Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking back on the last day of the year

2016, one heck of a wild ride. I thought 2015 rotted. Little did I know what 2016 would bring. It wasn't all bad, of course. Few things are.

Time takes its toll. Please have correct change. Change that we can believe in? That would be nice, but unlikely coming from the mouth of a politician. So it goes.

I see Mr. Trump has already disappointed many of his supporters. In that fashion he's proven himself to be a politician after all. If you aren't disappointed in him yet, you are either not paying attention or have very low expectations. Give him time.

The Democrats just did not get it. There are a lot of people out there who's needs and concerns were not being met. Many of those peoples' votes were taken for granted. It was Clinton's election to lose, and she lost it. Judging from the post election comments it doesn't look like they've learned anything from the loss.

It's been said that many people voted for Trump because they wanted to break the system. Congratulations. Looks like your wishes will come true. Judging from the lack of political experience of the new administration it will be at least a year and a half until they figure out their jobs. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out. I actually like a few of the new people coming in, but that doesn't mean they won't have a troublesome time of it.

Running government is not like running a business -or at least it shouldn't be. A business exists to make money. How it does that almost doesn't even matter. Government is supposed to provide services. Governments that make money do so for a corrupt elite at the top. We used to point to third world countries that ran that way as a cautionary tale. Now they look like blueprints. I really hope the incoming leaders have more public servants than opportunists. Time will tell.

Personally, I expect a time of troubles. However, there is opportunity in adversity. If nothing else it tests one's mettle and builds character. Now is not the time to ignore your preps. Natural disasters and man made problems continue no matter who wins the beauty contest known as a presidential election. There is no reason to give up on being vigilant.

It's time to double down on my preps.

This year I've decided to drop my medical insurance. Thanks to loopholes in the systems I don't qualify for a subsidy. That means I'm going to have to be more careful about my health, which is something I should be doing anyway. The money can be spent in other ways. Maybe I'll spend it on another old sailboat. Sailing is a healthy lifestyle for me. All that sunshine and exercise does me good.

My solar electric system needs a new battery bank. That'll cost a few bucks. Right now it's just barely adequate for emergency backup, never mind day to day use.

Food storage has been drawn down in some categories, but expanded in others. A complete inventory is due to sort out exactly what needs replacement. One thing I've added this year is freeze dried food. It's good travel food due to light weight and good long term storage. Prep is quick and easy too. During an emergency you don't want to spend all your time preparing dried beans and grinding wheat berries.

I do believe that having more cash on hand will probably be a good thing for most people. There's economic disruptions all over the world and we are not immune from those problems.

2016 was an interesting year and I don't expect 2017 to be any less interesting. Strap in it's going to be a wild ride.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The last of the year

Christmas is over, but all my family is here until New Years. I've been kicking my cold, but it knocked my lovely wife back a bit. She took a day off to recover. She's doing better today than yesterday so that's a good thing.

We are dog sitting my daughter's new pup while they are visiting my son-in-law's folks at their condo. He's going to get some skiing in while there. They should be back with us sometime in the evening.

A storm is on the way in. The weathermen are predicting between 12 and 16 inches of snow. That should keep us busy tomorrow. I made a quick run into town to pick up a few more groceries and to fuel up the car.

I'm watching the last of 2016 limp off into the sunset. I hope 2017 is better than the year we just had. However, judging from past trends, it's going to get worse before it gets better. There is always opportunity in adversity. It's just a matter of keeping one's eyes open.

Christmas was pretty good overall. The best part was seeing all the kids having fun. I hadn't seen one of my grandkids since he was a baby. The little guy's pushing four now. Once he goes back to California I don't know when I'll see him again. Skype is nice, but it isn't the same.

Hope everyone had a good Christmas. New Years is just around the corner.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my blog readers. Hope this season finds you and yours well. I've got some of the best readers in Internet land. Hardly a troll amongst the bunch. There may be disagreement but no one's being disagreeable. Mostly what I see is generosity and kindness. That keeps me writing.

It's often a stressful time of the year, so I'd like everyone to cut themselves some slack. Things don't have to be perfect to be wonderful.

This holiday season I have a house full of people and my time will mostly be spoken for. There may be the occasion post or there many not. It all depends on how things shake out.

I hope the coming year is good to all of you. May your enemies be few and friends and allies found in unlikely places in time of need.

All the best,


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Kill it with whiskey

There was a few days of feeling deathly ill. I got well enough that, with the aid of over the counter medication, I could pass for human. My lovely wife also had a bout of what I had. We were quite a pair.

My daughter had a Christmas party at her house with a Yankee swap gift exchange. I told her I was not 100% yet and might not go. She told me that everyone in town was dealing with the same cold so come anyway. She said I could “kill it with whiskey.”

So my lovely wife and I showed up. I poured myself a glass of double barrel single malt scotch, just like the doctor ordered. We had a good time and got to see a lot of friends and family. We stayed long enough for the gift exchange and a bit later.

I ended up with really nice camping flask. It should come in handy should I ever have to “kill it with whiskey” once again.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No post today

Under the weather.


Connected to the world

I got an email from one of my daughters. She heard from our friends in Berlin Germany. They were not victims of the Christmas Market terror attack. While it is a place they often go, they happened not be there that day.

My High School buddy joined the army and married a German girl. My family ended up spending a lot of time with her family. She has some cousins about the same age as my kids. They'd come to the US for the summer, so they became friends. My daughter and her husband went over to Germany a couple years ago to visit.

Then there's the situation in Turkey. Since my son-in-law comes from there, we tend to follow what's going on. Things are not looking good, and that was before they started shooting Russian diplomats.

I grew up in a little isolated rural area in northern New Hampshire, yet my family has connections all over the world. Some of that is from people like my friend who married citizens of other countries. For example, I've connections with Korea through my uncle's family.

My extended family and friend group looks like the United Nations. We have connections all over the world. International issues are not some abstract issue “over there.” They affect people I know and love.

Trouble in Haiti, violence in Mexico, crime in Africa -all the trouble spots impact people I know. Heck, I even know people who work in Antarctica, so every continent is represented. I thought they were fine, until I discovered they went to New Zealand for a break and had a near miss with an earthquake. We heard nothing from them for days because they were on a wilderness hike at the time.

Things like earthquakes and natural disasters will happen. Some areas are prone to them and that's that. Outside of taking basic precautions there's not much you can do about them. However, there's a lot that can be done to improve the way the people in the world get along.

This Christmas season I'd like a little more peace, harmony and good will toward men. For me, it's personal.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chipping away at it

The weather went from very cold, to cold and snowing. We picked up about 9 inches of snow. Later it warmed up and turned to freezing rain. After that it was back to subzero temperatures.

The plow left a soggy mess of slush for snow banks. That might have been a good time to shovel it. One of my friends did just that, shoveling heavy wet snow late into the night. Good for him. I wasn't up to it.

Instead I'm dealing with frozen snowbanks. My new shovel is strong enough to handle banging away at the ice, but I don't want to break it. It took some doing but the mailbox and the driveway are now cleared -mostly. The extra parking space at the top of my driveway needs to be cleared out yet, but that's going to wait. At least that's what my shoulders told me.

I've happy I spent money on good snow tires. The five mile trip into the village was on completely unplowed roads. The little Nissan Versa was plowing snow the whole way. The going was slow, but felt reasonably safe. From the village into the next town the road had been cleared somewhat. Once into town, nothing had been cleared.

The town used to be much better at snow removal. They had more men and equipment and kept things reasonably clear. Now they don't move until the storm is over. So it goes.

At least the sun has finally come out. It's been so dark that my sleep schedule was all messed up. It wouldn't be sunny enough to wake me up in the morning so I'd stay up later and later each night. Eventually I was going to bed at 2 or 3 a. m.. When you don't have a normal job, that stuff can happen. I've gotten used to having bacon and eggs at noon. I kinda like it.

There's more snow on the way before Christmas. I hope it won't be as icy. The grandkids are going to want to go sledding.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Civilization's bad deals

Looking around the world I see some serious class inequalities. Take a place like Dubai. The people at the top live like kings. Underneath them is a small class of people who do okay, but only as long as they don't make waves. Below them is a vast army of guest workers with no rights.

China has an ultra rich elite but they too sit on top of a vast horde of worker drones. There is a middle class who's numbers are large, but not in relationship to the the country's vast population.

India is two countries. The rich technological one firmly in the 21st century and a huge number of peasants with few assets and no future.

Of course, much of the world runs with a tiny Kleptocracy at the top and horrible poverty at the bottom. We used to make fun of those poor countries, but that was when we had a prosperous middle class. Middle class in the US of A isn't what it used to be.

We've seen what happens to civilizations with a vast gap between the top and bottom. Eventually the bottom gives up on supporting the top. That's why Central and South America is full of abandoned cities and temples in the jungles.

One of the big indicators of things going south is when the rich start to wall themselves off from the common people. They also tend to accelerate their gathering in of all wealth. At one time their material success was somewhat tempered by their ability to add value to the society at large. There reaches a tipping point where that is no longer the case. Is the work value of a CEO really worth 3000 times the value of the company's average worker? Probably not.

Hundreds and thousands of years ago big discrepancies between the elite and poor could be maintained by military power, tradition and the myth of the divinity of kings. In today's information age the king as god myth probably won't fly. Tradition has some value yet in some places. (I can't understand why England keeps pet royalty, but that's just me)

In today's world the elite eventually can only maintain their wealth and power by force alone. That my friends, is the beginning of the end. All the secret police in the world could not keep the USSR going. US police riding around in military vehicles isn't going to work here either.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to end that way. Societies can become more egalitarian. Spreading the wealth around creates more wealth. Everyone benefits, including the elite who no longer have to cower in gated communities in fear for their life.

The United States is in a unique position right now. We have the wealthiest President and administration ever. They could easily take the badly trodden historical trail to ever increasing wealth concentration, or they could focus on making the system work for everyone.

If they don't the masses have an unusual opportunity to make their voices heard. If they can't exercise their power as citizens, they can exercise their power as consumers. The businesses of the elite are vulnerable to boycotts, job actions, bad reviews, protests and other actions. Nothing hurts a crook like taking their money away. Just a little something to keep in mind


Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Craigslist boat

If I'm in snow country and cruise warm southern waters, the next best thing is cruising Craigslist for another boat.

There are people out there who warn potential boat buyers to never purchase a boat off of Craigslist. Only deal with reputable brokers and dealers. (as if that's a thing)

Just assume that everyone who's trying to sell a boat is lying. If you want to be kind you can assume that the boat seller is lying to himself too. He may be remembering the boat the way it was, not the way it is.

There are those who recommend paying a boat surveyor to inspect the boat. That's not a bad idea, in principle. If I was buying an expensive boat that's what I'd do. The surveyor fees are a small fraction of the investment. Be aware that not every surveyor is completely honest. They often have close ties to brokers and have incentive to give higher marks to some boats than they deserve.

However, if buying a smaller boat those professional fees are a significant expense. If you are mechanically inclined you can do your own inspection. There are good books on the subject and lots of information on the Internet. Having owned a couple sailboats I have some idea what to look for.

People tend to focus on the pretty stuff like wood trim and shiny stainless steel. What you really should focus on is things like hull integrity, sea cocks, rigging, sails, engine condition and all that other boring stuff. My wife got really excited when we bought our last boat because all the rigging was new and the chain plates had been rebedded. Not the sort of thing that would excite most wives, but she's special.

Always budget in for unexpected expenses. There's always something that will pop up after the boat is purchased. You might find yourself replacing something, not because it's broken, but because it's outdated. Electronics are a big item that gets outdated fast. That, and you find what was once a $10,000 item can now be replaced with a better $300 item.

There are some great deals out there, but as always, buyer beware.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

I don't believe in science

It's okay to believe in things like God. We take things on faith when we get to the limits of logic and reason. Even in the 21st century there are many mysteries beyond human knowledge. Faith helps many of us deal with the uncertainties of life.

The thing about science is that it's not about belief. It's a method of figuring out what is true and factual. It's the best reasoning at the time with the available facts.

People get upset when science changes its opinion about something. That's actually a strength of science. As new knowledge becomes available a better understanding of reality is arrived at.

Theoretically, you don't have to take a scientist's word on anything. You could study the subject yourself until you had a good working knowledge of the particular field of interest. Then you could look at the available data. Maybe you'd even run experiments of your own to confirm others' observations.

Yes, it's possible, but not really practical for most of us. We should have all received a good grounding in the scientific method in school. When the US was afraid that the Russians were going to get to the moon before us, science was pushed in the school systems. I had the good fortune to be in school when money was available for the teaching of science. Of course, the quality of science teaching varied greatly by district.

If you have a decent understanding of how science works you can at least make an informed judgment about the quality of a person's scientific work. It also helps if a vast majority of trained scientists reach the same conclusions. The guy who 97% of the scientists thinks is wrong might actually be right, but that's not the way to bet.

Problems arise when science become politicized. German science was set back in WWII when “Jewish science” was rejected. Big mistake. We got the atomic bomb and they did not. Soviet scientists had to labor under the watchful of the state. Approved science got support. Politically unpopular scientists found themselves chopping wood in Siberia.

Western nations are not immune to political influence over science either. The Canadian Government destroyed years of climate observation. It's one thing to disagree with the conclusions from the raw data. It's something else entirely to throw out the data just because you don't like what it implies.

There's some fear that the Trump administration might also throw out unpopular data. With that in mind there's currently a mad rush to back up governmental data on non-governmental computers. It would be a shame to lose data paid for with US taxpayer money. Actually, it's probably a good idea to have this stuff backed up anyway. No sense having all our eggs in one basket.

In conclusion, I don't believe in science, but I have respect for the scientific method. That steady increase in knowledge is the reason why we don't conduct human sacrifices on top of pyramids so the sun will keep rising every morning.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Colder than a banker's heart

Temperatures are dropping. Supposed to get to around -12 F. Wind chill temperatures are predicted to reach -40, doesn't matter if you prefer Celsius or Fahrenheit. Forty below is forty below.

I'm glad we have some snow cover. Snow is actually a pretty good insulator. That's why the Inuit built houses of the stuff. Since we've got some snow on the ground the frost won't be driven quite so deeply. There have been winters when having a water line buried 6 feet deep isn't deep enough. The frost goes deeper. I've seen cold Decembers like this before, but I've got to go back something like 37 years.

A couple days from now it's supposed to warm up and give us mixed precipitation. Franky, I hope it stays cold enough to remain as all snow. The driving is better on snow than ice.

We let the dog out to do her business, but it takes her several attempts. She makes it as far as about six feet from the door, then turns around to come back in. Of course, she still has to go so she tries again a little later. It might take her three or four attempts. Eventually, she gets brave enough or desperate enough. I suppose I could put a leash on her and take her for a walk, but I know how to use indoor plumbing so don't feel the need to go out.

We've been getting these little snow storms that give us only an inch or two at a time. However, since it's been too cold for the snow to melt, it keeps adding up. The weather can go from clear sky to whiteout conditions in less than a minute, then back again. If you are into weather it's pretty interesting.

I am curious to see how far south this Arctic vortex will dip. When Florida dips into frost territory, I'm just as happy to stay home. Once it's cold enough to bundle up in a jacket, it's cold. If going south doesn't allow me to wear shorts and sandals, might as well not bother.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Investing in winter

I was walking around a Lowe's the other day and spotted a nice little snowblower. I've got a problem with small gasoline engines as the fumes bother my lungs a lot. That's why I use electric chain saws. The neat thing about this snowblower was that it was a battery powered electric. It would be pretty handy around my house. I'd just spent two days shoveling so it looked pretty good.

Then it struck me, how much do I want to invest in winter? It's bad enough that I had to get fuel for the woodstove and furnace. The car needed snow tires so that was another expense. Winter clothing and new boots had be purchased. Heck, I even bought a new snow shovel.

Next year I'm hoping to avoid the whole winter thing completely. Money spent on things like a snowblower takes away from the sailboat kitty. If all goes well my lovely wife and I will be somewhere in the Caribbean. I hope it doesn't take longer than that to get our sailboat situation sorted out.

There are times when I wonder if I should sell my place in the hills of the Great North Woods. When I'm drinking a cold drink on my beach in the summer those thoughts are far away. Now that temperatures are dropping down into subzero territory and the snow's piling up . . .

I do love New England in the summer. Most of my family and friends are here. Then again, New England has a coastline. Summers off the coast of Maine and winters in the warm islands is totally doable.

Now if only I could find a boat my lovely wife will fall in love with and is in our budget . . .


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

People who aren't what you expect

An old high school friend introduced me to a young woman. I believe she was one of his fencing students. Nice person, who happened to be a lesbian. (My lovely wife is comfortable with me hanging out with lesbians since I'm of no special use to them.)

She also spent a lot of time on the shooting range. My buddy is a bit of gun collector and had a lot of shooting information to share. That was important to our lady friend as she was a writer. Her creative outlet was lesbian fiction, but with a twist. Some of her characters carried a gun. The writer really wanted to have all the gun stuff down correctly. Believe me, that's rare in a lot of fiction of any persuasion.

I almost fell over laughing when I read one of her books. My buddy had become a character in her books. All his idiosyncrasies, habits and mannerisms were there. The big difference is that instead of a bald guy, the character was a chubby blond woman. You should have seen the look on his face. Priceless.

One day I go a call from my writer friend. Her other writing gig was writing for outdoors magazines. She had VIP tickets to a big hunting and fishing show. She was wondering if I'd like to go, all expenses paid. She needed a guy who looked like someone who'd go hunting and fishing. She learned nobody took her seriously. My job was to look like I was the sports writer.

I'd ask someone questions and she'd take notes. However, sometimes her vast knowledge would leak out. We were talking to a guy who'd shot a record buck at long range. She happened to know what kind of bullet drop he had to deal with, judging from his rifle and choice of ammo. The guy gave her a funny look but she was spot on.

So if you are reading a magazine, the writer might not be a big guy with a beard. The author might be a cute little lesbian lady. You never know. That's why people use pen names.

(by the way, I really am a big guy with a beard, honest)


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter dehydration

It's easy to get dehydrated in the cold of a northern winter. Even though I'm aware of the problem, I let it happen to me. Saturday, my lovely wife and I hit the ground running. We had a busy day with no down time to speak of. By late afternoon I was starting to feel a bit wonky. Pushed through it, finished my errands and got home by early evening.

Only then did it occur to me that I'd only had a cup of coffee to drink all day. Then I drank 5 glasses of water in a row and felt much much better. Except for feeling like an idiot. I know it's necessary to keep drinking when it's cold, even though you don't feel thirsty. Heck, I even wrote a blog about it years ago.

Cold dry winter air just sucks the moisture out of a person's body. If you are doing work outside in those conditions it's even worse. Dehydration is a serious concern for winter hikers, but anyone doing outside activities can fall victim to it.

You don't even have to work outside to get dehydrated. During cold weather home humidity can plummet. Good humidifiers can prevent that, and make your house feel warmer too. The humidity in my house was fine until temperatures dropped to sub zero temperatures. Normally a big kettle of water on the woodstove provides enough moisture. I've had to add a second kettle and a big roasting pan full of water.

Another thing I do is hang laundry on an inside line. Why run the dryer to expel that valuable moisture out of the house? We normally do the laundry in the evening. The clothes dries overnight and we pick it up in the morning. That way if we have company during the day they don't have to look at it hanging in my kitchen.

It's easier to remember to drink when it's hot and sunny outside. Who wants to drink ice cold water when it's freezing out? I like to keep a big jug of room temperature water in the winter. It goes down better when it's not freezing your fillings.

I'm lucky I remembered to drink before I got really sick. Just because a person knows better doesn't mean they always do the right thing.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Good old lead acid batteries

There are two common types of home solar electric systems. There's totally grid connected. They are pretty straight forward. Solar panels are directly connected to grid. The energy generated is credited towards your monthly bill. Once it's installed the homeowner doesn't have to think about it. It just works.

The other common type is for off-grid systems. The solar panels feed your own battery bank. You are responsible for managing your power use and storage. It's more hands on, but you are independent from the grid and never get a utility bill.

There are some hybrids of the two major systems. Some grid-tied systems have small battery banks for emergency use during blackouts. Otherwise, even though their panels were generating power, they could not use it.

I've got a simple system that's set up to be mostly off-grid. The solar panels cannot back feed into the grid. However, I can change the battery bank from the grid. My configuration normally uses the grid like a backup generator.

Lately I've been using the grid a bit more than I'd like. My house battery bank is on its last legs. It's been in service for almost 11 years, a long time for golf cart batteries. Now a smart person would have put a little bit of money aside over the last 11 years for when the replacement comes due. Yep, that's what a smart person would do. I wasn't that smart.

By spring I should have the funds to replace the battery bank. I'm using 12, 6 volt golf cart batteries. They are wired up to provide 24 volts which supplies an inverter that makes normal house AC. The advantage of golf cart batteries is that they are common and can be carried by one person -a strong person, but not a freakishly strong person. They can be swapped out in a day.

There have been some advances in battery technology. Batteries have always been one of the big limiting factors of alternative energy. When I first put in solar electric I'd hoped batteries would have improved by now. They have, but not at a price point that makes sense to me. Maybe Tesla's gigafactory will eventually bring the prices down low enough for me to consider them in the future.

For now I'll be going back to good old fashioned flooded lead acid batteries. They lack the energy density of the new batteries, but it doesn't really matter. It's not like in an electric car that has to haul the weight of the batteries. My battery bank sits quietly in a box in the basement. Every few months I pop the cover and check the water level in the batteries and top them off if necessary.

Even though I've had to use the grid a bit more, my bills are still very low. Since my house was designed for off-grid power it uses energy efficiently. That being said, it will be nice to have a full power battery system once more.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Had to look it up

You know how once in a while you hear some story that's so outrageous you just have to check out its veracity?

There's this story going around that Nordstrom is selling rocks . . . in a leather pouch . . . for $85. I thought, nope. This is too stupid to be real. However, according to it totally is.

It's supposed to be selling quite well too.

Okay then. Our country's situation can now be easily explained. Many Americans are as dumb as a box of rocks -or a bag of rocks in this case.

I'm shipwrecked in America, the land of idiots. The dumbing down is complete. I've got to get a bigger boat and sail over the horizon. Excuse me, for you rock buying Americans, I'm going to sail off the edge.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Who's got your back?

You never know who has your back and who'll stab you in the back until push comes to shove. It's true that everyone is your friend when you are riding high. When the going gets tough is the time you discover who your true friends are.

I know from first hand experience. When I got hurt on the job as a firefighter it was a four year struggle to get my benefits. When you sign up they promise to take care of you if something goes wrong, but they sure don't deliver. That's no surprise to all the injured and disabled military veterans out there.

Over the course of four years our financial situation became increasingly desperate. Being somewhat prepared helped. Most folks think having supplies for a year is enough. It helps, but by year three of a crisis those are long gone. Fortunately, my disaster was something that only affected my family. It's not as if the rest of the world was going through a crisis.

Even though other people weren't hurting, many avoided us like the plague. Apparently poverty is toxic and must be avoided. Some people we thought would be there for us were not. Now some actually were in worse shape themselves than anybody knew. They were hiding their problems successfully. While they might have wanted to help, in reality they had little to spare. Others just cut us out of their lives.

Then there were people who we never expected anything from who stepped up and helped when it was really needed. There were friends who lived far away who came though in amazing ways. Sometimes what we really needed was to know we weren't alone because there were times we sure felt that way.

It was a real eye opening experience. They say what does not kill you makes you stronger. Maybe, but then why is there PTSD? Sometimes what does not kill you wounds you for life. There are things we never were able to do for our children and that hurt.

Now many of you may be going through tough times or will in the near future. Don't be too discouraged when some people you counted on aren't there. You aren't responsible for their actions. Be open to the good things that come your way from unexpected directions. Some little thing you once did for someone might have stuck with them and they really come through for you years later.

There's a saying that bread cast upon the waters comes back to you. Your good deeds really do come back to you. You are doing good deeds, right?


Friday, December 9, 2016

The Lack of Civility

The pendulum has swung away from political correctness. At the outer edge PC seems pretty silly. We can't do anything at all that might somehow insult someone's delicate sensitivity somewhere. That can be pretty paralyzing when tough issues need to be discussed.

The pendulum has violently swung completely to the opposite direction. Many people are now just fine with spouting out any hateful thing at all. There are no limits. Any racist or misogynistic rant is supposed to be just fine.

Since when did we lose any sense of basic civility? Did everyone's mother's forget to instill the idea of manners? It's like listening to kids who's mouths need to be washed out with soap.

There is nothing wrong with disagreement. There is something wrong with being disagreeable. If you are spitting venom when you yell, odds are you lack a persuasive argument. Volume is not a substitute for facts. Mao stated that power flows from the barrel of a gun. If your argument relies on power alone, that's the sort of intellectual company you are keeping. Be honest with yourself.

I'm a big strong white male with a large ego. I could have gone through life quite successfully bullying people around. I'm glad I decided to reign that in and listened to other, sometimes softer voices. By doing so I was able to learn and grow. You can't grow if you believe you already know it all. Sometimes I've been convinced to change my opinion and have become richer for it.

Being civil is a sign of strength. It takes a lot of strength to hold one's tongue. Right now I see a lot of weak people pretending to be strong. They are strong in the way a mob is strong, violent, energetic, and mostly brainless. Like lemmings they sometimes all go over the cliff together.

All I ask is that folks remember the basic manners their mommas should have taught them.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Job Security

On the wall in my home office is an old cartoon. A young man is working on a computer. His hippy parents suggest he should learn the guitar so he'll have something to fall back on. The cartoon works because it turns the old job security idea on its head. People who follow creative pursuits were often encouraged to have a “real” skill to fall back on.

I graduated from High School in 1976. We didn't know it yet but the world economy had changed. As luck would have it, all these years later, a lot of my creative friends are making a living. Many of the ones who took conventional career paths lost their jobs.

Back in the day there were two basic paths. If you did not go to college there were good paying jobs in the mill. It was good enough for our fathers and grandfathers. The other common path was college and a steady corporate job. Of course there were more options, but if you showed up at the guidance councilor's office you wouldn't think so.

Well, the good mill jobs went away so the blue collar guys didn't fare very well. Their jobs had provided good livings: a house, cars, boats, snowmobiles, and maybe even a camp on a lake. Nothing solid replaced that. Many of those people lost everything. Some even committed suicide. Some committed slower suicide using drink and drugs.

The college guys often didn't do as great as planned either. A lot of those good corporate jobs went away too. Some had their steady jobs replaced by contract work. People made a living, but they had to work harder at it than their parents did.

A friend of mine had gone to college to study plastics. He even managed a crew in a plastics company for a time. For the last couple of decades he's been making a living with his guitar. Another guy is a struggling artist. Work is hand to mouth, but he has a house and a downtown studio. I'm also connected to a lot of writers. Not all are full time, but many have turned their writing into a decent second job.

As hit or miss as creative jobs can be, they aren't outsourced to China. Nobody wants to go to a bar to see a Chinese guy play guitar over Skype. Some things just have to be live.

I'm not sure what future jobs will look like, but I'm guessing today's guidance councilors are still giving bad advice.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Safe App

My buddy was showing me one of his new rifles the other day. After he put the key in the gun safe he got a text on his cell phone. He's got a device that sends him a text if anything happens to the safe. It can detect everything from movement to temperature to humidity. There are a number of different companies who make similar devices.

They don't give them away, but when you consider the value of the contents of your average gun safe, it's worth it. Guns aren't like other valuables either. It's one thing to lose something like jewelery or gold coins. That's a loss, but a stolen gun can be used to commit other crimes.

I checked on Amazon and a Liberty Safe monitor, with free service, sells for less than $200. That's just one example. Considering that a single gun is worth more than that, it's something to look at seriously. I'm not promoting any one brand. Do your own research.

The device itself runs on a battery, but it does need to be able to connect to wifi. That could be a weak link. In a grid down situation it would be disabled. A clever thief could cut Internet service before breaking in.

That's also a problem for someone like me who powers down their house completely when away for months at a time. I save money by shutting down electric and Internet service when away. However, it might be worth keeping it running for security purposes. I do have other ways of protecting my safe, and no, I'm not going to tell about them here.

It is tempting to join the 21st century and take advantage of the technology that's out there.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Happy Feet!

I'd like to thank Carolyn for my new socks. A while back I wrote a blog about how difficult it is for me to find good socks that fit my size 14 feet. I got some good advice on where to purchase some. However, Carolyn went the extra mile and a half and actually knitted a pair for me.

They feel amazing. I haven't had socks that felt this good since I was a little kid and my grandmother knitted socks for me. Actually, no insult to my dear departed grandmother, but these are better.

In a world filled with tragedy and woe it's pretty neat that someone will do something nice for some guy in the woods who writes a blog. It's not the first time I've received nice things from readers. You guys are the best.

Since these socks feel so amazing it's occurred to me that knitting skills should be elevated in the hierarchy of survival skills. If your feet aren't happy, the rest of you suffers.

Thanks again Carolyn!


Monday, December 5, 2016

Well that was interesting

Chaos in Italy! The Italian “No” vote won.

The PM is going to resign. Lets see what happens from here. Good thing I've got a fresh bag of popcorn.

Did I wait around all day watching the action? Nope. It was a beautiful day so my lovely wife and I drove over to Maine to visit friends. Life goes on. I've been friends with that guy since the 8th grade. We email all the time, but nothing beats a real life face to face visit.

In these troubled times it's good to stay in touch with friends. If that friend also happens to be a firearms engineer, all the better. He showed me some of his recent projects. The guy works from home so he has quite a selection of reference guns.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Italy is going to the polls. How they vote on this referendum could spell the end to the Euro and the European Union. There's a populist push in Italy and if they pull out of the Euro it could be the beginning of the end.

Well, not the beginning. You could look at Brexit or even other previous events. What happens in Italy could certainly speed things along. I bet, incorrectly, that Greece would have been the first to drop the Euro as it probably makes a lot of sense for them to do so. To prevent that from happening the will of the voters was thwarted. The average Greek has little faith in the normal political process these days.

Maybe some more duck tape and spit could hold the union together, for a while. My guess is that it will eventually fracture into several regional blocks that have enough in common to make an alliance worthwhile. Most likely there will still be NATO or something like it.

When the Euro falls there may be a short term bump in the dollar. However, the dollar will be just the best of a bad lot. Fundamental weaknesses may cause fiat currencies to tumble -which is all of them. That, boys and girls, is what we call currency collapse.

If we are lucky it will happen fast. Why is fast better than slow? We've had a slow collapse. Middle class wages have been losing ground in real terms since the 1970s. A lifestyle that once could be sustained by one blue collar job now takes two or three. One spouse could work while the other took care of the house and children. Now both spouses have to work and often one or both must work two or more jobs. That's what slow collapse looks like.

In a fast collapse nobody has any money. It's pretty horrible as with no money few goods and services are exchanged. That will be a time of hardship.

How is that better than a slow collapse? In a slow collapse the bottom gets eaten up. Middle class become poor. The poor disappear. Wealth is concentrated in a few hands. Everyone else has nothing. That's the path we are on now. In a fast collapse nobody is going to take your house away. The banks will disappear or if they do survive they won't be able to do anything about your house. There will be nobody to sell it to.

The smart way to handle a fast collapse is to clear up all the unpayable debt: mortgages, student debt, derivatives -everything. The stores, factories, houses, and businesses are still standing. All they need is a new financial framework to make it all work. Wise leadership could get ahead of the problems and restart the economy. If they don't a couple of different things could happen. One is that everything freezes, falls apart, and it takes decades for recovery -if it ever happens at all.

Another thing that could happen is that a financial system could build from the ground up, starting with barter and moving onto some other medium of exchange later. Governments and central bankers could even be cut out of that system so expect official resistance. They'd rather have a broken system they are in control of rather than a functional one that's independent. Of course, it will only work if they have something real to pay the cops with.

So keep an eye on Italy and see what happens next.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Not that bad in the mountains

Looking back on some of my recent posts it looks like I'm suffering pretty badly from cabin fever. It's not that bad, really. A lot of my writing has been about travel, but winter is a good time to think about travel. Yes, technically it's not quite winter, but the big fat snowflakes falling outside right now says winter to me.

My lovely wife and I often kick around different travel scenarios. That way if we do decide to hit the road we have some idea what we'll be doing. Nothing ruins travel with a spouse than being on different pages. If she's thinking of wilderness camping and he's thinking room service, there will be problems. We like to iron out some of that ahead of time.

I do live pretty well out here in the mountains. Most mornings I rarely set an alarm and wake up when I wake up. Then I light the woodstove and put the kettle on to perk. It takes a while to make coffee starting with a cold woodstove, but I'm in no hurry. While coffee is heating up it's a good time to check e-mail.

Once the coffee is ready I bring a cup to my lovely wife's who's usually waking up around then. A wife who starts her days with coffee in bed is a happy wife. After that we usually have a leisurely breakfast.

Only then do I tackle the projects of the day. As some point I usually have a little on-line business to attend to. There's a few projects that should bring in a few dollars down the line. We shall see.

After lunch today I decided to putter around with my motorcycle project. It got moved to a better spot in the basement. The seat and gas tank have been removed to allow easier access. The electrical system does not look as bad as I feared. I did discover a expedient field repair I'd once made then totally forgot about. The main fuse had blown and I didn't have a spare. Instead a hasty bypass was done, without even the benefit of electrical tape. For some reason it was forgotten about and the bike driven for hundreds of additional miles. The hasty patch didn't stand up well to years of storage either.

Tomorrow we have to go into town to the post office. While there we'll combine as many errands as we can. We'll probably meet up with some friends while in town. My lovely wife is excited by the fact that I have to go to the hardware store. She loves the hardware store.

Even when our days are quiet we are doing well. We are warm, dry, aren't missing any meals and are surrounded by thousands of good books. Life could be worse.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Young, rich or healthy, pick any two

Congratulations, the Republicans won. The first thing they want to do is to get rid of Obama care. That should be fairly easy for them to do. Replacing it, on the other hand, is going to take hard work. Support for repeal is widespread among the incoming majority. What's lacking is any sort of consensus on what to replace it with.

I'm not going to go into any long in depth analysis of the different proposals. That information is out there and it's complicated. My reading of the different plans appear to favor the young, rich and healthy. You'll do pretty well if you have any two of those. Old, poor and sick? Too bad. There's lots of denial that's how it will turn out, but looking at the numbers, that's what I coming.

I just made my very last last health insurance payment. I had it for two years. The first year the price wasn't too horrible. The second year it went up but I continued to pay. This coming year it's getting dropped as the price is too high. In the two years I made payments I used exactly $125 in covered services. Hardly worth what I paid for it.

I've been feeling particularly mortal these days. Another of my fellow firefighters just died from lung cancer. A lot of guys I worked with died from cancer. Cancer rates in general are pretty high for firefighters. Workman's comp rarely pays the bills. They want to know at exactly which incident you came down with cancer. It's not like getting a broken leg. Cancer is often caused by repeated exposure over a period of time.

Because of that our individual insurances pick up the tab. The last guy who passed was able to get coverage at the VA because he was a veteran. They saved him from his first bout of cancer, but then it appeared a few years later in his other lung and that did him in.

Judging from past experience, I don't have a lot of hope for a decent health plan. Heck, even though I'm on a medical disability from the fire service, they don't have to cover related medical costs. They found a loop hole where they admitted my injury was job related but didn't have to cover it. That sounds unbelievable -unless you've had dealings with insurances yourself.

My guess is that any new plan is going to have all kinds of loop holes for people to fall though. I'm not going to argue about it. Just remember my words six months down the line.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trips and talk of trips

It's funny. My lovely wife and I can spend day after day together in the same house, but nothing stimulates travel plans like going for a drive. I'm feeling better and so is my spouse. We decided to head over the mountains for dinner and a movie.

The weather looked mild with a chance of rain. It wasn't bad except for when we were crossing Pinkam Notch in the White Mountains. On the way back home the rain turned to snow. The new snow tires made all the difference. We didn't break any speed records but we never slipped one bit either.

Over dinner we started talking about possible travel plans later in the winter. Right now we are kicking around two options. One idea is to take the camper van and tow the sailboat to Florida. Once there we'd do a mix of camping and sailing. The Oday 19 is a bit small for us after having been on the Ranger 23. Four feet doesn't sound like a lot but there is a big difference in interior volume. With that in mind we'd only spend a few days at a time on the boat. Since it's on a trailer, however, we could leap frog all over the state and sample a number of different areas.

The second idea is to go minimalistic. We'd toss camping gear and the inflatable kayak into the little Nissan hatchback and go. That would allow us to go into some places our big rig can't go to. There are some nice camping spots that are tent only. That would require more research. We haven't stayed at some of those places in years. Other places we've only heard about.

One advantage of taking the little car is that my lovely wife is comfortable driving it. She's driven the van before but really does not like it. Towing a boat isn't something she wants to do either. By switching drivers we could go a lot further in a day.

On the other hand, with the van we don't have to drive as far every day. We can stop anywhere along the way and sleep in the back. While it takes longer to get anywhere we are lot more rested once we get to our destination.

We aren't even 100% sure we are going south this winter. If we do go it won't be for the 3 – 6 months we've done in the past. Right now we are thinking maybe a month, month and a half. Of course, with us everything is subject to change. We are nothing if not flexible.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At the crack of noon

I got up bright and early. It's trash day and I don't want to miss hauling my stuff to the road. To prevent bears and other animals from tearing up the bags they always go out at the last minute. Putting bags out the night before would guarantee a mess in the morning.

A mixture of rain and hail was coming down. I hauled in more fuel for the woodstove. After coffee, breakfast and a few chores I went right back to bed. Since I've been sick my sleep schedule is all over the place. With no need to be anyplace, going to sleep when tired just makes sense.

Waking up at the crack of noon I was confused at first. It was darker than it was at 7 a. m.. The clouds thickened up and we have freezing rain. Thought I'd better get this blog post out there while I still can. These are the conditions that take down the local grid. While I'd still have my off-grid power, the Internet would go down.

The roads are ice covered. Some folks are staying home from work. My granddaughter stayed home from school. Last I checked it should end by late afternoon. Hope it does. That would give the salt crews time to sort out the roads.

Hope things clear by this evening. It's pool night at my cousin's and I hate to miss it. I've got my priorities after all.

It might seem foolish to got out at all, but if you wait for perfect conditions you never go anywhere in the winter. This might change to snow and that would be better. Driving on snow is a skill I learned before I had a driver's license. Ice on the other hand can be just impossible.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Before the snow

My motorcycle's been sitting in my driveway. That was supposed to be a temporary stop until I could move it into the basement. Then I got sick and everything got pushed back. It even snowed a couple of times. Due to some mild rain there was only about an inch of snow on the ground.

Since I'm feeling somewhat better I went back to my motorcycle project. In the morning I was able to clear a path to the basement. I pushed the bike across the lawn and down a couple of stairs, where it decided to hang up. Rather than over extend myself the kickstand came down and the bike stayed right there. I was pretty beat. No sense in doing something tricky when I'm not even feeling 100% yet.

I knew a friend of mine was working in the area and wondered if he could come over to help. Cell phone service is pretty sketchy where he was working so I wasn't sure he'd get my message. As it turned out he only had enough signal to register he missed a call. Being in the area he just dropped in.

He was also pretty frozen so I gave him a couple cups of tea by the woodstove. Outside work can be brutal when it's cold. Once he warmed up we were able to move the motorcycle the last 20 feet or so into the basement.

That was a huge relief for me. With more snow and frozen mix only hours away I was worried about ever getting the bike under cover. My lovely wife even suggested wrapping it up in tarps and giving up on it until spring.

Now I'll be able to work on the bike over the winter. In the spring the bike can be driven up some ramps and back onto the road. The bike will need more elbow grease than money so it's a good project for me.

Looking forward to road trips in the spring.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Electric needs change

A buddy of mine called me up the other day. He needed some advice on alternative energy systems. About six or seven years ago I helped him set up an off grid solar electric system. That generally worked out pretty well for him for a number of years. Like anything else, there's a learning curve, but he sorted it out.

Fast forward to now. When he built his off grid house it was just him and his wife. She had a full time job and was out of the house most days. Then they had a child. His wife quit her job and spent a lot of time at home with the baby. Their electrical usage shot up quite a bit. He had a generator to top off the batteries, but sometimes he was away for work and batteries got drawn down very low. That's bad for lead acid batteries and shortens their life.

He's got a good plan to expand the system to meet the increased needs. I gave him what knowledge I had to share. They'll be fine. Fortunately solar panels have come way way down in price.

The thing about off grid living is that you are you own power company. If you need more power, you have to either find a way to make more or reduce your usage. If you don't do those things you'll be sitting in the dark.

It's different when you are tied to the grid. All you have to do is pay more. How many of us have gotten the surprise electric bill? That bill that comes out of nowhere and is three times what you normally use? That happened to me before I put in the solar electric. My well pump had developed a crack in a hose fitting inside the well. The pump would turn on constantly as the system lost pressure. Water at the house was slightly reduced, but not enough to cause alarm so the problem wasn't caught right off.

Due to the excessive number of duty cycles the pump burned out. That was bad enough. Then the electric bill came in and it was more expensive than the pump was. Talk about adding insult to injury. Now my pump is wired up to the solar electric system. If there's an excessive power draw it will show up on my meters and can be dealt with right away.

Being totally off grid has its challenges, but the honking big surprise electric bill isn't one of them.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Things you should know about Canada

Recently there's been a lot of talk about going to Canada. Sadly, not too many Americans know anything about Canada is run. I thought I'd present this little informative youtube to help?


Saturday, November 26, 2016

We aren't out of the woods yet

Thank God for that. Okay, I'm a bit twisted, but hear me out. The normal usage of “out of the woods,” means things like out of danger, difficulty, trouble, and so on. So if someone is out of the woods, they are now safe.

To me that's totally backwards. The woods are my safe place. There's nothing like the warm embrace of a deep dark forest. There's trees for shelter and heat. Water is usually nearby. There's edible plants and animals. It's a cornucopia of goodness. With a few simple tools all a person's basic needs can be taken care of. With the right knowledge and a bit of luck you won't even need the tools. You could start with a sharp rock and end up with a comfortable cabin with a warm fire burning in the hearth.

If you are coming out of the woods that must mean your coming into the city. Cities are full of rules, dangerous people, and tightly controlled resources. If you are willing to play by those rules one can survive and maybe even thrive. It's the price we pay for things like science, high art, literature, and all that jazz. Civilization has its perks, but it does separate us from our roots and a simple easy way of living. Almost all of us pay the price because that's about the only way to survive in the modern world. Few even feel their chains.

Now I know living in a more primitive world had its downsides. There's a reason we gave up on that way of life. Actually, we probably didn't have a choice. The greater populations sustainable by agriculture and civilization overwhelmed more primitive societies by numbers alone.

Be that as it may, the woods still call to me. They are my happy place. Thank goodness they are right out my door.

Of course, there's another idiom that makes more sense to me: Head for the hills. Good advice in troubled times. If there's a lot of woods there in those hills, even better.


Friday, November 25, 2016

The one reason to shop on Black Friday

There's only one good reason to shop on Black Friday: practice for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Zombie Apocalypse is used here as short hand for any major disaster: hurricane, currency collapse, impending war, or even big winter storms. The idea is that there is some sort of threat and everyone will be running to the stores to stock up.

Year after year we hear horror stories about people's bad behavior during Black Friday. Shoppers have trampled people to death and didn't even stop. Pretty horrific when you consider that it's all for silly things like a good deal on a flat screen TV.

Now imagine if they were shopping for essentials like food and water. If people throw out all decency for useless crap that's on sale, how will they behave when life and death supplies are on the line?

If you plan on waiting for the last minute to do your disaster shopping, might as well get some practice in this Friday, when little is at stake. You might get roughed up or even killed, but remember, it'll be worse when people are shopping for last can of beans.

As for myself, I'd rather eat tree bark than shop on Black Friday. Fortunately, I've got a few cans of beans in storage so I don't need the practice.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. No gifts. No funny hats. You don't' have to sing a song. I love it.

There's something special about a holiday that only requires some good food, good people and a sense of gratitude.

I'm very grateful that I'm finally feeling well enough to be with people again. Wednesday I woke up feeling mostly better. Still had the occasional cough, but much milder and a lot fewer of them. I survived with a mixture of over the counter medicine and herbal remedies. The regular meds give some relief from the symptoms and the herbal stuff supports the immune system.

One of the neat things about having kids is that one day they grow up and hold holidays at their houses. After almost two weeks of being sick my house is a wreck. Thank goodness we are going over to one of my daughters to celebrate. One more thing to be grateful for.

I wish all my readers a safe and happy Thanksgiving -even if you aren't an American and don't celebrate the holiday. I'm grateful to have you guys too.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

No more features please

So my credit union just sent me an e-mail. They are adding all kinds of “features” to my debit card. Lord save me now. All they are going to do is to make it harder to access my own freaking money. Their current features are bad enough.

Normally I'm accessing my card on-line from all over the place. Since March I've been doing all my financial stuff from either at their offices or from home. About once a week, for whatever reason, the enhanced security features are tripped. They claim they are detecting unusual activity, but absolutely nothing has changed.

Instead of just being able to do my business, I've got to jump through all kinds of security hoops. Their long list of security questions are a royal pain: What's my favorite food? Where did I go to college? What's my wife's middle name? What was the middle name of that little girl who sat three seats away from you in third grade? What's the difference between an octopus? Really hate those silly questions.

Then they have to show me a bunch of pictures and I've got to remember exactly which species of woodpecker I picked for my security pic. Was is the Pileated or the Ladder Back? What am I, a biologist?

If they'd have kept the exact same layout from 1995 I would have been happy. I don't care if it looks like the display from a Commodore 64, I learned how to use it once and that should be enough. If you want me to retrain all the darn time, pay me for my time.

One National bank that I do business with is even worse. For years I dealt with them completely on-line. Then one day I was tired and muffed their security questions and was locked out of the site. Eventually, after going through phone center hell, I got a real live human on the line. She was giving me all kinds of grief. Finally I told here that if they really don't me to pay my bill that's fine with me. She relented and I was able to make the payment -once.

After that, the only way I've been able to pay them is by physical paper check, just like the pioneers. I thought of going through the trouble of reestablishing my on-line access, but gave up on the idea. Now all I do is make sure that bill is the very last one that's going to get paid. They've become number one on my list of companies who'll be stiffed when the budget gets tight. I find joy where I can.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Snow falling on cedars

. . . and hemlocks, and spruces, and pines, and birches, and maples, and beech . . . yeah, it's just snowing around here. It doesn't look like a just snow in the morning and melt in the afternoon sort of thing either. Such is life in the Great North Woods.

I'm slowly recovering from that nasty chest cold. In a day or two I should be well enough to handle a snow shovel. This past week or so it's been all I could do to haul another bundle of bio bricks inside for the woodstove. Actually, some days my lovely wife hauled them in. They are just heavy enough that she uses a dolly to wheel them in. Clever girl. She's been really pushing through her fibromyalgia to get things done. Hope she doesn't hurt herself.

The last good week of decent weather appears to have passed by while I've been sick. The last few outdoor projects are now going to take four times as long. Snow, ice and cold complicate everything. For me, one of the worse is that I've a motorcycle in the driveway covered in show. It should have been in the basement by now. Without snow on the ground I probably could have done the job alone. Now it's going to take three men and a strong boy.

On the bright side, black flies are down to a bare minimum. There's much to be said for all the creepy crawlies dying by the billions every winter. Fire ants don't survive around here. Neither does your average cockroach.

Snow on the ground has eliminated any forest fire danger. That's something to be thankful for. A good snow pack will also reduce the chance of spring fires. If having to shovel is the cost of not burning down, I'll gladly pay it.

If the ski areas can open in time for the Thanksgiving holiday that's a big deal. Should be a good year for them. I'm just down the road from the cross country ski trails of the Nansen Ski Club, the oldest ski club in America. They rely completely on natural snow.

Another bright side to fresh snow is that things have suddenly gotten really quiet around the lake. I'm not the only one being shut down by the weather. It's peaceful.

Part of me is actually looking forward to playing in the snow. It's been years. With any luck I'll be healthy enough to enjoy it.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Gunshots and chaos next door

The sound of gunshots are not all that unusual in these parts. Everyone's has guns and it's fun to shoot them. What bothered me was that fact that it was almost dark. Either something really needed shooting or someone was being irresponsible. Judging from the party that went on down by the lake last night I'm guessing irresponsible. Could be wrong, but that's how I'd bet.

Normally the cottage down by the lake does not have late night parties. They are normally loud people, but not late at night. Siblings inherited the property when their parents passed on. Everything they do around the property requires loud discussions. They aren't even arguing, they just have to talk loud about everything. Outside of being loud they aren't really bad neighbors. Our buildings are far enough away that the sound is normally muffled quite a bit. Besides, they don't live there full time and only use the place occasionally.

Last night, however, the really pulled out the stops. The leaves are off the trees so sound carries better than it does in the summer. My lovely wife asked if I was playing music downstairs. Wasn't me, it was the neighbors. Pretty impressive as the house has 6 inch thick insulated walls which normally keeps things quiet.

I happened to wake up at 3:30 a. m. and they were still going at it. An hour later they finally seemed to be winding down. The weather is turning cold. Yesterday was probably the last time they could use the place until spring. Their water line will soon freeze. As soon as it snows the driveway will be impassable. It's so steep that vehicles get stuck when the weather's nice. Last night was probably an end of the season blow out party. Now they will be quiet for at least 6 months.

Other people near enough to be considered neighbors are still doing a lot of heavy equipment work. A guy bought the land down the road from me and his daughter has the place across the street. They seriously altered the land. I've property lots across the street. They excavated right up to the line. What they don't realize is that it had been an unusually dry year for here. During wet years that area has many small surface streams. Their excavation is going to turn into a vernal pool.

My lovely wife's been concerned about our shallow well. We dropped off water samples at a testing lab to see if their excavations caused any contamination. I will be very put out if it did. As it is I upgraded to a better whole house water filter. There seems to be more silt in the water, shortening filter life. I'm hoping the cold snap will put an end to their excessive heavy equipment use.

Most of my land doesn't even directly border these people. I'm just glad I didn't sell the vacant lots across the street from me. No doubt they would have bulldozed everything flat there too.

The place across the street used to be owned by one of my uncles. Unfortunately when he died it the property moved out of the family. Too bad my budget was always too tight to buy more land. I got used to it almost always being quiet here. This past weekend it was everything but.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Friends and soup

It's become apparent that social media actually makes us less connected to people. You know how it is, 300 happy birthdays on Facebook but no one calls or knocks on your door.

There's that old saying: Good friends help you move. Really good friends help you move bodies. It's great to have that kind of friend, but remember: he knows how to move bodies.

I've gotten weird requests from friends and you've got to go with it. What do you do when a guy calls you up and asks you for a bottle of peppermint schnapps and a package of straight razor blades? You show up at his door with the booze and blades of course. Turns out he had a little tool accident and needed to remove some metal shards from his arm. The trick is to drink enough schnapps to dull the pain but not so much that you can't make decent cuts with the blade. Yeah, we were young and foolish.

Most often friends will ask you to show up with more prosaic things like a plumbing tools or a chainsaw. Just hope the chainsaw request is not from the same friend who knows how to move bodies.

I've been blessed with some really great friends. They've been there for me when times were tough. When you don't have much money it sure is nice to have friends. Of course, I've been there for them too.

Sometimes you get surprised. My lovely wife's been off taking care of things while I've been convalescing. One guy heard that I was sick so he sent over some of his grandmother's recipe special chicken soup. Did not expect that from him but it's kinda nice. Can't beat Jewish penicillin.

Social media is fine, I guess. Don't really use it myself. I'm more of fan of meeting people in the real world.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Left or Right?

No, I'm not talking politics. Haven't we all had enough of that for a bit?

I was thinking back to previous years when my lovely wife and I spent winters traveling. We did a lot of camping and not a lot of planning. After a few days of camping we'd pack up and drive to the main road. Then we'd ask each other: left or right? It was pretty much a coin toss which way we'd head.

Sometimes we'd stumble into some amazing places. Other times we'd find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere, darkness moving in, and no place to stay. That's part of the fun. If it always went smoothly it wouldn't be an adventure. Over the years we found a lot of places that were worth going back to. Our traveling was a bit less random as we'd want to end up in certain areas sooner or later.

In more recent years we've discovered that a bit of planning is required for prime areas. If you want to camp in a primitive campground in the middle of the Everglades, a reservation might not be needed. A state park with nice facilities in the Florida Keys where you can camp on the beach . . . well, that's a bit harder to do.

People reserve campsites almost a year in advance. While it's not impossible to pull up to a popular campground and get a site without reservations, don't count on it. The odds are low. Not only that, in a lot of popular places they've cracked down on stealth camping. At one time if we couldn't get into a park we had stealth camping options. In places like the Keys there are very few good stealth camping spots left. The cops are cracking down hard too.

Even though popular campgrounds book up months in advance, we could usually put together a trip just a week or two's warning. That requires a good Internet connection. Just about everybody uses Love 'em or hate 'em, they are often the only game in town.

So, for example, you go to their site looking for a nice week in the Florida Keys. You may find that all the sites in a campground are booked. However, one thing about people booking so early is that there are cancellations. A lot can happen in a person's life between the time they book and the time they plan on vacationing. Those sites don't stay open very long. If you see them, get them.

Rarely will you find a whole week free. Usually 2 or 3 days together aren't too hard. Here's what we'd do. We might end up with 3 days in Key Largo, a couple more days at Long Key, then maybe some more days at Bahia Honda Key. Once in a while we'd bridge a booking gap by taking a day or two in private campgrounds.

We like to stay in the Florida State Park system. They have great campgrounds if you are into nature. Prices are usually cheaper than private campgrounds. Not that they are cheap in the Keys, but everything is relative.

Federal campgrounds can be some of the best deals and discount cards are available for people on disability or retired. Unfortunately there are no Federal Camping sites in the Keys, but there are some in other parts of southern Florida. The remote Everglades campground in Flamingo comes to mind.

A hard winter up north will bring the snowbirds down in droves so campgrounds fill up quickly. While it's fun to decide your route with a coin flip getting a place to stay might be a toss up too. Of course, there's always traveling off-season if you want to ramble at random.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Health Issues

I don't usually make a big deal about my firefighter disability on this blog. My lungs suffered some chemical damage that nearly killed me. Good thing I was never a smoker. Most of the time I live with it. Over the years I've developed strategies to stay well. They don't always work. Unfortunately my head cold settled into my lungs.

The big thing for me now is to try and limit the amount and severity of my coughing. If it goes on too long it starts a vicious cycle where my coughing irritates my lungs which causes me to cough. I don't think I'm going to fall into that cycle this time. Over the years my lungs have improved somewhat.

One fun thing I also have is a little something called cough syncope. When I cough hard my blood pressure drops and I pass out. It used to happen over twenty times a day and went on for months. I could be walking down a flight of stairs, cough, then wake up in a heap at the bottom. I've an old scar over one of my eyes where I fell out of a kitchen chair and face planted on the floor.

I saw a lot of doctors and none were able to do much for me. Treatments that were supposed to make me stop coughing would stimulate coughing instead. They overdosed me on drugs trying to find a level that would work. It was a bad time.

Yesterday I had a short episode. This time I stayed in my chair and didn't get hurt. I'm not going to drive again until the cough is under control.

Over time I've learned how to manage my condition, mostly though alternative treatments. A martial arts instructor friend of mine taught me a lot of breathing exercises that help. Certain herbal treatments are useful. Keeping the humidity high helps. Even cough drops work better than the heavy duty drugs the doctors had me on. My condition should improve soon, if I'm lucky and take care of myself.

While I was convalescing I decided to check out my health care insurance for next year. Once again, due to a technicality, I don't qualify for a subsidy. The price of insurance has gone up again. Right now I don't think I can afford even the cheapest plan available to me, so that ain't gonna happen. Let's see if Trump can do better or if he's just spouting off.

In the mean time I'm going to put some of the cash I was paying to the insurance company into savings.

Could I lose everything due to medical expenses? Yes, but the minimal insurances close to my price range won't prevent that.

Guess I'm going to have to take full responsibility for my own health.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Road lifestyle

Cities and towns are passing laws against people who live on the road. Sleeping in vehicles has been outlawed in a number of places. It's getting harder to find a place to sleep where cops won't harass you. It doesn't sound like too big a deal as usually they just make you move on, but being unable to get a good night's sleep takes its toll. Even if you don't hear that knock on the side of your vehicle at 2 in the morning, your sleep is light and troubled.

It's not all that easy to move on sometimes. A lot of people living in vehicles have jobs but their jobs aren't enough to pay for decent housing. Heaven help you if your vehicle is having mechanical trouble.

There are two types of people who end up living in their vehicles. There are those who end up doing it for a lack of better options. Others do it on purpose, for a variety of reasons. They could do it out of a sense of adventure. Some decide to move into a vehicle because they see they won't be able to sustain a “normal” lifestyle.

Those who go in with a plan usually do much better than people without better options. They pick a vehicle with room to sleep. Often they are quite comfortable, with solar panels on the roof, a way to cook and even bathroom facilities.

Even well prepared people are suffering from the new restrictions. While it's possible to dry camp out in a National Forest somewhere, people still need to come into town. People need supplies and services. We also need to interact with other people. Not everyone is a hermit.

It's easy to be a vagabond when times are good, especially in a rich western nation. When times get tough, things close down. The more precarious a middle class life becomes, the harder they work to separate themselves from the poor. Maybe they don't want to be reminded that they are only a paycheck away from living in a van themselves?

If you got some sort of RV living in a reasonably priced campground has been an option for a lot of people. Unfortunately, a lot of private campgrounds are pricey. Some are so exclusive as to prohibit RVs that are more than 5 years old. State and Federal campgrounds have time limits. I met one guy who did a rotation between a state, federal and a dumpy private campground.

There are still plenty of places to live in a vehicle. There are techniques that help a lot too. One way is to look like a tourist rather than a homeless person. One big trick is to keep a canoe on the roof of your vehicle. Ask the locals how the fishing is. With a canoe on your roof you have a reason to hang around boat ramps, some allow overnight parking.

Times are getting tougher for the road warriors out there, but there are still places and techniques that make it work.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Travel vehicles

My lovely wife and I have traveled with a number of different vehicles over the years. At the time we decided to live out of a tent and do car camping, we really did not have the right car for it. When our daughter went to school she had a little Dodge Neon. Once she graduated and started to make money she decided to upgrade to a new car. My lovely wife and I ended up with the Neon.

I'm not fussy with what I drive. My “image” does not depend on my transportation. The car had roof racks to carry a canoe so it was all good. Our first season I'd added a small receiver hitch to carry a cargo buddy. I figured we needed all the extra cargo room we could get. That winter the car was loaded down pretty heavily -canoe on the roof, big cargo box hanging off the back.

The next season we eliminated the cargo buddy completely. We'd pared down our stuff some. Other gear we packed in dry bags and stuffed inside the canoe on the roof. The little car rode much better.

What I was really wishing for was a classic VW camper van. Maybe it's the old hippie in me but I really liked the romance of those old mini-vans. My lovely wife and I looked at a number of them. One of the things that slowly started to change my mind was that a lot of the vans we looked at had blown engines. Then I found one in great shape.

The woman who owned it was stuck on a price and I was stuck on a lower price. I had cash in hand. Her husband really wanted that cash, but the van was in her name. No way was she going to budge. I left as the marital disharmony was reaching a fever pitch. That's the closest I came to buying one. Considering how underpowered and unreliable they are I probably dodged a bullet.

Right after that I got into running diesels on Veggie. We had an old Mercedes Benz 240D converted to run on WVO. With a small utility trailer on the back for veggie oil our range was 3000 miles. Loaded up with a canoe on top and all our camping gear, it accelerated like a fat man jogging. Eventually it would get to highway speeds. Still died on the hills, but we loved that old car and put 400,000 miles on it.

Later we ran a Ford F250 on veggie. That was a pretty good camping rig. Once we got into sailing it was a great tow vehicle. Unfortunately it was susceptible to rust. I changed both fenders and did a lot of patch work. Then we started to have drive train problems so we let that go.

That's when we won an ambulance at auction and turned it into the veggie van. It it's a good camping rig, fun to drive, and pulls the sailboat well. That's out current set up. It's pretty comfortable with a full sized bed, 12 volt cooler, microwave, and solar electric power.

Once in a while we find ourselves going back to more minimalistic camping. My lovely wife has a Nissan Versa Note. The little hatchback has roof racks for camping gear or a canoe. In a way it's a lot like back when we camped with the Neon all those years ago. We are still fond of tent camping. My lovely wife thinks tents are romantic and who am I to argue with that?


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Motorcycle Project

Monday temperatures climbed from the mid 20s to the low 50s. It seemed like a good day to give the motorcycle a bit more attention.

The day before I'd rinsed most of the crud out of the fuel tank. The fuel lines were replaced and two in-line fuel filters were added. The fuel lines need to be trimmed and secured, but the temporary install allowed gas to flow to the engine.

The make or break item on the old 1974 KZ 900 is the engine. I wasn't about to do a complete engine rebuild. Was going to run or not? Once the gas was flowing I hooked up a battery pack jumper and tried to start it. The good news is that the starter turned over. However, the engine did not start. It gave a small cough. Maybe two out of four cylinders fired once and it was done for the day.

Monday I cleaned out the air cleaner and tried again with a freshly charged battery jumper. This time it fired on all four cylinders then died. A second attempt had it running strong. Once it warmed up a bit I opened up the throttle some. That's when the end of the muffler flew off. It had been repaired many years ago. While in storage the muffler had rusted just below the repair in a neat circle.

No problem. That's one of the things I needed to replace anyway. The big thing is that the engine purrs like a tiger. Everything else is fixable. I'll replace the battery and drive it into the basement. There's some electrical stuff to sort out. While the headlight works, only one directional lights up. That's the sort of thing that takes more time than money to sort out.

It appears there are now no major issues stopping the project. I'm not looking to restore it showroom perfect. The idea is to get the old bike usable for not a lot of money. Since the engine kicked over, that looks within reach. Over the course of the winter I can purchase any parts needed.

You should have seen the smile on my face when that big engine woke up. Happy memories.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad news for firearms sales

Obama's presidency was one of the best things to happen to firearms manufacturers. They could throw guns out of the back of a truck and the guns would be sold before they hit the ground. Whenever Obama made a speech that even mentioned the word guns, sales would go up.

Well, now the Republicans are in power. Everyone's going to relax. A lot of people are going to wake up and find they have more guns than they will ever need. Not only will they not buy new guns, they might even sell some of the ones they do have. Instead of preparing for a gun grabbing Hillary apocalypse, they'll have do things like buy groceries and pay the rent.

It's a good thing it's only Liberals protesting in the streets. Had the tables been turned the protesters would be Conservatives. Unlike the Liberals, those folks are armed. They'd be waving around things other than harshly worded signs.

What's a firearms industry to do?

Fortunately, all those Liberals also have Second Amendment rights. All the industry has to do is to overcome Liberals distaste for guns by stressing their hatred for Trump. After all, will Trump's police protect their rights?

So I'm thinking of starting Sixbear's Firearms School for Special Snowflakes. How's that for a business idea? Might have to work on the title.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Under the weather, up in the mountains

There are a few outdoor projects I'd love to button up but they will have to wait.

I've been pretty low energy the last couple days. Picked up a nasty cold and with my damaged lungs that can always be serious. Basically, I'm just keeping warm and hydrated plus getting plenty of sleep. At one time I'd have pushed through it, but then it takes that much longer to get better. Since I don't have to push right now, I'm not going to.

Hope to feel better in a day or two. My lungs have healed somewhat from my firefighting days. At one time I'd pick up a cough in October and it would hang on until May. I discovered that warm moist sea air was just the thing for my condition. That's one big reason we started to spend so many of our winter days in the south.

Since our shipwreck last winter we've been in recovery mode. Finances have taken a bit longer to recover than planned, but we are making progress. Part of the issue is that we've had to spend more money on winter prep: everything from heating oil, to snow tires to warm socks. I woke up to snow on the ground Saturday. It melted, but it's a sign of things to come.

One of the things I like to do is to search the Internet to see what sailboats are for sale. We are lucky that we enjoy smaller boats. They've fallen out of favor so there are some good choices on the market. It's funny how boats that years ago were considered big enough to travel around the world in are now too small for anything but weekend coastal cruising. The seaworthiness of the boats have not changed. People's expected level of comfort has gone up.

My lovely wife and I still enjoy simple boats. There's a lot less that goes wrong on them. When things break they are easier and cheaper to fix. I'd rather be sailing than waiting for a special qualified mechanic or for exotic parts to come in.

We've been watching a lot of sailing on Youtube. It's a bonus when they are sailing places we've been or places we want to go to. Sea turtle and dolphin watching never gets old. There's something special about a sunset on the water. If you happen to have a rum drink in one hand and a lovely lady in the other, it's even better.

Of course sunsets here in the mountains are special too. Moonlight on new fallen snow is magical, like something out of a fairy tale. We'll be just fine until we hit the water again. The little Oday 19 is on the trailer and almost ready to go. Having that escape pod sitting handy gives me comfort.

With any luck this cold will soon pass and I'll be ready for action again soon.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Are you ready for the crash?

Last chance to get your preps in order. Just because the election cycle is over doesn't mean the business cycle has been repealed. It won't help to blame the Obama administration or to blame the incoming Trump administration. The election may have some affect on the timing and determine some of the winners and losers. It won't stop it from happening.

The fundamentals do not look good. Everyone's debt is too high. Good jobs are disappearing. We have the basic problem of too many people going after diminishing resources. A huge problem is income inequity. When there's a tiny minority with all the money and power that's a good harbinger of trouble. Most financial programs tell people not to worry. They have all kinds of reasons things will be different this time. One question: how has their track record been? Those financial shows are not there to warn people. They are there to do two things, entertain and sell things.

The average person is in for a ride. Make sure you have stored up enough for your basic needs. When everyone is scrambling to the stores for food, water, and gasoline it's much safer to stay home. Relatively minor things can cause runs on essentials. If there's a real disaster, things are going to get ugly.

Gasoline prices are low right now. Is it a good time to buy that big truck your always wanted? Nope. If you need a vehicle I'd recommend getting one with good gas mileage. If you can substitute your car with a scooter that gets 115 mpg now would be the time. Gas prices could go though the roof quickly. A currency collapse could do that. War could do that. Heck, a few well placed hacks in our distribution system could sow chaos.

How are you set for food production? My lovely wife wants to turn me into a farmer. My ancestors came to this country so they wouldn't have to scrape in the dirt. I'm not a big fan of gardening. That being said, it looks like my lovely wife is going to get that greenhouse she always wanted.

What's your security like? Do you trust the people around you? Are you significantly different than your neighbors? That might be a problem when scapegoats are needed.

This is your wake up call. Right now half the country is paralyzed because the Democrats lost. The other half is jubilant that the Republicans won. Neither group is particularly focused on the dangers ahead. The President is not the person you should be overly concerned about in the coming days. He'll be fine. You should look to yourself, your family, friends -your tribe, to be ready for the days ahead. It's going to get real folks.

I'm not trying to panic anyone. Panic doesn't get the job done. All I want is for people to take a hard look around. Watch for the signs. It's not going to hurt to be ready for trouble. Think local and put ideology aside. You don't have to agree with your neighbor's politics to get along with them. Really.


Friday, November 11, 2016

The Vagabond and the Homesteader

For me there are two ways to get to know the world. One way is to travel it. The other is to sit by the river and see what comes my way. Both methods have their charm.

I've always been interested in different people. We are born into a limited set of circumstances: a family with a certain social position, in a particular religion, and in a geographical area. That is what we we think of as normal. To others it might seem exotic, but it works both ways.

Normally this time of year I'm the traveler. Sometimes in November I'm in motion, either traveling down the road or on the water. If not actually traveling by now, I'm preparing to travel. My mind is filled with thoughts of routes, motion and equipment.

Circumstances and choice have put me in the role of the one who sits by the river. While the role is not new to me, it's been sometime since I've played it. My focus has been less on the skills of the vagabond and more on the necessities of being a homesteader. Much of my time and treasure has been spent on the mundane yet important duties necessary to thrive in a northern winter.

Old Einstein was right. It's all a matter of perspective. Is the person in the boat really rushing past the shore or does it just look that way? Could it be that the boat is standing still and the world is revolving beneath him? The end result is the same.

The worse part of being a vagabond is leaving so many people behind. Yet the very act of travel brings one into contact with new people to befriend. There's also the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family who live far away. The homesteader may have more friends and family in their daily life, but the chance to meet new people is limited. No wonder that so many cultures put great emphasis on hospitality towards the traveler. The value of differences is recognized.

There was a third path, but it's not as common in the modern world. Migratory tribes used to be common. Perhaps at one time that's how a good part of the human population lived. It has many of the advantages of the vagabond and the homesteader. There is the advantage of seeing new places and meeting new peoples. Yet at the same time one is surrounded by ones own culture and community. Unfortunately today we have the poorest expression of that dynamic: the tour group. Oh well, such is life.

There's a saying that no matter where you go, there you are. The biggest journey happens within. Whether we stay at home or travel the world, it's the backdrop to the greatest adventure.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Recurring fuel problem

The dirty diesel problem reared its head in the veggie van . . . again. I'm getting pretty tired of it. The short term fix isn't all that hard. There's access to the fuel line at the side compartment where the veggie tank is. The idea is to remove the diesel fuel line at the six port valve and blow the crud back into the tank using a small air compressor. If I'm at home where I can do more work I can then drain some diesel from the bottom of the tank and remove some of the dirt.

I had a really nice plastic pan that was perfect for catching the dirty diesel. Unfortunately, I left it outside and a bear poked a bunch of holes in it with its claws. They never mention that problem in the car magazines. Once it's repaired I'll drain some more dirt out of the system.

The diesel fuel line plugged up at a bad time. I'd just left a friend's house near the Massachusetts border. That part of Rt. 93 is always busy and to make it more interesting there's a lot of construction going on. Really did not want to pull off the side of a busy highway in a construction zone.

Fortunately my friend had given me some waste veggie oil he was saving. Unlike the veggie stored in the back of the van, it was at room temperature and liquid. The veggie tank has to be hot before the veggie fuel will flow properly. Since the veggie my buddy gave me was already liquid it didn't take too long to get to operating temperature.

Once the engine started to sputter I said a quick prayer, crossed my fingers and flipped the switch for the veggie tank. The engine stopped sputtering and slowly picked up speed again. It was less than a minute before we were back at full highway speed. Thanks to having two fuel systems the van made it back home without any more problems.

Now all I need is a bit of nice weather to work on the van. I am making progress getting the crud out of the diesel tank. For a while it was so dirty the sending unit plugged about every 10 miles. Now it takes hundreds before it clogs up. It had been long enough that I'd thought the problem solved. Oh well. I'm keeping my tools and 12volt compressor in the van.