Monday, September 30, 2013

The Jimmy Buffett Standard

Someone once asked me what my goal in life was. I told them, only half joking, that I want a life that Jimmy Buffett would envy.

That's a pretty tall order. Not only is the guy a very successful musician, he's a pretty decent author and successful businessman too. Jimmy's been well rewarded for his talents.

This is the guy who bought a float plane with the requirement it be large enough for his surfboards. The man has priorities.

Some years ago my lovely wife and I were in Key West, hanging around Mallory Square during the daily sunset festival. My lovely wife pointed out Jimmy Buffett talking to one of the street musicians. Like an idiot, I didn't believe that it was him. Later she showed me a recent photo of Jimmy and his wife -and yep, that was them. I suppose it's shouldn't be a surprise. He does have a restaurant in Key West.

I suppose if Jimmy Buffett was doing the same thing as me that day I can't be doing too badly.

He might be able to fly his float plane to an island for a day at the beach. My lovely wife and I could get to the same island -after a month of island hopping in my small boat. Of course, he'd probably have to hurry off to take care of business somewhere. As for me, when you've got as little money as I have, it doesn't take much to manage it. I can take a month of slow travel to get somewhere.

You never know what goes on in people's private lives. Even the most empathetic of us can't really get inside someone else's head. That's why I don't normally measure myself against other people. They might have some worldly success, yet be dealing with personal demons.

Of course, then there's that darn Jimmy Buffett . . .


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Too many features

I was looking at video clips of different sailboats the other day. Who doesn't play the “if money was no object” game?

One 45 foot sailboat had an amazing interior. It was well laid out, good light and ventilation, easy to use galley, huge state rooms -all the comforts.

The funny thing was, when stocked up for cruising, it wasn't much faster than my little 19 foot boat in similar conditions. A 45 foot boat should be much much faster than that. Sadly, the one thing they forgot was sailing ability.

For grins and giggles I checked out another boat, a bit longer, that had all the toys and still sailed well. Out of curiosity I wondered what that model was going for. There was a 2008 version for a bit over 1.2 million. Thanks but no thank you. Maybe I'm not dreaming big enough.

Back to reality, there are all kinds of good used older boats that would suit me just fine. In fact, a lot of the older boats sail better than new boats of the same length. They were conceived as sailboats first. Many new boats are designed like condos, then have a hull wrapped around them.

How often does that happen? Features are added and added until the original purpose is forgotten? A car is transportation. A house is shelter.

A life is to be lived.

Maybe we add too many features to our lives that we can't live in them anymore.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Solid little boat

The weather has been dry and mild lately. That's a lucky break for me as I've been working on my Oday 19 sailboat. Getting ready for sailing next month.

The problem with projects, as any one with a tool box knows, is that projects grow. I thought I could do a bit of repair on the shelves in the boat. Before long, both of them were removed and thrown away. I had not realized how bad the rot had settled in. Fortunately I was able to salvage enough to use as templates to cut out new parts.

Most of the work I'm doing on the boat won't even be visible. Upgraded wiring, rebedded hardware, and even the new shelves, aren't very visible. Epoxy, new hardware, paint, caulk and marine grade adhesives might be hidden, but the boat is much stronger because of it.

Of course, anyone with a boat knows that it's possible to repair and upgrade forever. At some point a sailor has to say: good enough!

There are some more visible upgrades: a new depth finder, a new heavy duty anchor, and a second gas tank.

Even with all the repairs and upgrades, it's still a tiny boat. Most people will assume we are on a day sail, or an overnight trip at most. Few would guess that we are planning an extended coastal cruise.

It's not like we are trying to some heroic endurance thing. This is a small boat, yes, but it's a small boat we are comfortable in. I've read about a couple who did a similar trip in a 16 foot boat. They had oars. We have a 6 hp outboard -luxury!

This is what we do to relax. Knowing that the boat has all these little things fixed takes a load off my mind.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Career Devolution

I think back 30 years to when I was in my 20s. My friends and I were getting on with our lives. Some of them were very talented people who were making a name for themselves back then. Others were on the path to greater career advancement. Hope was in the air. We were young and we were smart.

Where are we now? A fairly small percentage of us have gone on to have reasonably good careers. Almost all of them did so by moving far away from our hometown. They were able to take advantage of areas of the country, or the world, that were doing a lot better than our dying mill town.

Moving is hard, especially of you have no family or good friends to rely on. One of my friends moved back mostly because his parents could be free babysitters. Child care is expensive. The thing is, it's tough to make a go of it without a personal safety net. It might be as simple as having someone who'll give you a ride into work while your car is in the shop.

There are other reasons to stay in an area with a poor economy. I love the outdoors and wilderness areas. A lot of people who stuck around feel the same way.

There was a price to pay. Decades later, I see a lot of the people basically back to square one. People who were working their way up company career ladders now find themselves back on the lower rungs. One guy started out moving stuff around in a warehouse. Over time he moved into company management. Then he went through years of company bankruptcies, downsizing, unemployment, and constantly having to restart his career. Now he's back to moving stuff in a warehouse. That's much harder to do with a 50+ year old body.

One guy I know who found himself back at square one hung himself. The poor guy just could not deal with it. He blamed himself for a lot of things out of his control.

I knew there was a price to pay for sticking around. Making money was never one of my goals, so I'm not disappointed. Living well, on the other hand, was one of my goals. My lovely wife and I live better than most people with three times our income. We are fortunate, as we could just as easily be homeless right now had things gone a bit different.

Funny thing is, my friends and I are baby boomers -supposedly the well off generation. Perhaps a lot of my generation did well for themselves, but plenty fell between the cracks.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Where I will spend money

There's a lot of fancy and expensive gear out there. Generally, I'll use cheaper alternatives or do without.

One thing that I will spend money on is a quality sleeping bag. I've a large bag rated for zero degrees Fahrenheit. In reality, I've been comfortable in it down to -30. That's with a good ground pad, thermal underwear, and heavy socks.

There are lighter bags with the same rating. Unless I was going to be winter backpacking all the time, it's not worth the price difference. A good compression sack gets the bulk under control and I can live with my pack being a couple pounds heavier. That worked well enough for the occasional winter hike.

I've a second lighter bag too. That can be zipped together with the heavy one and make a very comfortable nest for two.

There's no sense in giving model numbers as these bags were purchased over 30 years ago. They are still going strong. They've lasted though backpacking, canoe camping, months of nonstop car camping, and now they are on the boat. Mine were purchased from L. L. Bean -on sale, of course. The company still carries a lot of decent bags.

Make sure you get a synthetic one. They are still retain heat when damp. Down is nice, but not very good wet, plus I'm allergic anyway. Cheap cloth bags are death traps.

The next place I'd spend good money for a survival situation is a good tent. Big tents are great for campgrounds. I own a nice one. However, for backpacking to throw in a canoe, or tie to a bike a smaller tent is the thing.

20 years ago I bought a quality 4 season backpacking tent. 4 season tents have better support to handle high winds and snow loading. I've used mine in the snow, and the extra strength makes all the difference. It's also a good tent to have when car camping. If my lovely wife and I were only spending one night someplace, we'd set up the small winter tent. No need bothering with the big tent for one night. We also used in places with high winds. The strong poles, low profile, and multiple tie downs keep the tent in place when lesser ones became kites. That tent is still in good condition. It's been everywhere from the mountains of Maine to Key West Florida.

If a person can keep warm and dry, the rest of survival is much easier. Never underestimate the advantage of a good comfortable night's sleep.

While these two quality items cost a few extra bucks, I've gotten years of use of them -cheap in the long run.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Partially through circumstance and partially though planning, my lovely wife and I pay no Federal taxes. At least I can take comfort in knowing we are not contributing to the bad things the Federal government is doing.

There is no state income tax in New Hampshire. No problem there either.

Of course, my property taxes are high enough. At least I know where most of the local and state money is going. The lion's share of my property tax bill goes to my local government. At least I've the option of going to town meeting and making my voice heard. Not only that, I actually benefit from many services that my town provides. The roads are plowed, trash is hauled a way, the fire department will show up, police patrol, and my three kids went though the local schools. It takes money to do those things.

Taxes are sneaky. They are stuck onto a lot of things. Most states have sales taxes. New Hampshire doesn't but I travel a lot. Telling the clerk that I'm from NH and should be exempt from sales tax doesn't fly in other other states. A few clerks were a bit confused and tried to figure out how to do that. Yeah, I'm a trouble maker with a twisted sense of humor.

Still, taxes stick to a lot of things, tenacious as dog poo on white sneakers. If you buy tires, there's a tax. Transportation fuels are taxed. Phone service and other utilities are taxed. Restaurants have taxes. Obama's new medical insurance is a tax. The list goes on and on.

They got me with tires and phone service. My power utility has been told to disconnect my service next month. Completely off grid after that. I burn waste veggie for most of vehicle fuel, so pay very little road tax. Heck, even my route from New Hampshire to Florida avoids most road tolls.

The new medical “tax.” won't affect me unless I let it. Their penalty mechanism is though the IRS withholding tax refunds. I don't even have to file taxes, so they can't get me there. The weird thing is that I can only afford to pay my wife's insurance deductibles because I'm not paying for insurance for myself.

The really really sad thing is, even though I pay few taxes, I still pay more tax the many major corporations.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Power of Lists

My lovely wife was going through some old paperwork and discovered a few of our old lists. These were from several years ago. They were about things we planned on doing. It was nice to see how many of those things we actually got done.

One list was titled, “Brand new economy and fun adventure plan.” As you can imagine, it had more on it than “pick up a loaf of bread.”

This big master list had a lot of pie in the sky stuff, along with very practical things. The overall theme went something like this: if we do some radical changes with the way we live and spend money, we'll be able to travel and have more adventures.

Here's the thing, we maybe looked at the lists once or twice soon after we wrote them. Even though we weren't consciously following our lists, we accomplished most of the items on them anyway. It's as if the very act of writing things down put in an order with the universe. Universe delivered.

One interesting item on the list. “Make it clear to friends and family that we really want and need to do this so please don't complain when you come here and see us living conservatively.” I guess that takes care of the “what will people think” part of our plans.

I use lists all the time. Usually for more mundane things. Before we head on our trip, I'll have a list of everything that has to get packed. There will be a separate list on all the steps necessary to winterize the house. By writing things down, I won't have to think about them later. It's so much easier to check things off a list than to try and figure out what comes next.

Picture this. You were excited the night before and maybe didn't get as much sleep as you wanted. Some last minute problems come up and have to be dealt with. Distractions interrupt your train of thought as you try and get everything done. Fortunately, you have a list. Without it, it's easy to forget something critical.

Maybe it's time to make another dream list. There's a lot of ideas floating around in my head. The thing to do is to make a list and lose it in my wife's pile of old paperwork. In a few years we can discover it again and be amazed how well things worked out.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Home is where the hearth is

Nothing like a fire in the woodstove on a cool wet September day.

Something was lost when central heating came into vogue. The hearth was were the family would gather. It provided physical warmth, true, but it also provided social warmth. Now everyone scatters into their own rooms and into their own electronic devices.

Not that I've got anything against our electronic miracles. I've set up my laptop in the kitchen with a nice view of the fire. Call it the best of both worlds, if you will.

My lovely wife and I had looked at a lot of kitchen woodstoves before deciding on this one. A big selling feature was the glass door looking into the firebox. It's a good compromise. We have the efficiency of an airtight woodstove, with the ambiance of open flame.

I've pretty much given up on central heat. Last winter we only burned 30 gallons of fuel oil. Almost all of our heat came from the kitchen stove. The kitchen was toasty warm. The rest of the downstairs stayed pretty comfortable. Our upstairs, with our bedroom and living room, was only about 55 degrees most of the time. That's good enough. Actually, I prefer it for sleeping.

It's pretty nice to have a big kettle of hot water on stove. We can have tea, or I have hot water ready for the stove top coffee peculator. If I want to make rice or pasta, the water is hot and ready to go. The oven is preheated at all times, ready for baking. The stove is always on.

My woodstove is old fashioned, but it isn't. Modern metallurgy and construction techniques went into its fabrication. Advancements in glass making guarantee a good safe see though door. Computer aided design assures efficient wood burning and even cooking.

Even so, it captures the essence of the old fashioned hearth: a place for warmth and gathering.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Hi everyone. Just a heads up. My Internet service has just come back up. It's been down since yesterday. Back to blogging later.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

More boat prep

My lovely wife and I finally pulled the sailboat out of the water. Now it's sitting in my driveway dry dock. I love a boat small enough that we don't have to pay haul out fees. There's a couple warm days ahead so I'll have a chance to work on it.

I must admit, we did take our own sweet time putting the boat on the trailer. The lake was beautiful and we had to linger. The leaves were turning, a preview of brilliant fall colors to come. A lone fisherman and a pair of loons shared the lake with us. Eventually, the boat had to come out on the water or we'd be putting it away in the dark.

We practiced with our inflatable kayak that we are using as a tender. The kayak, a Sea Eagle 420, tows well with the skeg in place. My lovely wife figured out a couple of good ways to get in and out of the kayak from the sailboat. I'm glad her plan worked out as the lake is getting pretty cold this time of year. Hauling the boat on deck can be done, but forget about sailing with it there. The Oday sailboat is 19 feet. The kayak is 14 feet 3 inches long and 3 feet wide. We could put it up on deck if we were in a marina and didn't feel like deflating the kayak.

For fun and games I rewired the trailer plug on the van. Nothing like exposure to salt water to mess up electrical connections. With the van set, it was on to the trailer. The lights on the trailer aren't working as well as I'd like. Probably the smart thing to do would be to completely replace the lights every couple years. I did find a bad ground, so that explains how one taillight is a lot dimmer than the other.

The trailer bearings are greased and in good shape. I used to fear losing a wheel bearing. A few years ago one burned up in the middle of the Everglades. That same year the trailer hitch on the truck pulled through the frame of my truck. The hitch was almost dragging in the road. I wrapped it in anchor chain and fastened it with clavicles. The repair got me to my daughter's house. The new custom hitch on my van is extremely heavy duty. No hitch or trailer bearing problems since.

Things are coming along. We are on track to make our departure date.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Actionable or not?

There are a lot of things to get upset about: war, poverty, injustice, corruption, environmental degradation, politics, high energy costs, the fraying of the social fabric, and so on and so on.

It would be very easy to write a blog railing against those things day after day. That's fine, but it's not enough. Some of us are just programmed to want to fix problems. When someone complains about something, I can't help it. I want to fix it.

When it gets right down to it, the number of things that the average person can fix are pretty limited. My voice might join with a multitude of others and accomplish something, but alone it's a mighty small squeak.

While I can't fix the big problems, often I can share strategies for coping with them. For example: I can't do something about high energy costs directly, not being on the boards of any major companies. However, I can share conservation and alternatives that help individuals save energy and money.

That fits in with a more general strategy of mine: disconnecting from the systems that exploit me. I stop feeding the beast. I'm not one of those people who'll drive a big gas guzzling SUV to an environmental protest rally. Instead, I'll do things to greatly reduce my need for transportation fuels.

In general, I do a lot to disconnect from consumer culture. I'm not a consumer, I'm a citizen. Avoiding TV with its relentless advertising makes that a lot easier. By not buying a lot of junk, my time and money is spent on things I really enjoy -not something the TV told me I'd enjoy.

Another thing I can't fix is people. It's not my job. In fact I believe it's wrong as free will is sacred. That being said, I can show alternatives and use logical persuasion. That doesn't fit in with the emotional hot button pushing of our age, but so be it. Anyone who tries to use fear to motivate people is suspect.

Some things can't be fixed or influenced at all. At that point all that can be done is to get out of the way. You may try to reason with a hurricane. I'm packing up my rags and getting out of town. A Jew in prewar Germany could either run or die. Options are limited sometimes. Wisdom is knowing when to fight and when to run.

What about the things that can't be fixed or avoided? Sometimes all one can do is endure. When you can't change something or get out of the way, there's not much else that can be done. At that point all you've got is religion or philosophy. Even that's better than nothing.

One thing I cannot stand is someone who constantly complains, but exerts no effort to improve their situation. Over the years I've learned that they don't actually want solutions from me. What they want is for me to make sympathetic noises. My capacity for that is very very limited.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Noisy around here

My lovely wife surprised me today. She suggested that maybe we should move further out in the woods.

We do like our peace and quiet. Lately there has been more noise than we are accustomed to. All summer one guy at the end of the lake has been running chainsaws and heavy equipment. He's supposed to be building a house, but he's doing a lot more destruction than construction.

Then it got really noisy, as a logging operation set up about a ¼ mile away. That's the problem with living in the woods. Sooner or later someone's going to cut down part of it. I'm not rich enough to plop my house down in the middle of a thousand acres.

Life is full of compromises. My dad used to have a hunting camp. There was about 8.5 miles of seasonal dirt road. Then we'd drive, or hike, depending on road conditions, down an abandoned fire road. I loved it out there, but it's not the sort of place to raise kids.

My lovely wife insisted that we could live in the woods, as long as it was on a year round road. Since we had regular jobs, it made sense. The kids were within reasonable walking distance to the bus stop. Now the kids are grown and we no longer work real jobs. Moving way out in the the boonies is not out of the question.

It is tempting. Selling this place would allow me to buy a good piece of land way way way out in the woods. Then I could put up a tiny cabin or even a yurt. A few solar panels, a satelite Internet connection, short wave radio, and we'd be good to go.

Yep . . . very tempting.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Your Low Energy Future

Believe all the hype if you'd like. Fracking is making the United States the new Saudi Arabia. Peak oil is over.

I'll believe it when oil is down to $19/ barrel. At over $100/barrel, it's economical to go after marginal sources.

Even if fossil resources have been underestimated, it's still a finite resource. At some point supply will be unable to meet demand. If you don't think that's possible, stop reading now and go back to FOX news. I can't help you.

Alternatives can make up for much, if not all, of our electric power needs. Transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel are the real crunch. W hen's the last time you saw a long haul electric tractor trailer truck? The numbers don't work out very well. 50 pounds of diesel has more energy than 1000 pounds of lead acid batteries. Yes, yes, there are rumors of all kinds of magic batteries. Dense energy storage is just around the corner . . . has been for 30 years.

How are things transported today? Planes, trucks, trains, and boats. That from highest energy usage to lowest.

Airline profitability is directly tied to the price of fuel. It takes a lot of energy to get those big birds in the air. If fuel takes a big spike, air travel will go back to being the plaything of the very rich. Forgot about most air freight. No more Maine lobsters in Oklahoma.

Trucks are much better than planes. An awful lot of stuff moves by truck. Roads go everywhere. Of course, truck transport requires good roads. Most roads in the world are paved with asphalt -another petroleum product.

Trains are much more energy efficient than trucks. A surprisingly large amount of freight travels by train. Rails can last a long long time with basic upkeep.

Historically, water transportation has been the cheapest way to move things. It was much less expensive to move something 1000 miles along the water than 100 miles by land. It's still the cheapest way to move cargo. Many countries, including the US, have extensive waterways. Canals dug hundreds of years ago are still in service.

How does all this affect you? Look at where you live. Is your area's main claim to fame is an airport? If that's the case, higher fuel prices can quickly destroy your local economy.

Good roads into where you live? How about rail lines? Are they still running or are trees growing in the rail beds?

Do you live near a navigable waterway? That's good.

Right now an awful lot of trade goes to a limited number of big ports. It takes a lot of infrastructure to unload container ships or bulk fuel carriers. Those deep harbors do the lion's share of the work.

Don't worry if you are near a minor port. I'll bet 100 – 200 years ago, those minor ports were pretty busy. They can be again. Smaller, shallow draft vessels will become economical again. Any place connected to the rivers and oceans are connected to the world.

In a declining energy situation, where you live really matters.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Changing on the fly

This whole slow motion collapse crap is kind of a drag. It was a lot more fun when doom was going to be sudden and widespread. How naive I was in my younger days. Instead it's a slow grind downwards.

It's friends either being on the edge of losing their houses or actually having lost them. Good well paying middle class jobs have been replaced with low wage jobs. Even people who make better than minimum wage have discovered their work week cut to 30 hours or less.

Remember free medical insurance? Now many of us are free from medical insurance.

Official inflation numbers may not be too bad, but food and fuel are not factored in. Poor folk are acutely aware what those things really cost. That is, if you can get real food. It seems much of our food has been replaced with the factory produced chemical known as high fructose corn syrup. Package size has shrunk and quality has gone down.

As a prepper, my strategy has to change. I must admit that I got a surprise when my pension suddenly dropped a $1,000 August payment I used to get. Maybe I should have been paying more attention to what was going on in the state legislature, but watching those guys makes me crazy. I'd factored in the fact that there would be no more cost of living raises and thought that was good enough. Planning for steady drops in income now looks like a necessity. Expenses can only be reduced so far. Increasing my self employment income will be the way to go.

A prepper can't just follow one strategy. Changing to adapt to different conditions is necessary.

Moving to the the country has been an overall good move.

Alternative energy has been a huge plus for my situation. Producing most of my energy has insulated me from steep rate increases. Being able to burn wood has almost totally eliminated my fuel oil and propane use, at a huge savings. If anything, eliminating reliance on the grid or fossil fuels, or at least reducing my use of them even more, makes sense.

Having a good well has saved a lot of money and provided peace of mind. Friends in town tell stories of huge water bills. My water is not free because I'm my own water works. If the well pump dies, that's my responsibility. However, since I put in the whole water system I can certainly repair it when it fails. So far, my “water bill” remains a tiny fraction of what city people pay.

No sewer bill for me either. Then again, I once dug up my whole leech field and repaired it by hand. The sewer bill has been paid, but not in money.

There are a couple of big negatives when it comes to living out in the woods. EMS services, police, and fire are a long ways off. I've medical kits, fire extinguishers, and guns. They are not perfect solutions, but they buy precious time.

One big downside to country living is transportation. There's no public transportation. at all. Everyone must drive their own car. Running vehicles on waste veggie oil has greatly reduced my transportation. bill. I'm not sure how long that will be a viable option, but it's worked for over a dozen years so far.

I've a good bicycle, so that's a good thing. Next summer I'd like to experiment with a 3 wheel solar electric powered bike. My wife's car, when it finally dies, won't be replaced with another car. Maybe we just won't go into town as often.

Collapse was a lot more fun when it was hypothetical and fast. It's real, here now, and a real pain. It's a slow gray grind. Of course, if you are one of the handful living like it's a new Gilded Age, you've no idea what the heck I'm talking about.

For the rest of us, look around and check how things are going. Where do think things are heading? What can you do about it? Have things matched up with your expectations?


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Goofing off

I pretty much took Sunday off. A friend's wife is away at a wedding so we invited him over for Sunday dinner.

After dinner, we took him for a ride on the lake in our sailboat. Yes, we take all our friends sailing, with the hope that some of them will catch mariners disease and want to run away to sea. We know a lot of cool people and just want to share a lifestyle we enjoy.

We start them off slow, as passengers. After a bit we have them trimming the jib sail. Eventually they end up with their hand on the tiller. Sailing isn't that hard: a stick in one hand and a string in the other. After that it's just practice.

“I want to retire,” he said.

Oops, we might have succeeded too much. He's in no financial position to retire right now. Then again, so what? Maybe he'll find a way to make it happen. He had some ideas before he left, so who knows?

In a day or two, weather permitting, we'll put the boat on the trailer. There's a lot of little repairs and upgrades to do before our trip. Putting off those jobs has been the easiest thing in the world. Days good enough for working on the boat are also good enough to go sailing. However, the clock is running, days are getting cooler and we don't to be delayed.

Maybe one of these days well meet up with old friends anchored off a warm southern beach somewhere.


Time, distance and money

I've noticed that the way people refer to distance has changed. Ever ask how far some place was and get an answer in time?

“It's about an hour away.”

Of course they are assuming that if you take the direct route, drive the speed limit, and experience no other delays, it takes about an hour.

Maybe someone will say something is a 15 minute walk away.

It's pretty normal to tie time and distance together. After all, we have light years right? The distance light travels in a year.

Lately I've been hearing distance referred to in money terms. A guy came up from town to cut the grass at the family camp.

“It cost's me fifteen dollars to get here.”

People say things like, “It costs me eleven dollars to get back and forth to work each day.

There seems to be an acute awareness on exactly how much it costs to go places. The days of easy motoring are gone. When budgets are tight, it matters. If people are hyper aware of the cost of travel now, what will happen when gas and diesel take another big jump?

As for my own self, distance is in terms of jugs of veggie oil. How may jugs of veggie will it take to go to the coast and back? Then I fill the vehicle auxiliary tank and load jugs in the back of the van. Maybe I'll throw in one or two more for insurance.

One thing that has happened since people started thinking of distance in terms of dollars. I get a lot fewer visitors at my place in the woods. People are limiting trips to the bare essentials.

Time is money, but so is distance.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Long dark dreams of the Apocalypse

Apocalypse has already happened. It's been estimated that up to 95% of the native population of the Americas died from introduced diseases. If that's not an apocalypse I don't know what is.

Disease destroyed whole civilizations, often well ahead of the white invaders. By the time explorers and exploiters arrived, complex societies had collapsed. There weren't enough people to keep them going. All that were left were scattered bands of hunter gatherers. This is an over simplification, as collapse is complex, but it's good to be aware that big complex societies have fallen before.

I wonder how many people secretly dream of apocalypse? They imagine themselves as some kind of road warrior or zombie killer. Maybe they read a few too many survivalist books and cast themselves in a leading role.

They hate the life they are living, but it would take the end of the world as we know it for them to change. How many jobs are filled with the dead eyed masses? Have most resigned themselves to the dull routine of pointless work, TV, games, and Internet porn?

Maybe they even think they have the skills. It is surprising how many people people think they'll live off the land, but have never hunted, fished, or eaten wild plants. The more real world survival skills you acquire, the harder you realize this stuff really is.

I've watched quite a few of those survive in the wild type shows. They almost all focus on getting rescued or making it back to civilization. Making the wilderness your home is a whole different process.

Some think they can just go live like a wild Indian. Yes, that might work. Take your typical pre-colonial Native American hunter. He's skilled enough to be able to kill a deer with a bow. That's not an easy task, but he's trained for it all his life. When he does get a deer, it's a big deal. However, most day to day calories were provided by the women of the tribe. The were busy gathering nuts, berries and wild plants. Acorn soup might not be as great as roasted venison, but it'll keep you going. If you want to live like a wild Indian, you'd better have a tribe with you.

Maybe people want change in their lives so badly that even an apocalypse would be greeted as an improvement. It's sad when you think about it. Finding a life of adventure isn't something they can just go out and do. They haven't given themselves permission. Besides, their friends and family would frown on the whole idea.

Of course, the romantic idea of the post apocalyptic hero is better than real adventure. Real life is often too hot, too cold, too buggy, and the meals can be poor and irregular. Do they think that if they were sudden forced into such a life it wouldn't be so bad? Maybe the mosquitoes wouldn't bite as hard? Perhaps they would suddenly become taller, smarter and stronger?

Do you want to live like Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior? Let's start with the basics. Get yourself a case of dog food and live off of that for a while. Romantic, isn't it?

As far as I'm concerned, the world has enough adventure in it without an apocalypse. Are you so stuck in your life that it would take seven angels blowing trumpets of doom to change?


Friday, September 13, 2013

Hammer of god

We've had our share of lightning storms the last couple of days. Fortunately, the lightning strings weren't too near the house. That's a relief.

Town hall wasn't so lucky. First lightning hit the phone pole to the north of the building. Soon after the telephone pole to the south was also hit. Every printer in the town clerk's office fried. They were working on it. My town is so small that the IT professional is a nice lady who volunteers her time.

I strolled into the place to pay a bill and only then did I realize the chaos the place was in. In spite of that, they set everything aside to deal with me. After about a half dozen attempts to print out a receipt with the one functioning printer in another office, they gave up. Instead, they hand wrote a receipt.

The clerk did ask if that as all right with me. I assured them it was. She promised to mail a printed receipt as soon as the printers were sorted out. There's no doubt in my mind that's what will happen. Believe it or not, they are pretty trustworthy people. Competent too.

That's another reason I like living in a small town.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Boom Tent

September in the North Country. One day it's cold enough to light the woodstove. The next day it's pushing 90 with high humidity.

The maples are just starting to change. It's going to get pretty really soon. I'm glad we'll get a chance to see the fantastic fall colors before we head south.

We did take advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures to work on the boat. I need a new dock, but in the mean time, anchoring off the bow and tying the stern to shore has worked great. When not in use, this is where we keep the boat. Nice to have the boat ready to sail at all times.

This is the configuration we've settled on for the boom tent. It's a canvas tarp supported on each end by fiberglass poles. The poles were salvaged from an old tent. It will be nice to have a bit more shady space on a hot day, or dry space on a drizzly day.

Thunderstorms were moving it and it stood up to some strong gusts of wind. That's encouraging. Nice to know it won't turn into a big white kite at the first provocation.

We wrapped it all up before the rain hit. One more thing ready for our trip.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting back on track

It's funny, I can bug out on a moments notice. There's about a month left before my lovely wife and head south for the winter, yet I feel a time crunch. That's the difference between needs and wants. Hope I'm not over planning this.

One thing I learned. If there's any crawling around to do under the vehicle or the trailer, do it in New Hampshire, not Florida. New Hampshire doesn't have fire ants. Need I say more?

There's a cousin of mine who also sails small boats. He clued me in to the fact that one of the local lumber yards carries marine grade adhesives and caulks. That's a big deal. There's almost nothing marine grade around here. That will speed a few little jobs along.

We did a lot of sailing on our little lake, but only started the outboard three times all summer. We used about a quart of gas. The old gas will get dumped in my wife's car. We'll fill up with new in Florida. The boat came with a 3 gallon tank, but I've got another 6 gallon tank to back that up. For us, that's a huge amount of gas. We have learned that sometimes the safest thing is to motor in before conditions get worse.

There are sport fishing boats out there with well over 1,000 horses of power on the transom. The thought of burning that much gas in so short of time boggles my mind. There are times when I wonder if 6 hp is too big for my boat.

It actually feels good to get back to doing real physical things. Too much of my time has been taken up with paperwork, e-mails and phone calls. Funny how life gets complicated when you aren't paying attention. Planning for a 6 month trip I'm reminded of the the virtues in simplicity.

The dog knows something is up. She won't let us out of her sight. Brownie the Sailor Dog will not be left behind.

My lovely wife just wrapped up the last of her doctor and dentist appointments. Nothing like medical or dental issue to ruin a good time.

Still a bit of paperwork to finish up before out trip. At least I can see the end of it.

I'm keeping busy so I don't dwell too much on other things. I know what anniversary this is. As a retired firefighter who lost so many brothers on this day, how could I not? One way of honoring them is to embrace life. That's what I'd want people to do if it had been me.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've got limits

Modern life has its share of hassles. I can deal with them -up to a point.

One example. Some years back my lovely wife needed surgery. Nothing life threatening, but a big quality of life thing. Her insurance required preapprovals. No problem. We got all our ducks in a row. I made sure to double check that all preapprovals were done. The surgery went well. Afterwards we got a $35,000 bill. The insurance claimed we hadn't gotten preapprovals.

That's when my lovely wife had to take over as I was too mad to talk without spitting acid. She fixed the problem.

Now our old credit union was bought out by a bigger credit union. Days of my precious time have been spent getting our accounts straightened out. Saturday we got a letter from the credit union that sent me ballistic.

Yep, my lovely wife had to talk to them on the phone as my patience had been all used up. I'm pretty sure that the Dalai Lama would have been cursing by now. Gandhi would have been looking to kick butt. Martin Luther King would have given a “I have a Nightmare” speech.

My lovely wife straightened it out today. I grilled her a thick steak. She is a pearl beyond price. Our winter plans are back on track.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Heroes of SWAT

So this Arkansas SWAT team kills a 107 year man in a shoot out.

I don't know the back story. I wasn't there on the ground. However, you can't tell me they couldn't find a less violent way to take down a 107 year old man? Hide his walker? Wait for nap time?

Were they afraid of getting into hand to hand combat?

The problem with SWAT teams is that their only tools are guns. They are supposed to be police, not combat soldiers. As our police forces adopt the guns, gear and tactics of the military, law enforcement suffers.

Maybe there is a time and place for SWAT teams, but they are a heck of a lot fewer than what they are used for. The problem with having a SWAT team is that it will get used, even if not called for. Are SWAT teams really the proper tool for enforcing water quality issues? Home schooling violations? Farms selling raw milk?

There was a SWAT response in my town some years back. A drunken redneck was holed up in his trailer with a shotgun and threatened to start shooting. Local and state cops were all over the place, armed to the teeth.

A trailer park neighbor worked shifts and was upset that he couldn't get any sleep. He walked to the neighbors and took his shotgun away. Then he went to bed. Problem solved. The drunk's neighbor knew he wasn't a real threat. If the police had done their homework, they'd know that too.

Remember Waco Texas? All those lives lost over what was a simple firearms violation. Couldn't the problem have been solved by one Sheriff's deputy serving a warrant? Just goes to show that the firearms violation was just an excuse to use extreme violence.

SWAT teams are no substitute for good police work. Police are no substitute for a civil society. Militarized police send the message that we aren't citizens of a free country. It says we are occupied by oppressors who's only claim to power is violence.

They really might want to rethink that message.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bailing out? Going Galt?

You've all heard about bugging out. The organic fertilizer hits the rotary cooling device and it's time to head for the hills.

Bug out plans are great fun and all, a fascinating game of “what if?”

More likely than a bug out disaster is a situation where your financial situation suddenly takes a turn for the worse. It happens all the time. Jobs go away. Houses get foreclosed on. Bills pile up. Stuff happens.

Saturday I flipped out when I got a letter in the mail from the very same credit union I've been complaining about. Not to get into any details, but suddenly a payment schedule of mine got a lot more compressed and urgent. This new company is full of unhappy surprises. They are giving me a hard time over something the old company never bothered with.

I said bad words. With feeling.

Then I asked myself if this was time to bail out of the whole system. I'm not going to wait for things to get progressively worse to the point where I can't liquidate and escape. The system will not pull me down to where I'm dependent on luck and the mercy of strangers -again. I lucked out once, playing by the rules, but how often does a person hit a hole in one?

Everyone's financial situation is different. Putting the details of my personal bail out plan on-line might be a bad idea so it's not going to happen. Let's just say I have a plan and leave it at that. Thinking outside the box is what I do.

One thing to remember is to not give all your money to the debt collectors. Heck, it even takes money to file for bankruptcy -that's how messed up our system is. Keep some funds available for a financial escape plan.

I've seen people cope in a number of ways. One family decided to quickly liquidate the house, cars -everything but the boat. They moved onto the boat and found they could live debt free for a lot less.

An older couple jingled mailed their house keys to the bank and took an early retirement to a small condo they owned. Better to sacrifice one property than lose both.

James M Dakin is a big believer in putting an old trailer on junk land and getting by on a minimum wage job. He's living it.

A college buddy of mine actually did use the last of his money to pay for bankruptcy, and it gave him the fresh start he needed. Well, along with a divorce, but that's a whole different story.

Once I calmed down I figured my personal red line had not been crossed quite yet. Of course, the letter arrived on the weekend, and there's nobody in the home office until Monday. We'll talk and I'll find out what exactly is going on. If I have to to I can move funds around and take care of the problem. It's not how I wanted or planned to deal with it, but it's doable.

Every year I get a little less connected to the dominate system. That's been my plan. Progression has been gradual but steady. Then there are tipping points where things could go seriously sideways. I didn't quite reach my tipping point, but maybe I got a glimpse of what it might look like.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bad Fiction

I used to read thousands of story submissions for a S/F and Fantasy magazine. One of my jobs was to work my way through the slush pile. That background made me an expert on bad fiction.

The arguments for an attack on Syria reads like bad fiction. There's problems with motivation. The chemical weapons reason is weak. It reads too much like another bit of bad fiction: Iraq's nuclear weapon program.

The characters appear forced and unnatural, like they are spouting words from a bad script. It doesn't help that some of the same characters are using the same lines from the Iraq fiasco.

The plot is full of holes. Pacing is forced. Arguments are illogical. If this one came across my desk the best it would merit is a form rejection letter.

In fact, most of the American people give it two thumbs down.

The march to war reads like a bad farce. Unfortunately, it has all the makings of a real life tragedy.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Blows against the machine

We know the ultra rich got there on the backs of the little guy. If a hazardous work environment and low wages gets the company another quarter percent of profit, that's what's going to happen.

I recently read an article about taking some of that money back. It was pretty lame. They had two solutions. Shoplift from the big corporations and goof off more at work. That's it. Pretty weak tea in my book. How's that going to fix the problem exactly?

The legal system is set up to prosecute the poor. If you are poor enough that you feel you have to shoplift, you are taking a big chance. The machine will eat you. Work slowdown. Yeah, that might work -until they fire you because there are desperate people out there looking for any sort of work.

What worked in the past? Unions changed the word environment. It wasn't easy. People got killed. The history of unionism isn't taught in the schools. Unions have been weakened by a number of things. Yes, there own corruption was one. Sadly, that happens in all big organizations to some extent. Worse, labor laws have weakened and the ones still on the books are not enforced. Why would they be? The power elite own the legal system. Unions that aren't willing to break the law (the laws the owners put in place) have no teeth. Of course, unions were bypassed by shipping the jobs to other countries.

Boycotts work, but only if enough people get on board. They are a powerful tool because it hits the owner class where it hurts, in the bottom line.

We are told to move our money from the big banks to local credit unions. I did, but then my small local credit union was bought out by a much bigger one. Still working on what to do about that. Might just move again to another small credit union.

How about we all move our unsecured debt to the big banks? Then one day we all just stop paying those bills. Now that would be an effective mass protest. Tax payers bailed out those banks. Why not use them to bail us out from our debt?

Student loans are the worse. It's almost impossible to get out of debt. People have moved out of the country and faked their own deaths to dodge them. That system has gotten so out of hand that it could collapse from its own weight. The amount of debt owned is huge and the student's ability to pay decreases every year.

Disconnection from the system as much as possible helps, but it's not the whole solution. The hermit living in a cave is no threat to the robber barons. Involved people who monkey wrench the system bring it down.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fair Food and alternative fuels

It's Fair season in New England. I didn't go to the local one, but friends did. They called me the morning after the fair. They'd noticed quite of few jugs of waste fryer oil that was headed for the trash. Knowing that I run vehicles on waste oil, they gave me a call.

Now I've got good steady local sources, but I'm not one to pass up bonus fuel.

The jugs were piled up just where they said they were. I grabbed the first two, but something didn't feel right. There was no liquid slosh to the jugs. In fact, it wasn't waste oil in those jugs but waste shortening.

Shortening is a lot harder to use than waste oil. It needs to be heated to a liquid state, filtered, then pored into my vehicle's heated veggie tank. It takes longer to switch from diesel to alternative fuel. When shutting down, it's critical to switch to diesel first and really flush the shortening out of the engine. There's some thought on the WVO forums about shortening and other high transfat oils being hard on an engine's rings. I know it's tough on pumps and filters.

I unloaded the jugs and left them for the trash, as I'm not desperate for fuel.

Since then I've learned that those traveling Carnies use the heaviest shortening they can find. Once the fryers cool, the grease is in one solid lump. Liquid oils would slosh around as they drive down the highway.

So not only do I know something about alternative fuels, now I know why Fair food takes me three days to digest.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Goodbye summer people

We've reached the unofficial end of summer now that Labor Day has passed. Some years my lovely and I would sit on our deck and wave.

“Goodbye summer people!” we'd shout, or perhaps raise a drink to the parade of loaded cars and boat trailers going past.

This year we're the summer people too. It's rare that we leave Northern New Hampshire before the holidays, but this is the year. We'll head south only a few weeks after the official start of fall.

I used to think that only the well off could do the snowbird gig. For me, it'll most likely be just as cheap or cheaper to go south for the winter. We are making the trip in our veggie van, pulling our sailboat. Most of the fuel burned on our trip will be free or low priced waste veggie oil. We'll sleep in the van, on the boat, or at my dad's place in Florida. All are inexpensive options.

The house will be totally shut down, water drained out of the pipes, traps and drains filled with non-toxic RV antifreeze. Grid power and Internet service will be disconnected. Only the solar electric system will be operational, and that just to keep the batteries topped off and unfrozen.

Firefighting damaged my lungs. Winter and I no longer get along. A simple cold usually starts a long episode of respiratory illness. The cold dry air of winter hinders recovery. In a warm moist environment, my colds are infrequent and last like normal colds. My health cannot afford winter.

Someday it would be nice to actually enjoy winter again: snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice fishing, the joy of hunting snow filled woods. Maybe my health will one day improve so that I can do those things again.

Of course, my lovely wife's fibromyalgia is worse in cold weather. There doesn't seem to be a cure for that condition on the horizon.

At least we have the option of being summer people. There are worse things than sailing warm southern waters.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Travel bans

Most of my readers are old enough to remember the September 11, 2001 attacks. There's an awful lot that one could say about that day, but I'm going to focus on one small aspect: the shut down of transportation.

All air traffic was shut down for days. The bridges and tunnels to Manhattan island were closed. Even shipping took a hit.

A lot of people were stranded. It was pretty upsetting, especially if you were in an airport on one coast of the United States and needed to be on the other coast.

At least it was still possible to drive a car across the country. That could have been shut down too.

Things changed in a day. People were stranded, but there were work arounds and it was only temporary.

My lovely wife and I plan on being far from home for almost six months. If the world can change that much in day, how could it change in months?

As we prepare for out trip, Syria and the rest of the Middle East are in turmoil. The fires are getting hotter over there. Sabers are rattling. The United States is not immune from repercussions.

At the very least, it's safe to assume that a wider war would cause oil prices to spike even higher. Transportation fuels could become much more expensive and difficult to get.

Roads could be blockaded -travel restricted to approved vehicles only. Bridges might shut down. Even major seaports could be closed if there are terrorist attacks.

The government could even do things like shut down civilian access to the GPS system. That could shut down a lot of private boat traffic as many rely on it almost exclusively.

My lovely wife and I could be two thousand miles from home and discover getting back suddenly got a whole lot more problematic. At least we have more options that most. Our van can use multiple fuels: diesel, heating oil, hydraulic fluid, and just about all vegetable oils. If the roads are open, we can find a way to drive on them. Our boat uses the wind, and we have a lot of paper charts and a good compass.

Who knows? We might have to take our sailboat home. It is possible to sail within 100 miles of our place in the mountains. We'd have a number of options for getting home from the coast.

Odds are that this is just an intellectual exercise -a game of “what if?” Most likely the worse thing that will happen is that the price of diesel will go up, again. However, you never know.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Big Jokes

A good long time friend of mine, over the years, has given me a number of “joke” gifts. I'm a big guy, so he gets me big things. One year it was a 4 foot long screwdriver. Another year it was a 3 foot long adjustable wrench. The real joke is that I've had situations where those gifts were just the tool for the job.

He's really outdone himself this time. On the right is a normal flask. On the left is the new gift, a half gallon sized flask.

Yes, I've got a practical use for the that too. Glass containers on a sailboat are not a good idea. Nobody wants to pick up broken glass on a pitching sailboat. So I'm thinking a half gallon of single malt speyside scotch will be just the thing, protection against snakebite, frostbite and whatever ails ya.

Thanks Max!


Sudden road trip

My lovely wife and I got in very late from an unplanned road trip. On the spur of the moment, we decided to visit friends in Maine. We had a good time, but got home way past our bed times.

More later.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Defense on the water

There's a lot of debate on on the cruising forums about defense. Some people won't go out on the water with anything less than a 12 gage shotgun. Others feel a gun on-board would cause more trouble that it's worth.

I expect to be be in United States waters the whole time, so that's a big consideration. Taking a firearm into other countries is a huge risk. You have to weigh the risk of serious jail time against the security risk. For me, it probably would not be worth it. A gun hid well enough to escape the notice of official inspectors is too well hid to be a defensive weapon.

The state of Florida recognizes New Hampshire's concealed carry permit, so I could carry handguns on the boat. To be honest, I've yet to do so. I haven't felt the need. Situational awareness has been enough to keep us out of trouble. Also, we don't look like a good target. How much of value could be on an old small sailboat anyway?

Some people think a flare gun can be used for defense. That only works in the movies. During the best of times, you'll be lucky to not set your own boat on fire. Others are big believers in things like spear guns. I'm thinking that if you have a spear gun on your boat, you'd better have the rest of gear that goes with it: diving mask, snorkel fins, and all that. Hard to explain to a cop why you have a spear gun and no other fishing gear.

Of course, knives and machetes are pretty normal equipment on a boat. Fish need to be filleted and coconuts need to be opened.

It's more likely that our biggest concern will be with petty theft. Anything not locked down could grow legs and walk away. It is nice to have a dog that will bark and growl to protect its floating home. So far the only boarders on the boat have been raccoons, which soon were sent on their way.

I must admit to having looked at a Mossberg Mariner -just to price one. $499 in NH, with no sales tax. Looks like a fine gun designed for a boat environment. I doubt if my lovely wife will feel insecure enough to let me spend that kind of money on something we probably don't need.

There's a lot more to defense and safety than a pretty shotgun.