands and knees, chipping away at frozen gravel. My main tools were a heavy iron pry bar, an ax and leather mittens. The procedure was to chip away at the ground and remove the debris by hand. I tried to thaw the ground with hot water, but that only seemed to thaw enough dirt to make mud.

Eventually I got down to a 90 degree fitting. I was able to remove it without damaging anything. (a trick in itself) The line was frozen just beyond the fitting. The small diameter hot water pipe then slide into the supply line, thawing an inch at a time. After about a foot of ice, the line ran free.

After reconnecting the supply line the pump was powered up. I got a good shower from my whole house water filter as water sprayed everywhere. Unnoticed, the gasket had fallen out. Once found and installed, everything worked fine.

I've yet to turn on the water to the upstairs. That always goes better with two people. One person can watch the upstairs bathroom for problems while the second person opens the supply valves in the basement. The downstairs bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen all have water.

Of course, now that the water is connected, I've no excuse to not do the laundry and wash the dishes. Already I've mopped floors. It's best my lovely wife not see exactly how much dirt and mud I tracked into the kitchen.

But first, a well deserved and needed bath.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

H2O in a solid state

We are home. The house is warmed up, but we still don't have water. The entrance line into the house is frozen.

I'm thawing it by running hot water through a small diameter hose that fits inside the supply line. That normally does the job. Unfortunately, the line is frozen deep enough that it goes past a 90 degree joint in the line. The hot water hose can't turn the sharp corner. I'm going to have to dig down to the joint and remove it. Then the hot water hose can continue down the line.

There's a big workbench sitting on top of where I have to dig. It's absolutely loaded with tools and junk. It will take some time to clear out my digging area.

Just to make things interesting, my gout decided to act up. My big toe became inflamed on our last day of travel. I blame several days of road food, not enough drinking water, and stress. Normally, my home remedies nip it in the bug before it gets bad. Of course, home remedies only work at home. Now that I'm treating it, it already feels much better.

I'm hauling drinking water in a water brick. Toilets are flushed with water from melting snow on the woodstove. We've been able to shower at my daughters' houses.

Hope to have the water up an running within 24 hours. Minor problems, in the big scheme of things.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Traveler's Tales

Our trip north was going to involve a number of leisurely stops along the way. Those plans changed. We did spend one night at Florida's Anastasia State Park. It's a great park. We checked in, hung out at the beach for a while, then went into St. Augustine for coffee. My lovely wife loves old St. Augustine.

We had a bit of a late state the next day. Some nice folks were all fascinated with the veggie van so we had to chat with them. Besides, it was hard to leave.

Once on the road, we put some miles behind us. There was an interesting moment when a complete load of luggage and gear flew off a car's roof and landed in front of us. The veggie van/boat trailer combination is not that nimble a beast, but we didn't hit anything. We spent the night parked at a truck stop north of Richmond Virgina and actually got a decent night's sleep.

From that point on, the trip got cold and windy. Light snow fell from northern Virgina through Pennsylvania. On the New York/Connecticut border the van began to die. Somewhere along the way we picked up a bad load of diesel. The fuel filter plugged up. We had a long slow climb up a hill at about 2 mph until we were able to exit into a rest area.

I'd changed the fuel filter once before. It was in the summer on a bright sunny day. The Ford ES 350 7.3 liter diesel filter is located in a very hard to get area. Removal of the air filter housing, hoses, wires, and components is required. That first filter change took me all morning.

I had the foresight to carry a spare filter and the tools needed to change it. Working in the cold, in the dark, the filter change only took about an hour. Practice makes perfect.

The van ran fine all though Connecticut, but by Holyoak Massachusetts, it once again lost power and ran badly. I pulled off the highway and into a mall parking lot. It was 9 p. m. and no auto parts in town were open. Mall security let me spend the night in the parking lot. There was a restaurant within walking distance.

The next day, while poking under the hood, I discovered one of the numerous heavy duty positive battery cables was loose. Once tightened, the van ran much better, but not all better. After breakfast, we limped into an auto parts store and I bought 2 replacement filters.

However, I did not change it right away. My theory being that the bad fuel would soon plug it again. The problem might be southern diesel that can gel in colder climates. Fortunately, my van has two fuel tanks. There's the heated veggie tank. We'd run out of veggie, but there was no reason we couldn't run diesel in that tank. The fact that it's heated helps with gelling problems. That's what we did and it got us home.

I dropped my lovely wife off at my youngest daughter's house. I went to the cold house and began to heat it up. It's still heating up. With any luck, I'll get the water thawed and flowing today. I'd drained all the plumbing, but the entry line is frozen. There's a small electric heater working on that now. It's just a matter of time.

The big thing is that we are home safe. I just made a big pot of coffee on the woodstove, so life is looking up.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Home to the frozen north

I made it home safe, with a few minor adventures along the way. More later. Busy getting the house warmed up and services restored.


Monday, February 18, 2013

News from the north

After a discussion with one of my daughters, my wife and I made a sudden change of plans. My youngest daughter is expecting a baby soon and her husband won't be back in the US until May. She feels that the baby could come any time. Family is family, so we are heading back early to be there when she needs us.

Before traveling south, my lovely wife and I had shortened our normal winter trip to be back in time. Since then the date has been moved up. My daughter doesn't think the doctor move it up enough.

When my second daughter was born, neither my wife's parents or my parents were around. We had friends step into the breech, but our parents were missed. Getting a phone call while out sailing was something we didn't want to chance. Having a baby is tough enough. Doing it alone is even harder.

The family has already been informed that we'll be heading south earlier and coming back later. This year the trip was shortened, but we expect to travel at least 6 months starting in the fall. I don't expect any sympathy from my friends who could not get away for a month and a half like we did.

Dad and I got to do a lot of things together. It was good to see him. His landscaping is now in much better shape thanks to my lovely wife. We put a new floor in his kitchen and did other needed repairs. The place is looking pretty good.

With any luck, we'll be home in a few days.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Another smart meter option

There's a lot of articles and information about smart meters. There are serious concerns about privacy and the radiation emitted by the new meters.

People who don't want the meters on their homes have taken a number of legal steps to prevent them from being installed. Results have varied. Sometimes the power company backs off, but there are cases where the homeowners have been arrested.

Clif High at Half Past Human has some interesting methods of monkey wrenching the system.

I've another solution. Opt out of the grid. Rather than put your time and energy into fighting the system, just stop doing business with them. That does a number of fine things. The power company loses a customer and your monthly check. Government loses income from the taxes paid by the power company on your energy purchase. You become energy independent and free from those monthly bills.

I know it's not easy, but it's easier than it used to be. There's plenty of information out there on alternative energy. The technology is proven. Don't think of it as an expense but as an investment in yourself. Buying solar panels pays a lot better than money in the bank.

I'm about 80% energy independent. My solar electric system has provided many years of clean power for daily use. During times when the grid goes down, the system provides for my basic needs for as long as necessary.

Why do I even have the grid? It's for times in the winter when the sun rarely shows its face. Days are short, people are inside more, so power use goes up a bit. The grid picks up the slack.

If I decided to pull the plug on the grid, I'd make a few long term changes. I've a medium sized generator that I could tune up and put in service. That could fill any immediate shortfalls. After that, I'd probably swap out my old refrigerator for a newer more energy efficient one.

My hot water is now partially heated with electricity. However, I've got solar hot water in the summer and in the winter a water coil in the woodstove would do the job. My old woostove had that option but I just haven't gotten around to installing it on the new woodstove. So I've been lazy. Flicking the power switch is too easy, especially when there has been other things requiring my attention.

Now how do I plan on getting the meter off the house? Easy. I'll tell the power company that I'm doing construction on the house and need them to remove the meter and wires. This sort of thing happens all the time and doesn't set off any alarm bells with the power company. Once the meter's removed, I just won't call them back.

Another method is to do what my uncle did with the water company. He had a private well drilled and no longer wanted to be connected to the city water company. The city refused to remove his water meter. Finally, he stopped paying the monthly bill. What did they do for nonpayment? They shut down his water and removed the meter.

My idea is not so much to fight the system to get it to serve my needs. Instead, drop out of the system completely.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Heads up

Russia got clobbered by meteors, of all things. At least 1200 people have sought medical attention.

Imagine that. You are minding your own business, then you get clobbered by something from out of space. It's like a bad Science Fiction movie. That just goes to show you never know what's going to hit. There was no warning. What can be done when disaster strikes out of nowhere?

It all comes down to basics. There's not much that you can do about a meteors from out of space, but you can be prepared to deal with the aftermath. The first thing that comes to mind is having a good medical kit and the knowledge to use it. The $10 big box store med kit isn't going to cut it -not by itself.

I've got a couple of those cheap kits. They might be the most economical way of getting a lot of band aids cheap. In addition to the little kit, I've got a large fishing tackle box full of additional medical supplies. My small sailboat doesn't have much room, but I make room for both med kits. Putting together your own kit allows a person to select for their special needs.

What to put in your kit is beyond the scope of a blog. That's where a bit of training come in. Get it before you need it. Most communities have at least basic first aid course available for a reasonable price.

Disasters have things in common. Injuries are likely. Damage to infrastructure is common. Water and food delivery can be disrupted. Communication systems can be destroyed or simply overwhelmed. Basic prep for these things can save your life -or at least make it a lot more comfortable.

The meteor shower was quick and unexpected. Some things are like that. Earthquakes and tornadoes also hit with little warning. It's not like stocking up before a big storm hits. Anything not already packed away will be hard to acquire when you need it. More important than supplies is training. Supplies can be lost or destroyed. Knowledge you carry with you.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Prepping for tripping

The weather is wet and stormy. I've been using the breaks between showers to work on the boat and trailer. A couple trailer wires got ripped out. They are now repaired with waterproof connectors. Wheel bearings have been greased and it's ready to go.

The previous owner used the boat exclusively in fresh water. He used regular plated washers in a number of places. Salt water quickly rusted those. It didn't take long to figure out what was stainless and what was not. I've replaced the bad ones with stainless or bronze.

On our last trip, we had difficulty finding the channel markers in the dark. Today I bought a powerful waterproof spotlight. That might save us some grief in the future.

We are trying to plan a trip that combines some camping in the veggie van followed by some sailing. My lovely wife and I used to travel around all winter staying in campgrounds. Florida has some great state parks. It would be great to see a couple of our favorites again.

It's going to be hard to drive back to the land of snow and cold.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chocolate and flowers

My lovely wife surprised me with some dark chocolate for Valentine's Day. Fortunately, I also had some chocolate to give her. We surprised each other.

What? You think only the women should get chocolate?

She also has been known to give me flowers. Does that sound weird to you? What's weird is that most guys only get flowers after they are dead. Go to a wake and the body is surrounded by mountains of flowers. What good does that do the poor guy? I told her I wanted to get flowers when I'm still alive and can enjoy them.

I'm big enough, strong enough, and manly enough to enjoy flowers. It's not just for gay guys.

Normally, I don't watch television and see advertisements, but staying at my dad's I've been exposed to that strange world. Apparently I'm supposed to be spending a lot more on this holiday than buying a box of chocolates. My lovely wife didn't even expect anything and would have not be disappointed with nothing -really.

Sometimes we go to those huge holiday card displays. We find cards that we thing the other would enjoy, show them to each other, than put them back on the shelf. Apparently we aren't doing our part to stimulate the economy. No matter, we are amused. Isn't the whole point of Valentine's Day to do something fun with the one you love?


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A bit too far

We left Calidesi Island after three nights. Low on gas, we sailed down the channel a couple miles to a city marina. The guidebook said gas was “available.” Funny word that, “available.” A nice local Coast Guard Auxiliary explained it to us. It meant hauling your gas cans a few blocks down the road to a regular gas station. While not exactly pumps on the water, it wasn't too bad.

Once again, the wind was against us. We tacked as much as we could, but the channel got too narrow to maneuver in. The only thing left to do was to fire up the iron sail and motor to our next stop.

To get out of the contrary wind, we sailed up the Anclote River and stayed at the first marina we came to. We were just in time for dinner at Vicky's on the River. It's behind my lovely wife on the left.

On the right you'll see racks of boats in storage. I'd never seen this sort of operation close up before. When someone wants to take their boat out on the water, a huge forklift picks it out of the rack and launches it. The operation is pretty fast and efficient.

Dinner was pretty decent -as far as funky burger, beer, and seafood places go. Live entertainment started just as dinner was served. Good times.

The next day the wind was against us once more. We spent the whole day sailing against the wind in 2 – 4 foot seas. As the day wore on, we decided to start the motor once more. My dad was supposed to meet us at the boat ramp and I wanted to get there before it got too dark.

That was the plan, anyway. Things worked out a bit different. In my defense, I must say I'm not all that experienced with outboards. I can do basic maintenance, start and run them. However, with this sailboat I've used the motor as little as possible. On my way south, I tried to figure out how many miles I could travel with the gas on board. To be safe, I took my figures for gas usage on our southbound trip and added a 30% safety factor. Should have been 40%. Pounding into the wind, with a bit of current and tide against me, the gas fell a wee bit short. The motor sputtered dry halfway down the channel. My lovely wife was very unimpressed.

By then it was dark, the channel markers hard to find, the tide going out, and the wind uncooperative. Fortunately, a passing fishing boat gave us a tow the last 1.5 mile. If they hadn't come by, we could have anchored until conditions improved. We still had a cell phone and two marine radios. There was little real danger, but those fishermen who gave us a tow did much for my marriage.

I offered them money, but they wanted to keep 100% of the good karma. They said the same thing happened to them last year and they are just passing it on. Nice guys. I hope they caught a lot of fish.

Once the boat was loaded up, I treated the crew to an all you can eat Chinese buffet. That hit the spot.

We bit of more than we could chew that last day. I could have changed my pickup spot to one closer. Heck, we could have even stayed in the marina until conditions were more favorable to a northernly sail. From now on I'll pay closer attention to the motor's gas usage. One last thing will be the purchase of a more powerful spotlight. We found the channel markers too far away for the lights we have now.

Even with the little difficulty the last day, I had a marvelous time. Time on the water makes me a happy man.


Monday, February 11, 2013

South to Calidesi

My lovely wife and I left our island anchorage and headed south. It was the sort of launch that I like to do: a fine coordination of sail, anchor raising, keel lowering, and tiller handling that got us moving without ever starting the kicker motor.

My wife shot this photo of a dolphin come to visit. Soon there were 5 playing around the boat in the clear water. So where are photos of that? We made a conscious decision to experience the moment rather than take photos. For about 20 minutes they dove under the bow and came up along side. They got Brownie the Sailor Dog very excited. Good fun.

In hopes of getting more wind and tacking room, we headed back out into the Gulf.

Eventually, the wind died down and I had to motor the rest of the way. Coming into Hurricane Pass, the main fuel tank ran dry. I quickly raised a sail to get enough motive power to stay in the channel. I had one hand on the tiller and one pouring fuel from my small Jerry can into tank. Soon the motor started and we motored to Calidesi Island.

It a great state park: nice beach, nature trail, marina, and even a snack bar where you could get a cheeseburger in paradise.

I joked with my lovely wife that many of the other boats had flags. We should run up a pair of my shorts as a flag. Instead, she hoisted a dragon bedspread. Funny girl.

We spent three nights at the marina. At only $1/foot, it was a bargain in a 19 foot boat. It was great R & R. There was a bit of excitement one evening with a very impressive electrical storm. Imagine lightning across the horizon, from sky to sea, all jagged bolts all at once. Then we went to bed in our boat with the big aluminum mast sticking in the sky. Surprisingly, we slept well.

Tomorrow, the trip home.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dry land once more

It's funny how life goes on in the big wide world without me watching it. Traveling on a boat, with no access to the Internet, I had a chance to get away from it all. While I missed connecting with friends and the greater blog community, it was a true vacation. We did have a cell phone and actually took a couple calls, but it was family. The kids and grandkids always get through.

Sailing conditions were a bit fluky. The motor actually got a bit of use this trip. While not a bit fan of gas burners, it was good to get our destinations before dark.

We had a good trip down the cost. This was our only company at an island anchorage, and they left sometime in the night.

Brownie the sailor dog is a big fan of islands -especially after a long day on the boat.

I'm catching up on laundry and other shore chores. More later.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Sailing -really

My lovely wife and I are heading out on the water -finally.

The hand is making good progress. While not 100%, it's usable.

We have plans for heading out for about a week. Of course, that's not cast in stone. To a certain extent it depends on the weather.

We are self-contained for at least a week. That's not too bad for an Oday 19, a boat designed as a day sailor and “weekender.”

Wifi connections were few and far between the last time we traveled these waters. It's not called Florida's Nature Coast for nothing. Expect me back when you see me.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bookstores and bad dudes

My lovely wife and I love used bookstores. Yes, there are few that still exist.

A few days back we drove over to the store, only to find it closed. That was unusual. Normally when the owner is out of town there's a woman who covers for him.

Today he was open. My lovely wife and I stocked up on good reading material. While waiting for my wife to finish shopping, I struck up a conversation with the owner. He's originally from my home state of New Hampshire, so we hit it off.

My wife asked him why he was closed earlier. Not that long ago a young man hit him in the head with a steel pipe and tried to rob the store. Even with his head bleeding profusely, he was able to throw the guy out of the store. Then he called 911. It took 28 minutes for the police to arrive. That's a long long time.

While the robber didn't make off with anything, he still cost the store owner a lot of money. The owner used to let his help run the store when he wasn't there. Now he fears for their safety, so he closes the doors when he has to be out of town. It's a sad sign of the times.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gotta hand it to me

I can barely lift a water glass with my left hand right now. However, I found a position where I can type a bit.

On the bright side, the nights have been close to freezing -not exactly the best boating weather. We aren't missing much. It supposed to warm up soon. With luck, the crew will be ready to sail.

Dad seems kinda happy to have us hanging around. It's tough when we live far apart. Dad and I have always gotten along well. I know I'm lucky that way.

My poor wife has to put up with two guys with twisted senses of humor, but she's dealing with it.


Friday, February 1, 2013

One Hand

I sprained my left hand, so typing is a chore.

Letting it rest.

Back soon.