Thursday, November 30, 2017

Outliving my Culture

Cultures change and evolve. . . and pretty much disappear. I'm pushing 60, which gives me a good half century of being old enough to really observe the world around me.

I grew up in a mill town. Workers were heavily recruited from rural agricultural Quebec. They lacked the vocabulary for an industrial world, so they made one up. Between the ancient origins of the Quebec French Patois and the new words, it became a unique local language. It's different enough that local people going back to Quebec to visit thought the Quebecois spoke funny.

The Catholic church had a huge influence over the day to day life of people. Not only did they wield spiritual power, they had political power. One priest was annoyed that the trail would blow its whistle during his sermons. The priest had enough pull to get the railroad to reschedule the train.

Only a small part of the mill remains. The language is being spoken by fewer and fewer people. The Catholic church has been greatly reduced in size and power. The culture I grew up in is disappearing.

So what happened? My people learned English to get ahead and adapted to the larger American culture. While I'm proud of my origins, I don't regret that we've changed as a people. Adapt and survive. We'll retain a number of unique features, the stuff that we love and makes our lives better.

A lot of people are worried about immigrants coming in and overwhelming the country with their culture. If that happens it will be because the American culture is less attractive than whatever the new people bring. I'm not too worried about that happening. Historically, the United States was able to absorb huge numbers of immigrants.

Yes, new peoples influence our country, but it's mostly the good and fun things, like new types of food and drink. Also, we get some new holidays to party down to.

I've watched my culture change, but I've seen my people adapt and thrive. It's a trade off that most people are willing to accept. Even if they aren't, it's what usually happens. The transition can be easy or it can be hard, but it's going to happen.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Without a Boat

It's not that we don't have a boat, it's that we aren't towing it down to Florida with us this winter. It was a hard decision, but we are fairly sure we are leaving the sailboat home. I say fairly sure because we've been known to change plans suddenly and without notice.

The main consideration is the sketchy situation of Florida waters right now. Maybe we are being too cautious. Then again, there have been a lot of reports of debris in the water, new shoals, and missing markers.

Another consideration is that a lot of place we'd like to go to are not open yet. Some are scheduled to open during the winter or early spring. We don't feel confident about those places. Even if they do open, will they have everything up and running?

Since we aren't towing a boat, there are some places that will be easier to get into. Our van has good ground clearance so we can explore some interesting back country camping. We are well equipped for campsites with minimal facilities.

This year I'm bringing a complete solar electric system separate from the van's system. The van has a 105 watt panel mounted to the roof. I'm bringing along the solar electric system from the shed: 50 watt panel, deep discharge battery, charge controller, and 410 watt inverter. One of the things I noticed is that some of the off-grid sites are heavily shaded by trees. With the second system I'll be able to position it in the best place to get some sun.

Even though we aren't looking to bring the sailboat, we are water people. The inflatable kayak has been cleaned, repacked and ready to be loaded in the van. I've some new snorkel gear that I only got to use a couple times near the end of the summer. Most of our camping will be near some sort of body of water, be it river, lake or ocean.

We will be back on a sailboat eventually, one way or the other. Unless, of course, hurricanes wipe everything out all over again.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Taking charge of medical issues

A friend of mine has had a lot of problems with his neck. Nine years ago he had a neck operation that prevented him from becoming paralyzed. Unfortunately, now the doctor who did the operation is retired to Alaska. My friend is stuck dealing with a whole new group of doctors.

That's bad enough. His problems are compounded by our horrible insurance system. He's been to the doctors enough this year that he's paid his $5000 deductible. He drove a long distance to see a specialist while in great pain. The specialist wanted to do an MRI but the insurance wouldn't let him. (isn't that practicing medicine without a license?) It appears for all the world that the insurance company wants to wait for January when the $5000 deductible resets. That's the sort of thing that drives me crazy.

This past year I've had to deal with medical issues and paid totally out of pocket. It was worth it as I would not have gotten better on my own. I even recently went to the doctors to follow up. Now I know what things to watch out for in the future. This is the point where I decide what my future involvement with the medical system will be.

My doctor mentioned that he wants me to see a sleep specialist for my sleep apnea. Not gonna happen. I can't afford it and don't need it. Consumable parts, hoses, filters, masks, and headgear can be purchased on-line for a lot less money than what insurances are willing to pay. It's the exact same stuff. The machines themselves require a prescription so I can't get a new one. However, there are a lot of used machines out there. People get them and find they can't adjust to using them. They are free for the asking.

The machines have hidden settings for the therapist to set. Once I found out how to get into those, I was able to adjust the machines for my needs. It's a little know fact that therapists rarely dial them in perfectly. They can get into the ballpark, but informed users can fine tune them to work better.

Sometimes you need a doctor. Sometimes you are better off dealing with things on your own. Sometimes you can't afford a doctor and have to deal with things on your own. It's pretty disturbing that the so called richest country in the world cannot provide its citizens access to affordable health care.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Not Ready for the Old House

A friend of mine is getting ready to retire. He's going to be 60 soon. His son told me that his dad and mother are looking for a new house. That's not too surprising. After all, it's common for retired people to downsize or move to a warmer climate.

I found out they are looking to move less than 100 miles away. Since they have a lot of family in the area that makes sense. The thing that knocked my socks off is one of the main reasons for selling their house. It has stairs. Neither of them have any major problems with their legs. They just figure as they get older they won't want to climb stairs. That's more planning for old age than I care to contemplate.

My house has a lot stairs. There's also a considerable hike down to the beach. In the course of a normal day we do a lot of climbing. Should I too be looking to avoid stairs? Then I got to thinking, they have stair machines in gyms so people can get exercise. My stairs might be one of things I need to stay fit as I age.

Both sets of grandparents lived in houses with stairs. They hiked up and down them until they died. (no, they didn't die by falling down the stairs) Maybe it is a matter of using it or losing it? If you never have to climb stairs when old you lose the ability?

If you've got an injury that prevents you from climbing stairs that's one thing. If you are just looking to get out of work, that's something else. I think humans need a bit of struggle in our lives. We don't get stronger without effort and a bit of resistance.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Back in the woods

It was a great holiday with the family. We had a feast and then spent a few days together. I'm lucky that my family are the sort of people I'd choose to hang out with. We aren't just stuck with each other.

We even got to take the whole tribe to the Peabody Essex Museum. A good museum is one of the few things I miss living out in the country. They have excellent maritime displays. At one time Salem MA had the busiest harbor in the United States. The town wasn't just about witch trials.

We had friends watch Brownie the dog for us. It's been a couple years since she was left with someone for a few days. She was good, but didn't do much but wait for us. When she saw us she was vibrating with excitement. My lovely wife and I were happy to see her too.

The house was still in one piece when we got back, so that's a bonus. I'm going to be pretty busy catching up on things the next few days. However, I believe Sunday is a day of rest.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday

Black Friday is a wonderful opportunity. No, not to buy Christmas gifts. That's only a small part of it. The day of shopping madness is a perfect way to simulate the Zombie Apocalypse. The stores will be full of crazed people trying to snap up goods that are in short supply. It will be a crazy time, a violent time, a time of mercantile madness.

Sure, during this past hurricane season plenty of people got lots of practice stripping store shelves bare, but the rest of the country missed out. Black Friday is here for everyone. All you have to do is show up.

Personally, I'm going to employ the same tactics I plan on using during the collapse of society in a world without rule of law. I'm going to sit tight and avoid going out into the fray. The only way to win is not to play.

The sad truth is that most of the deals aren't really that great. Sure, there will be some loss leaders to get people into the stores. Is is worth risking life and limb to save a few dollars on some electronic gizmo? Heck, I don't even know what the “must have” gift is this year. Is there even such a gift this time around?

Instead of doing battle I'll hang out with my loved ones and chill. My Zen-like calm will be aided by large turkey, cranberry and gravy sandwiches.

You've been warned. Have fun, don't get hurt.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I hear a lot of horror stories about people who hate having to spend time with some of their less favorite relatives. Fortunately, my family gets along. It's a pleasure to be with all of them.

For me, it's all good company and good food. What's not to like? Most important, it's good to take a few moments and give thanks for the wonderful things in our lives.

Hope everyone has a safe holiday. If you have to drive, allow extra time and take it easy.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Life Without a Garage

I envy those who have large heated garages. Tuesday I had a brief weather window to work on the van. It needed a little bodywork to pass state inspection.

The day started in the teens and only got into the 40s after lunch. It's not exactly the best conditions for doing body work. I mixed in extra hardener to speed up the reaction in the body filler. After it set a couple hours, I sanded and slapped some paint on it. Is it a great job? No, but it's a good enough job to pass inspection. Next summer I can do a pretty job if it bothers me.

Right now my kitchen has been taken over by our 14 foot inflatable kayak. With freezing rain and snow in the forecast, we couldn't clean it outside. The main body of the kayak snakes around the kitchen like the corpse of a blue anaconda. The removable floor is hanging from clotheslines strung across the kitchen. When the kayak's dry it's going to be fun to fold it up and stuff it in the van.

It could have been worse. Not only did my lovely wife not complain about the mess in the kitchen, she did most of the kayak cleaning. Yep, she's a keeper.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Food Baskets

My lovely wife's church has a food drive for the Thanksgiving holiday. Most people go through their pantry and put together non-perishable goods for the donation. We looked over our food stocks and really didn't have the proper food to donate.

Most of our non-perishable foods are bought in bulk and require preparation. Nobody want's a 50 pound bag of whole wheat berries, 20 pounds of pinto beans, or a 20 pound bag of rice. What are they going to do with a #10 can of dehydrated green peppers? We have only a couple cans of veggies. The bulk of our stored veggies are either frozen or dehydrated.

Instead of donating food this holiday we donated time and a little cash.

It's these little things bring home the fact that we don't quite shop or eat like “normal” people.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Freezing rain and church dinners

Saturday night we got hit with freezing rain. I hate freezing rain. I noticed the power went out when my c-pap stopped working at 2:30 a. m.. The woodstove was going so there was no worry about the house freezing. I plugged my new 12 volt power cord for the c-pap into a car jumper battery pack. Then I went back to sleep. The grid was back up later in the morning.

Sunday morning the freezing rain had turned to just rain. By early afternoon it was windy with bursts of big heavy mashed potato snowflakes. If the snow amounts to much it would not surprise me if the power goes down again. Such is life in the country at the end of the power line.

My lovely wife's church put on a free Thanksgiving dinner Saturday evening. This year I noticed a couple of things. There seemed to be more people in actual need. The young man sitting next to me ate three plates full, three pieces of pie and took another full dinner and two pies home. I happened to overhear his mother say they don't have any food in the house right now.

Another thing that caught my attention is the number of people struggling with mental health issues. People are suffering. I can only guess at the reasons.

I live in the state of New Hampshire, which is doing better economically than most of the country. My county is no longer the poorest in the state. It's slowly crawling back from the loss of good mill jobs. So it got me thinking, if all these people are struggling in a fairly prosperous area, how bad is the rest of the country doing? Also, how many people have mental health problems?

If things are bad for these people now, how bad will it get when the economy takes another downturn? The business cycle is real and nothing goes up forever. Of course, it doesn't help that this last “recovery” did a lot more for the people who were well off to begin with.

Hang in there folks.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Travel Freedom

We have gotten used to freedom of movement. There aren't a lot of places in the world were people can't go. Even if you never travel far, isn't it good to know that you can?

Most citizens of the United States do not have passports. That sounds terrible until you consider how far one can travel in the US. Driving across the US is like driving across Europe. Of course, European citizens have pretty open travel now between European Union members.

All passports are not equal. For example, travel with a US passport is a lot easier than travel with a passport from Iran. Right now I believe the German passport allows access to the most countries without a visa.

We may have reached the peak level for freedom of moment. There are signs that travel is getting more restricted all over the world.

When I was younger going from the US to Canada was no big deal. I barely had to stop the car when crossing the border. Back then a driver's license and copy of my birth certificate were enough documentation and they rarely asked to see them. Now passports are required.

Since the refugee crisis and Brexit, European governments are looking into making border crossings more difficult.

As more countries face difficulties, travel bans will increase. There are plenty of reasons to restrict travel. For example, right now Madagascar is suffering a particularly virulent outbreak of plague. That's a pretty valid reason to tighten restrictions. Borders have been closed to keep out various refugees, everything from those fleeing political upheaval, to economic conditions to climate refugees.

Recently I read a scary Science Fiction story where internal borders were set up in the United States. Regions were completely cut off from each other. Various excuses were given, but the idea was to reduce the population of the country. Picture something like the hurricanes that recently struck the US. Now imagine if the only aid available is what could be mobilized locally. Heavily populated areas with limited agricultural land were starving. Places with disease outbreaks received no aid from outside and descended into anarchy.

Reading that book caused me to look at border restrictions around the world with a more critical eye. Are the reasons, valid or is something sinister going on? Restricting travel out of plague area makes sense. Restriction of aid going into an area would be pretty sinister.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Moving along

Good news about the van. While it wasn't cheap to fix, it is fixed. The starter has a lot more snap to it. The old one must have been weak for a long time. When something like that slowly loses strength over time, it's easy to not notice how bad it is.

The mechanic had some good news for me. He thought my rear brakes might need to be replaced before we headed south. However, we put a lot fewer miles on it than he thought we would. The brakes are fine. That's one less expense I'll have to do before leaving. All it needs now is some minor body work.

After getting the van back my first stop was at the hardware store to get spare keys made. I feel a lot better having backups.

Over the next few weeks I can move more stuff into the van. I'm going to load it up with a lot of waste veggie oil jugs. No sense burning diesel when I've got a good supply in the basement and the vehicle is modified to run on it.

The sailboat is covered with a huge tarp that's well secured. Good thing as now it's snowing pretty hard. I'm glad I won't have a cockpit full of snow this year. We are still unsure if we'll take the boat or not. With that in mind we removed some items from the boat, snorkel gear, life jackets, and other odds and ends. Since we are definitely taking the sea eagle inflatable kayak, we'll want all that stuff in the van.

Things are moving along.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Expensive Hiking Gear

There's a recent article in Adventure Journal about the high price of hiking gear. The author brings up some very good points. It's worth reading. Even accounting for inflation, basic hiking gear has gotten pricey. Apparently we can't look like bums out in the woods anymore.

Personally, I thought a lot of gear was expensive and unnecessary 40 years ago. Then again, I never had much extra money to waste. When everyone was going to expensive lightweight down jackets, I had a heavy wool coat. However, my wool coat was still warm when wet while a wet down jacket was pretty much useless. New synthetics are better in wet weather these days, but there are good enough versions and way too expensive ones.

One place I tended to spend a little more money was on my sleeping bag. A good night's sleep makes all the difference in the world. Even there, you can save a lot of money if aren't trying to shave every ounce off your pack weight.

That's another thing that bother's me. There's such an emphasis on light weight that other qualities are sacrificed. Durability is one of them. Ultralight gear that falls apart in the middle of the woods is no bargain. I'm also more inclined to add things that truly improve comfort and safety.

Don't get me started on trekking poles. These days people use freaking trekking poles to cross the street. They pay serious money for them too. I like a good walking stick and mine was free for the taking. If you really feel the need for treking poles, go to a garage sale and get some old ski poles then take the baskets off.

One of the things that makes ultralight weight hiking possible is the availability of resupply points. For example, the Appalachian Trail has many places along the way that cater to hikers. You don't need to carry much food if you can resupply often. Also, if your light weight gear falls apart, you can replace it in a day or two.

I've been thinking about hiking lately as my leg has been getting better. Thanks to being more active I've been losing a few pounds. By the time we get back from our winter travels, I'll be in better condition. While I have little desire to be an Appalachian Trail Georgia to Maine through hiker, I do want to wander off into the woods more. A lot of the places I'd love to see again don't even have trails so old style tough gear will be the way to go.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lost Key

I stopped in on my mechanic today to see if he had a chance to check out the van. It was going in the garage in a couple hours. He had planned on pulling it in on Monday, but the key was missing. He didn't remember the tow truck driver dropping the key off, but he and his office person looked everywhere for it. The tow truck guy could not remember what happened to it either.

As it turned out the tow truck guy set the key down on the flatbed and forgot about it. The key spent the whole day riding around, just sitting on the bed. Luckily it never fell off. That happens to be my only key for the van. I was just thinking that I needed to get some spares cut. My old keys are sitting somewhere on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico as they went down with the ship.

When I get the van back, my next stop will be at the hardware store to get spares made.

Normally I have spare keys hidden somewhere on my vehicles. Forget about those magnetic key hiders. Cars are half plastic now anyway. I'm not going to tell you exactly where I hide my keys, but I'll give you a hint. I hide them behind or inside a part of the car that you need tools to get to. You might need a screwdriver or maybe a good set of pliers. Usually I carry a multi-tool on me so with a little work the hidden key can be recovered. That's a lot more secure than a magnetic box under the fender.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Boat ideas for next year

I'm always thinking about boat stuff. I suppose there are worse hobbies -like thinking about other women.

Last summer we were just a little late finding out about a free for the taking 30 foot sailboat. Someone who lived closer got to it before us. Such is life.

There are free sailboats available all the time. The thing that made that 30 footer stick out was that it was in sail away condition. Usually free boats require some work before you can splash them. However, I have no regrets as that doesn't accomplish anything.

Since then my lovely wife and I have refined our boat requirements a bit more. We'd really like a boat that can be loaded on a trailer and hauled away. This past hurricane season showed us the value of being able to move out of harm's way at 60 mph. It was a wake up call to see how many so called “safe” places suffered extensive damage.

Another thing we really like in a boat is shallow draft. Most boats that can be towed have keels that can be raised for ease of loading. When sailing, being able to lift your keel and get through shallow areas is a handy trick.

Next spring would be a good time to search out free boats. They almost always need some kind of work. I'm pretty handy with just about all the jobs necessary to bring a boat back to life. What I don't know, I can find out. When looking at a “free” boat it's good to be able to get a ballpark estimate at what it takes to repair it. There's a saying that there is nothing more expensive than a free boat. There is truth to that. Often, however, the problems are more cosmetic than structural.

Often one of the big reasons people can't unload a free trailer sailor is that trailer is gone. You have to show up with your own trailer and be able to move it. Even if you have a trailer, being able to load a boat without a crane can be intimidating.

My existing boat trailer could probably, with some minor modifications, haul a boat up to four feet longer than mine. That puts nice little boats like the Oday 23 within reach. For anything bigger, I've a friend with a huge trailer he uses to haul heavy equipment. He'd probably want to help me load it and has the equipment to make it happen.

If we picked up a boat in the spring, we'd have months to get it seaworthy. One of the tricks to restoring old boats is knowing when to stop. The difference between serviceable and showroom is vast. For example, I could patch a hole and make an attempt to sorta match the rest of the boat's finish. A perfectionist ends up sanding everything down to the base and redoing the whole boat. The pretty boat will be no stronger than my patch job.

A free boat is only a bargain if you can get it sailing without going broke doing repairs.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I was watching a video clip where someone spent a week without interacting with anyone else. Basically he stayed alone in his apartment and had no electronic communication either. By the end of it he was going nuts. Apparently, most people don't do well with isolation.

A few years ago I struck up a conversation with a guy working on his dinghy on the beach. I complemented him on the quality of his fiberglass work, real professional. The guy was working part time, off the books, doing glass work for a marina. One of the reasons he wasn't working full time was because of his prison record.

Okay . . .

It all started when he was away from his boat for a couple weeks. In his absence the town declared his boat derelict, impounded it, then had it crushed and sent to the landfill. When this guy got back and discovered everything he owned was destroyed, he flipped out. Punches were thrown. He was sentenced to three months in prison.

The guy was not a model prisoner. Soon he ended up in solitary confinement, which suited him just fine. He spent the rest of his sentence there. As a sailor, he enjoyed many weeks on long passages alone, and loved it. Being alone is prison was preferable to dealing with the general population.

Personally, I enjoy time alone now and then. One spring I spent a week hiking alone in the mountains and did not see another person the whole time. It was a great way to clear my head and get some serious thinking done. After my little adventure I made some important life decisions. The time alone was very good for me.

Everyone is wired differently. Some go nuts, some have a relaxing vacation.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Eleventh Hour

Nothing like waiting for the last minute to pull the boat from the lake.

The wind storm broke the rope that was holding the raft. I had to fetch it from halfway down the lake. The little electric trolling motor had no difficulty pulling it back home.

If you look closely at the far shore you can see a light coating of snow. The mountains in the distance are the White Mountains.

My van is in the shop so my daughter and my son-in-law came up with their truck to help me pull the boat. I stayed nice and dry until it came time to put the boat on the trailer. It got hung up on the skids so I had to wade out to move it. I'm not saying the water was cold, but there was ice forming on the north side of the lake. It was very nice to be able to climb into a warm truck.

It was sunny and the temperature got up into the high 30s.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Greater Middle East War -and you

It's looking pretty dicey in the Middle East right now. Saudi Arabia is in the the middle of it. Tensions are increasing with Iran. Military action is being taken against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Don't forget that the Saudis are stuck in a quagmire against Yemeni rebels. That has turned into a huge humanitarian crisis. In the recent past Saudi tanks have moved into Bahrain to quell unrest.

They are a very busy kingdom right now. The arrest of prominent businessmen and royals reveal deep internal strife. I can't even begin to figure out what's going on inside the kingdom. All I know is that there's a huge power struggle in motion.

Don't forget that the war in Syria goes on, with US and Russian involvement. Now that ISIS has been greatly reduced, cracks in the alliance that defeated it are apparent. Looks like the Kurds are going to get screwed again, but that's a long standing tradition in that part of the world. Turkey is rapidly slipping away from being a democratic secular country to a religious dictatorship. They are openly courting Russia, making the Turks a very uncomfortable US ally.

So what's the average Joe supposed to do about it? We have to keep our eyes open. If conditions slip into all out war, expect the oil supplies of some major producers to be shut off. Russia would benefit from a spike in oil prices -maybe. Oil crises generally cause stock markets to plummet. A steep reduction in economic activity could greatly reduce the demand for oil. Things get complicated.

For people outside the Middle East, the biggest effects will most likely be economic. That's what the average Joe should plan for -with a likely energy shortage added in. Don't forget that energy is tightly connected to food production and distribution. Personally, I just took a quick inventory of my beans, rice and wheat supplies.

Right now I still plan on traveling. However, if everything falls apart before we leave, staying home makes the most sense. I'd top off the fuel oil tank, get more fuel for the woodstove, and top off any other supplies.

However, the current plan is travel south in January. Since we'll be traveling in the converted ambulance/motorhome, we have the option of burning waste veggie oil. Between the huge diesel tank, the veggie tank, and many 4.5 gallon jugs of veggie, we have great range. Also, I carry a 12 volt pump for gathering veggie oil from restaurant grease bins. I think we should be able to make it home. Did anyone else notice that during the hurricane evacuations, gas stations quickly ran out of gas, but still had plenty of diesel?

Am I going to panic? Nope. Panic doesn't solve any problems. What I'm going to do is to keep my eyes open and plan accordingly.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Snow and Cold

I am very glad I didn't try to replace the van's starter by myself. Friday morning I woke up to a blanket of snow, temperatures in the teens, and forty mile per hour winds. Nearly froze to death helping the tow truck guy load the van.

We suddenly went from summer to winter. My lovely wife is cooking soups on the woodstove. The wind's supposed to increase tonight and temperatures are going to drop into the single digits. That's not wind chill, that's the actual temperature. With wind chill the temperature is “Oh God why have you forsaken us?”

The bad news is that with the van out of commission, I couldn't pull the sailboat out of the water. Next week they predict it's going to be warmer. Should have the van back by then. If I don't my daughter has offered her pickup truck. One way of the other it's coming out soon.

I was pretty busy digging a trench for my water line so less critical projects got pushed back. If I hadn't buried my supply line it would have been frozen by now. I have my fingers crossed that the frost won't go too deep before we leave in January. The snow should melt next week. I've got some salvaged insulation that I'll put over the line and throw some more dirt on top.

During the cold months we tend to gravitate towards the kitchen woodstove. My lovely wife and I move our laptops to the kitchen table and keep the kettle on all day. If we were to spend the whole winter here it would be tempting to move a bed downstairs and shut the top floors of the house. However, it's more fun to spend the winter traveling to warmer places.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Odds and Ends

After working a bit more on the van I came to the conclusion that the starter failed. I probably could change it myself if I really had to, but I don't have to. The van's parked on an incline and up against a wall -pretty tight. Instead I'm getting it towed to my mechanic. There are other projects that need my attention.

Of course, one thing leads to another. I ordered a pallet of fireblocks for the woodstove. Normally the guy drops them where my van is now parked. He was able to unload them on the other end of the driveway by lifting the whole pallet over the wall. The guy really knows his stuff. In the end the blocks aren't much further away than normal.

I also have a good dolly for moving stuff around. If you ever have to move heavy things, get yourself a good dolly. You'll never regret it. As I get older I like mine more and more. When one of the tires got a flat, I changed them over to airless tires that can't go flat. That was another good investment. Nothing more annoying than moving things around a construction project and picking up stray nails.

Another super useful tool around the house is a good quality contractor style wheelbarrow. I've had mine for many years. It's on it's third set of handles and a second wheel. I throw a little paint on it now and then to keep the rust away.

With all the replacement parts it reminds of the story about old guy and his ax. Guy says he's had the same ax for fifty years. Changed the handle six times and the head twice.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Van Projects

Having a mini-motorhome that was once an ambulance can be a lot of fun. It's less fun is when you have to work on it. The Ford van part and the ambulance part are not a perfect fit sometimes. There's a secondary battery to help power the ambulance area. Even since I've owned the vehicle I've been unable to access that battery.

Finally, I got fed up and decided to make a big hole. I tried to cut a new door in the side of the van. The box is built of very heavy duty aluminum. My grinder burned out before the job was done, so my reciprocating saw finished the job. That's when I discovered the battery was housed in another heavy duty metal box that was welded to the floor. There was no way to get to it from the hole I'd just cut.

It did give me a better chance to look the situation over. It might be possible to get to it from inside the van. I could see the backside of big air filter box. There's a huge air filter for air in the cabin. When I get a chance I'm going to take that apart and see. Once I was done looking around I sealed everything up with a nice piece of aluminum pate. Doesn't look too bad.

Just to make my day perfect, the van would not start. My guess is that the starter is going. In case it was a low battery I cleared the battery terminals and put the charger on it. That's about the time I got tired of working in the cold and dark. It will be still be there in the morning.

While these issues are a pain, better to have them in my driveway than a thousand miles from home.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Making every watt count

In the bad old days of terribly expensive solar electric power, there were some tricks to keep power usage down. Now that solar electric is a fraction of the cost, most of those don't make much sense anymore. There is one trick that still has merit in a number of specific instances.

Here's the thing about solar electric systems. The panels generate DC power. Everything in your house runs on AC power. An inverter is used to convert that DC power, stored in batteries, into AC power that all your electrical stuff uses. Good sized quality inverters used to be terribly expensive. Even today, while there are cheap ones on the market, the better ones will cost some real coin. For most people, they are necessary.

Another disadvantage of inverters is that they are not 100% efficient. At best they run around 90%, but under some load conditions they can be much lower, around 50%. When you are counting every expensive solar watt, throwing half of them away was a terrible deal.

Most small solar panels run at the proper voltage to charge 12 volt batteries. That's pretty handy, as there are lots of things that run at 12 volts. When panels and inverters were expensive, many people set up their places to run totally on 12 volt. There are lots of things built to run on 12 volt, everything from radios to coffee makers. People even went to the trouble of buying 12 volt deep well submersible water pumps.

People who have small solar systems might want to consider taking a page out of the early days of solar. For example, my small sailboat doesn't have a lot of room to mount solar panels and store batteries. My van has only a 105 watts of power. The longer I can stretch those watts, the longer I can stay out.

You probably already have things like 12 volt adapters to charge your cell phone and tablets. My marine radio has a 12 volt charging option. I use 12 volt fans to keep cool. My small computer has a 12 volt charging option. Recently I even ordered a DC adapter for my C-pap machine. Not having to run the inverter saves energy. In fact, I can use a cheap 400 watt inverter for the remaining things rather than a more expensive larger inverter. Running directly on 12 volt, there is one less piece of machinery that can fail. An added bonus is not having to listen to the buzz of an inverter working.

Sometimes the old tricks find life in new applications.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pick and Shovel Workout

Tuesday night is my waterline burial deadline. That's when the temperature is supposed to drop to around twenty degrees Fahrenheit. That's too cold for an unburied waterline. After Monday's efforts I'm down to the last eight feet or so. I was debating on whether or not to push on and finish it. Then heavy rain moved in.

Since I was already feeling pretty beat it seemed like a good time to stop. Eight feet of digging doesn't seem like much, but it's tough going. There are roots that need to be axed, and rocks levered out of the way, so it's far enough. After a good night's sleep I should be able to finish the job in a couple hours.

Before my leg injury, the job would have done by now. Being laid up allowed me to get out of shape. It's these little projects that are slowly getting me back into condition. I've never been one to stick to an exercise program. They always seem like a huge waste of time and energy to me. Instead, I move heavy things, split wood, shovel, climb up and down hills, and generally get stuff done.

Then there's the stuff I do for fun, paddling, sailing, bicycling, fishing, hunting, swimming and other activities. Because it's fun, I'll do it for hours. Once I tried a rowing machine. Within minutes I was bored to tears. However, put me in a real rowboat and I'll row all day. It's different when you can feel the wind and the currents while watching the world go by. Put a trolling line in the water and it's even more interesting.

Digging a trench is a pain, but beats working out in the gym.


Monday, November 6, 2017

To Sail or Not to Sail

My lovely wife and I love to sail. Before the hurricanes that hit the Gulf and most of Florida, we planned on heading south after Thanksgiving. The idea was to tow the Oday 19 sailboat down and do a mix of sailing and camping.

Then the storms hit. We moved our departure date until after New Years. The idea behind the delay was to allow time for clean up and repairs. We've also taken a few areas completely off our travel radar. All in all, not a major change.

Right now I've been trying to find out exactly how bad things are in southern Florida. Marathon in the Keys is moving right along to getting back to business. Key West wasn't hit all that hard to begin with, but a lot of live aboards lost their boats. Many of them were pretty beat up to begin with and anchored in a marginal area. However, they were people's homes.

It came as a surprise to discover that almost all the marinas in the Miami area are still closed. Because of that I'm going to have to do some research to see who's open and who's not. While we don't like to spend much time in marinas, they are good places to get out of bad weather. Some I'm going to call on the phone to get the real story.

Boat traffic still isn't very heavy yet in Florida waters, so not a lot of information is making it to the sailing nets and boards. There are scattered reports of sunken wrecks, debris hazards, and missing markers. Some of those markers have been bent over, submerged, and have become dangerous in their own right. Navigational marker replacement was already heavily backlogged before the storms.

We are going to wait another month or so before making the final decision. If the boating situation still looks sketchy, we'll leave the sailboat at home. For some strange reason my lovely wife isn't too keen on losing another boat.

Worse come to worse, it will be a season of just camping. Enough campgrounds have reopened. There's room to bring the kayak along, so we'll get at least some time on the water.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Back to the Beginning

My lovely wife and and I have been traveling in the winter for a very long time. She was working as a hospital lab tech back then. They could not give her the months off that we needed every winter, so she'd quit her job. They always said they could not promise they'd hire back in the spring. We didn't worry about it and they always did.

We had bought a second hand Dodge Neon for one of my daughters to use when she went to school in Florida. After she graduated she wanted to buy a new car, so we were stuck with the Neon. It would not have been our choice for car camping, but it's the car we had.

I made some modifications. It already had a good Thule roof rack for our canoe. I added a small hitch so I could hang a cargo rack off the back. On the rack set a custom plywood box that contained most of our camping gear. It also carried a 12 volt deep discharge battery to run a 12 volt cooler and other electrical needs. The battery was charged off the car's alternator using a battery isolator.

That winter we did a lot of tent camping. One tent was huge with an attached screened in sitting area. The other was a small 4 season tent that we often used when just staying someplace for one night.

Dodge Neons are not known for being great cars, but ours never let us down. We traveled all over the Southeast that winter. We fell in love with the gypsy lifestyle.

By the second year we simplified a bit. Our load got trimmed back some. The cargo rack stayed home. I stuffed some of our gear into dry bags and tied them under the canoe on the roof. It worked just fine.

Now we have our comfortable converted ambulance/motorhome. However, we still occasionally load our gear in my lovely wife's little Nissan Versa hatchback and go tent camping. After all these years we still like tents.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Anybody Remember A-Frame Houses?

Whatever happened to A-frame buildings? There are still a few around, mostly as camps in the woods. I don't think I've seen a new one in a long time.

They are pretty simple. They really do look like a giant “A.” You have two pitched roofs that go all the way to the ground and the ends are closed off. That's it.

There are some advantages to the design. They are fairly inexpensive to build. Construction is easy. A small crew can put one together in a short period of time. They are great in places that get a lot of snow. The design is strong and snow slides right off the steep pitched roofs. If you have a cabin way out in the woods, that's a good feature.

Like anything else, they have disadvantages. Heat tends to rise and get trapped in the upper level, making a second floor super hot. Adding additional rooms on one is a pain and when you are done it's really not an A-frame anymore. My guess is that banks and those who issue building permits aren't very fond of them either.

I'm thinking knowing how to build one could come in real handy in an emergency. Being able to build a solid and simple shelter with limited resources is a good skill to have.

One of the guys I used to work with built a few of them as camps. During the winter of '68-'69 we got record setting snowfall. A lot of buildings collapsed under the snow load. Since the woods roads were impassable, people could not get to their camps to shovel off the roofs. A lot of camps were lost that winter. The guy with the A-frame buildings didn't have a care in the world and his buildings are still standing today.


Friday, November 3, 2017

More fun and games

So I'm doing a bit of laundry early in the morning and the “no water” alarm goes off on the washing machine. I run down the basement. The water pressure gauge shows almost zero pressure, but the pump is running full blast. I kill the breaker so the pump doesn't burn out, grab my tools and head down the well.

I always double clamp black plastic pipe connections. One good clamp should be enough, but I never trust them. Except, of course, when the second clamp breaks and I don't have a spare on me. Just this one time I should be able to get away with one, right? Wrong. The connection came loose, causing the pump to run nonstop, making a small whirlpool in the well. Now it's double clamped.

The pump churned up the water enough that it kicked silt up from the bottom. As soon as the pump came back on-line, it plugged the water filter. Should have let it settle, but my washing machine kicked back on soon as it had water again. Don't you just love those new computer driven washers? Good thing I keep spare filters handy.

Since it was raining, my lovely wife and I thought it would be a good day to run errands in town. That went pretty well, except it was almost impossible to find a replacement pick handle. Everyone could sell me a whole new pick, but finding just a handle was nearly impossible. Finally, the kid from one of the hardware stores was able to dig one up for me. Now I'll be able to finish the last little bit of water line trench.

During the height of the storm we discovered a small roof leak. Years ago I had a small section of the roof get damaged and now the repair let go. Apparently I wasn't the only only with a leak. Every store was out of the good patch material. I wasn't going to use the cheap stuff again, as that's what just failed.

Just another day taking care of the homestead.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Intermittent Internet

My Internet service keeps disappearing. That makes it hard to post on a regular schedule. Fortunately, the grid has held steady.

Some areas got hit really hard by the storm. Friends just a few miles from me were told it would be at least 17 days before they get their power back. Roads and bridges have been washed out.

In spite of the storms, I almost have my new water supply line completely buried. My grub hoe broke before we could finish the last bit of trenching. My buddy is going to weld it up for me.

I was able to make all the connections so that's set. I'd better post this now while I've still got a connection.