Saturday, April 29, 2017

The business of living

A household takes a certain amount of personal attention to keep things going. When you are kid there's a lot of stuff you never think about. Even if you grew up doing chores, some things never occurred to you. When you become an adult you learn that not only does the house need to be cleaned, you are responsible for the cleaning supplies. The soap, the towels, scrub pads, broom and mops, all that stuff doesn't just magically show up. Not only do you have to figure out what supplies you need, you have to earn the money to buy them too.

That's one more indication that you are an adult. Hardly seems fair to work hard to earn money to buy supplies to do housework you'd rather avoid. However, as a fully functional adult, you shoulder the burdens and move on.

It's when you aren't fully functional is when you realize just how much work goes into this day to day stuff. My leg's been gimpy for about 2 months now and it's really slowed me down. It wasn't too bad when the the weather was terrible out and those outside jobs had to wait. Now that the snow's mostly gone it really hits home how much there is to do.

Yesterday my lovely wife was outside doing work with a shovel and rake. I was able to do some of the heavy lifting for her, but could not stay on my feet for long. She has chronic medical conditions and has only so much energy. When she came in she had to lie in bed to rest up before taking a shower. At least I was able to bring her her dinner as she curled up on the couch to watch British murder mysteries.

As people get older they have a couple of ways of dealing with things. If they have some extra money they can hire people to do the necessary chores. Sometimes they have extended family living under the same roof and the young folks pick up the slack. The last alternative is to greatly downsize. At the end of his life my dad was perfectly happy to live in a retirement community in a trailer. Someone else mowed the lawn and took care of the pool. He had a lost less stuff to fuss with. That gave him more time to shoot pool with his buddies.

My home out in the woods requires a few more things than a city apartment. I'm responsible for everything from electricity to water, to sewer. Wood heat takes extra effort. Heck it takes about 40 minutes to brew a pot of coffee. I have to stoke the woodstove and get the old style peculator up to temperature. At least I'm not running down to the well with a bucket for water first. While the pot is heating up I might use that time to roast the coffee beans for the next day's coffee.

While my home requires more attention, it provides independence, promotes self-reliance, and is a lot less expensive.

My injury has given me insight on what my elderly future could look like. I'm going to be a busy old dude if I'm not careful. The house was a good size when we were raising kids. Now I can the attraction of living in a 20 foot yurt, or a 30 foot sailboat -or both. Anything I build now I'm going to have at least half an eye on how much effort it's going to need to keep it going. There is much to be said for a more minimalist lifestyle. That doesn't mean I'm going to get of my house, at least not yet. I am going to focus more on long term use of things. Well, that and I'm not going to sweat about the projects neither of us has the energy or will to deal with right now.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dealing with stuff

Well, I finally got hold of an oral surgeon, and it's the close one -50 miles away. It will be almost a month before they can get me in for a consultation. That doesn't sound like they are too keen to do the job that day. However, they were quick to point out that it was going to cost me $150 for that meeting.

Good thing I got in before the college students are let go for the summer. They keep the dentists going full blast through their summer vacation. Those young people want to take full advantage of mommy and daddy's dental insurance while they still qualify. Can't really blame them for that.

The bills for my hospital visit started to come in. The first bill was from the lab. They give me a discount for paying out of pocket. Between that discount and credit for on-time payment, the cost is cut almost in half. Here's there weird thing. If I had insurance they would have charged me 100%. Since my insurance had a $6000 deductible, it might be cheaper for me this way. Our National sick system makes no sense.

The bum leg is really starting to get to me. When I spend too much time on my feet, the leg swells up and gets uncomfortable. Then it's time to lie down with my foot in the air again. Can't get anything done.

At least the weather is nice. My lovely wife and I got to sit in the sun with our coffees this afternoon. The osprey are back at the lake and I heard a loon the other night. Things could be worse.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One thing at a time please

Life is interesting sometime. My leg injury is slowly getting better. The harsh antibiotics seem to be helping. A steady diet of probiotics and yogurt is keeping the innards from being too messed up.

Of course, in life, there's no rule that you have to deal with just one thing. Sunday night one of my teeth broke. There is nothing like a toothache to focus the mind. All day Monday I called around trying to get in to see a dentist. That's when I discovered there is no emergency dental services in the North Country. I managed to get an appointment for Tuesday afternoon.

There was a time on Monday when it hurt bad enough that I was tempted to do what my grandfather did back in the day. He pulled his own teeth with pliers and a shot of whisky. Never saw a dentist in his life. He was a tough man.

So I get to the dentist. He examines me and takes an x-ray. Then we talk. The tooth was in pretty bad shape. I figured it was beyond saving this time. He agreed that made sense. All I wanted was for him to pull it. He said he didn't dare because of my “massive jaw.” Guess he doesn't treat too many Neanderthals. So one out of pocket visit later I'm left with contact info for oral surgeons.

On the bright side, he said the antibiotics I'm taking for my leg should knock out any bacteria associated with the bad tooth. The pain should lessen. It appears he's right about that as it's down to a dull ache. As long as I'm careful how I eat and drink I can live with it for now.

It's another cool rainy day. On the bright side, the ice has finally melted off the lake. Snow has been reduced to random piles in shady areas. The veggie van is running and handling better than it has in some time. I'll take what I can get.


Saturday, April 22, 2017


The good news is that the van has been fixed and passed inspection. The garage is closed until Tuesday so I can't pick it up until then. No biggie. It sat for months so I won't need it in the next few days. It will be nice to have a second vehicle handy.

My physical repairs, on the other hand, aren't going as well. I was going to skip the follow up at the doctor's, except my leg really wasn't getting better. The antibiotics helped for a while, but then the leg actually started to look worse.

As it turned out the antibiotic didn't knock out all the different types of bacteria. Now I'm on a new antibiotic for the next two weeks. Really hope this works, as if it doesn't the doctor wants to send me to a wound clinic. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. The only thing to do is to follow this through to the end. To take stress off the leg I've started a serious weight loss program. Before the injury I was able to carry my weight because I was active. Once injured, it has become much harder than it should to get well.

I will beat this challenge, like the others in the past. One thing about getting older, you understand how to deal with a long hard struggle.

The financial hit from the medical stuff is a bit discouraging. I've been making extra effort in an attempt to bring in some more cash. A simple medical problem sets that back. However, I've decided to budget a reasonable amount and make monthly payments until it's dealt with. Not going to break the bank over this. Life goes on.

My lovely wife and I drove down to MA to visit my oldest daughter and her family. I've missed them so felt it was worth the effort. Good to get out on the road, even for a relatively short trip to the next state. It's also good to see what spring looks like. There are leaves in the trees down here. It's still late winter home north of the White Mountains. We typically have spring weeks later and winter weeks earlier. Good thing summer in the North Country is so magical. I expect to be well to enjoy it too!


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Word from the garage

The nice lady at the garage called to let me know what the damage was going to be on the veggie van. As I suspected, not cheap.

The belt noise was caused by two different issues. One was the tensioner wheel. The second was caused by one of the alternators seizing up. Yes, the van has two of them. It started life as an ambulance before I turned it into a camper van powered by waste veggie oil. Medical equipment puts a lot of demand on electrical systems, so that's why two alternators.

The garage wanted to know if I wanted to go with just the stock alternator or to replace the second one too. They needed to know which belt to get. It took only a moment to decided to keep both alternators. The camper conversion has things like electric coolers and a microwave that draw a lot of power. Also, sometimes power tools are run off the inverter. Not a place to cheap out.

To pass inspection it needed some running lights changed and a directional light rewired. The most expensive item on the list was two new rear tires. I'd purchased those tires in South Carolina about two and a half years ago. They weren't too expensive, but they weren't that great either. Never liked the handling. They didn't perform badly enough to justify replacing them, but I kinda wanted to.

The whole thing came in just under a thousand dollars. Ouch! Well, I'd rather pay my local mechanic than some stranger on the road somewhere. I'm going to need that van to haul building materials and to tow boats.

We plan on doing a lot of camping in the van this year. We already have a week booked this summer on the coast of Maine. That van will probably be our home for a good part of the fall and winter. Might as well have it up to snuff. Fixing the van is a lot cheaper than heating the house in the winter.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Winter Damage

The snow and ice have melted down enough to access our winter damage.

My boats were not properly covered for the winter. Before I could get the covers on, I got a really nasty cold. While sick the storms moved in and buried the boats in snow and ice. That bothered me all winter and into the spring. How bad was the damage?

The homemade 12 foot scow suffered the worse damage. The cockpit filled with ice and it cracked one of the side panels. Fortunately, because I built the boat, I know how to fix it. The damaged material has to be cut out and new materials glassed in. Since the boat is going to need work anyway, it will be a good time to strengthen other parts. I'm also going to install another deck plate to make it easier to reach things in the cabin. There might even be enough materials kicking around the house so the fixes should be inexpensive.

My lovely wife cleared water and ice out of the Oday 19. So far I've found two problems. Something banged into the mast light, cracking the cover. Next week we are going to be at the coast of Maine so I'll be able to shop at a marine supply. The light was a cheap one and I've been wanting something of better quality anyway. This is a good excuse to upgrade.

I suspect the charge controller for the solar panel is trashed. It was mounted in a compartment that got flooded. The controller was installed in a splash proof case, but splash proof is not water proof. It wasn't designed to be submerged for a few months. I've a charge controller left over from another solar project that should work out just fine. There may be a way to mount it in a drier area. On the bright side it looks like the bilge is dry, so that's a good thing. All the flooding was restricted to the cockpit and an outside compartment.

Then there was the van. It was frozen in place most of the winter. Occasional I'd start it up and let it run for a while. During those test runs it's been making a lot of squeaking noise from the belt area. The Ford 7.3 turbo runs just about everything from one massive belt. Any of the components powered by the belt could be at fault. If I'm lucky it will just be a tensioner wheel. That would be the cheap fix.

The van also needs to pass inspection. I told my mechanic to fix the squeak and anything it needed to pass inspection. However, if he finds a problem that's going to cost thousands of dollars he should call me first. That's not the sort of deal I'd recommend you make with just anyone. We've done business for years and this guy is trustworthy.

My banged up leg is taking its own sweet time healing. Then again, I'm pushing it a bit, trying to get stuff done. Then my leg starts throbbing and rest is needed. As the weather improves I'm getting anxious to knock out some projects.

Of course, the lake is still frozen. There's only open water around some of the edges and by the inlet. There is still piles of snow here and there around house. Such is life in the North Country.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Back to Plumbing

I'm feeling well enough to get into jobs I don't like. Not sure if that's progress.

One of my toilets was leaking water from the tank to the bowl. It wasn't a lot, but it bothered me. I'm very sensitive to the working systems of my house. It used electricity to run the pump, was a waste of water, and caused unnecessary wear and tear. Another concern was the septic system. Too much water in the leach field can cause it to fail. With the spring snow melt and rain, there's already a lot of water to deal with.

I tried to do some quick repairs. Lesson one: universal flapper valves are not universal. The first one I bought didn't work. Lesson two: even the correct style might not form a perfect seal.

One of my Christmas gifts was a gift card from Lowes. It was enough to buy a complete replacement kit for all the workings in the tank. I was done messing around with sub-par parts. I thought the kit worked reasonably well. That is, until I turned the water one and the bathroom floor was covered in water. It turned out the bolt gaskets that came with the kit just did not work on my toilet. Fortunately, the old parts were still good, so I didn't have to run to the hardware store.

Toilets are pretty basic with a lot of parts in common between different makes and models. Unfortunately, there is just enough variation to cause problems. They are also built cheaply. When the original parts were removed it came as a surprise to see how poorly they were made. All the metal parts were rusty and the plastic parts brittle and weak.

Toilets are one of those things you want to just work. When you think about it, though, there's a lot of stuff that has to function properly for it to do its job. There's a bunch of moving parts in a wet environment. Water and sewage systems have to be functioning. In the case of people with water pumps, the electrical systems must function too.

It kinda made me long for the simple composting toilet I had on the sailboat. It didn't use water, power, or need a holding tank. In an emergency situation a simple Luggable Loo bucket style toilet is fine. I built my own for my first sailboat using a bucket, a toilet seat and some scrap lumber. There was very little odor, and believe me, in a small sailboat there is no place to hide from foul odors. What smell there was mild and earthy.

Having some kind of bucket toilet is a good idea for emergencies. It's easy to build a nice one. Plans are all over the Internet. If you don't want to do that you can often buy simple ones from big box stores for less than $20. Peat moss or coconut husk works well to cover up the deposits. If you don't have that, sawdust or even kitty litter will do.

Modern flush toilets are nice, but a major failure point in an emergency. Sanitation is important and a backup plan is a good idea. In the old days, everyone had an outhouse -and they were disgusting. Wastes are broken down by anaerobic bacteria, and the gases generated are nasty. Composting toilets use aerobic bacteria and the process is much more nose pleasant.

Toilet issues are something most of us don't like to think too much about. However, like they say in the kids books: everybody poops.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To the Hospital

Last Saturday, after a sleepless night due to leg pain, I asked my lovely wife to take me to the hospital. While I thought my leg was slowly healing, it was taking longer than it should. Going the the hospital is a big deal for me. First of all, I hate to go there. Sometimes once you get into the system they never want to let you go. There's some bad history between the medical profession and myself.

The second major consideration is the fact that I don't have medical insurance. When I told the emergency room receptionist she didn't even blink an eye. She just made a note of it and handed me a large booklet explaining their assistance programs.

Fortunately, the ER doctor on duty was one of the few I respected. Long story short, after an exam, some x-rays and new bandage, they let me go. The doctor wrote a script for antibiotics. It cost $19 for the antibiotics and a new bottle of acetaminophen. The antibiotics are really speeding up the healing process. Seems like it's worth it.

Now all I have to do is wait for the bills to come in. Of course, when I had medical insurance there was a $6000 deductible, so that wouldn't have helped me. Add to that the couple of thousand of dollars I didn't spend on insurance and I'll be ahead of the game. Anybody in other civilized countries would have gone to the hospital a month ago. Only in the United States do we put off medial treatments.

My insurance would not cover me outside of my state. That means for up to half the year my insurance would do me no good at all. We really have the worse of all systems -if you aren't rich, that is.

My parents had what was considered good medical insurance. In spite of that, when my mother came down with cancer, uncovered expenses bankrupted them. Years later when my dad passed away from cancer, he died broke. In fact, it cost me some money to give him a proper burial.

Personally, I'm not afraid of bankruptcy. Yeah, my credit rating would be shredded, but credit is only necessary if you need to buy stuff. I'm pretty good at living a minimalist life.

I'm glad I'm getting better as we've are finally getting some decent weather. It's actually hit 70 degrees the last couple of days. The snow pack is finally melting. In a few days I should be able to get my van out of the ice.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Coffee Shop Tour

I'm looking forward to getting the old motorcycle back on the road. The 1974 -900 cc Kawasaki will not look pretty, but as long as it runs that fine with me. I'd like to do a coffee shop tour of New England with a friend or two. In my younger days I might have done a brew pub tour, but I'm supposed to be wiser now.

Maybe I'll fit in just one brew put between coffee shops.

Over the winter I've been slowly gathering parts that I need to fix the bike. Also discovered the source of an electrical problem the bike had. Years ago I made a quick field repair while on a trip, then promptly forgot about it. The hasty repair was not meant to last for the years I drove with it that way.

Once the snow is gone I'm going to get my boats in order. I had hoped to get some of that sorted out in the fall, but early snows put a stop to those plans. As I type there's a new LED bow light sitting next to the computer. It's begging to be installed, but the boat is buried in snow and ice.

The deck on the house needs replacement. A new dock needs to be built. Warm weather better get here soon.

I'm also waiting for a big stack of paperwork to hit my desk. When it does I'm going to have to disappear into that for a while. Not fun, but sometimes you have to take care of business. Hope to get that stuff sorted out so I can get back to play time.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

More Ice and Snow

One of the best decisions I made going into the winter was to buy really good snow tires. Last night I came home driving over a mix of snow and ice. It was slow going, but no problem.

It's funny to get a mailbox full of seed catalogs when the yard is buried in snow. My van is sitting in 8 inches of ice with three feet of snow piled in front of it. Of course, a good warm week, and a bit of rain could change everything. Ice usually leaves the lake by the third week of April. It might do so again this year, only because February was so warm, preventing much ice build up.

I'm refraining from talking about politics. Within a year things will have sorted themselves out one way or the other, no matter what I say. All I can recommend is to prepare for interesting times.

It's been an odd winter for me. It's been many years since I spent the whole winter in the North Country. The last time was to help a family member who was going through an rough patch. Between illness and injury I didn't play outside much. Many days I didn't go much further than the wood pile.

On the plus side, we spent a lot of quality time with friends and family. Really strengthened bonds with the tribe. Also got some work done. In a few days I should have some idea what kind of return I'm going to get for my efforts. Hope it's been worth it. However, it looks like the gig I'm going to do in early May will definitely be worth my effort. There will be some “extra” money coming in. As if money is ever extra.

Within the next day or two I'll be plugging away at another project. There are some time pressures on that one, so posting might disappear for a bit. However, I'm hoping to be able to squeeze in more of it. At least during my blogging hiatus I actually really did focus on taking care of business. It wasn't nachos and Netflix time.

Stay well.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Between Projects

I'm taking a short break between projects, so I thought I'd return to this blog and let everyone know it's still alive.

The work I've been doing is pretty much “on spec.” For a guy who was raised in a blue collar world, that's a weird way to work. I grew up with an understanding: you agreed on so much an hour, you put your hours in and got paid. This new kind of work just feels weird to me. On one hand, it feels like I'm working for nothing. By the time money does come in, (if it does) there's enough time between the work and paycheck that they don't feel connected. Maybe if a few more paychecks come in, it won't feel so weird.

Anyway, we started the month with another foot of snow. Spring is taking its own sweet time here in the North Country. On the bright side, we won't be going into summer with drought conditions. Once this snow melts, it's going to be pretty wet.

My leg injury is still not fully healed, but that's not uncommon for this type of injury. I'm at the point where I feel good enough to overdue it. Then the next day I'm lying around recovering. This could take a few weeks yet. One thing this injury has done is kept me here in New England. A long drive to the sunny south is not in the cards right now.

I've been reflecting on some of the dichotomies in my life. At home I tend to live in comfortable clutter. There are book and magazines everywhere. Projects in various stages of completion are scattered throughout the house, and the whole property for that matter. Dishes might pile up in the sink There is a lot of stuff and things lying around.

On the other hand, I'm very comfortable with a minimalist lifestyle. I can go camping or boating with a bare minimum of gear. It doesn't bother me to live out of a small backpack for long periods of time.

Some people feel smothered by clutter. It hardly bothers me at all. Others freak out by a minimalist lifestyle but others find it liberating. For me, it's not about the clutter or the minimal. It's how they suit what I want to do. Having a lot of stuff around is handy when creating. I can put my hands on reference books, tools, materials -whatever I need. When traveling, it only makes sense to travel light. It's about the experiences and having more than what's necessary gets in the way of that.

I've been looking for a replacement for the small computer I lost in the shipwreck. It took some searching, but something turned up that fit my needs. Right now I'm using a tablet that runs Windows 10 and has a detachable keyboard. With the addition of an extra memory micro SD card, and a wireless mouse, it was good to go. The price was right, so I don't mind hauling it around with me everywhere I go. Should something happen, replacement costs won't break me.

I'm backing more of my stuff “in the cloud.” Actually, I'm using three different cloud storage companies as I'd hate to lose everything if a business collapses.

To sum up, my lovely wife and I are hanging in there. Back to the projects on Monday.