Monday, February 27, 2023

What’s up with Real Estate?

It depends where you are. Some properties have dropped by over 25% and that’s a crash by any measurement. Other places have dropped only a few percent. Some areas have no change at all. Currently the big price drop appears to be in new construction. Developers are making deals. 

One thing that’s clear is that we are in the early days of the price drops. There is very little demand at the current interest rates and prices. 

For me the really weird thing about real estate investment is that it’s an investment. Maybe we should stop looking at houses as financial instruments and look at them as places to live? I’ve done plenty of things with my property that supposedly hurts resale value. That means nothing to me as I’m not looking to sell. The things I’ve done are for my use, comfort, and enjoyment. Why anyone would be concerned about a hypothetical new owner is a mystery to me. 

There are a lot of things that artificially push up the cost of housing. I’m not against safety standards or anything like that. However, when you are prevented from building a tiny home because of zoning restrictions something is wrong. There are places that restrict the use of solar panels, rain catchment, gardens, outside parking and on and on. 

I wonder how much less homelessness there's be if we didn’t focus on the neighbor’s resale value? 

The ultimate expression of real estate as investment happens in China. They’ve built whole ghost cities where nobody lives. The only function of those properties is to get resold. There’s even a popular distinction in China between houses you invest in and houses you actually live in. 

I’m hoping this current downturn will refocus attention on what houses and apartments are actually for -places for living.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Winter Travel?

The last time my lovely wife and I traveled south for the winter was in 2019. We came home in 2020 in a big rush. Then we didn’t to far at all for a while.

Last year we were in Texas, but that was to help out my in-laws. It certainly wasn’t a our normal fun filled adventure travel. Instead of getting a crappy T-shirt we got Covid. Not my favorite winter trip. 

Here it is, the end of February and we’ve been in the frozen north the whole time. We were hoping for a late winter trip -at least as far south as South Carolina. It’s not looking good. In fact, an early spring fun adventure trip doesn’t look like it’s in the cards either. That could change, but I’m not holding my breath. 

There’s a chance my lovely wife might actually end up in Texas again to assist her folks again. That’s not a fun trip at all. However, we are trying to get some of her medical issues sorted first. Right now it’s more important that she take care of herself. 

As for myself I’m looking to schedule a doctor’s appointment sometime soon too. Now that I have Medicare I want to try it out and get me some of that sweet modern medical care. -but seriously, I need a prescription refilled. I’d also like to try some new medical devices for my sleep apnea. For a long time I’ve been using salvaged c-pap devices that I service and reprogram myself. It would be nice to get something new and maybe even see a doctor. Well, seeing the doctor part isn’t a high priority as long as I can get the equipment I need. 

Anyway, by the time this stuff is sorted out I might not want to leave the Great North Woods. It’ll be spring and good weather will be on the way.


Saturday, February 25, 2023

Garage Envy

Being a shade tree mechanic isn’t much fun in -11 wind  chill temperatures. Not only is it hard on the mechanic even the parts are more likely to break from the cold. That’s especially true for plastics. That’s why I’ve got a new shifter assembly sitting in kitchen instead of installed on the Chevy. 

I really envy those people with nice garages to work out of. None of friends and family have anything suitable to borrow either. My daughter had a really nice garage built but then sold the house and moved out of state. Dang. 

It’s a good thing I have two cars and don’t really need the Chevy right now. Unfortunately the weather doesn’t look that great for the coming week. When we finally get decent weather I might be involved in something else and won’t be able to take advantage. 

As much as it goes against my frugal nature I’m seriously considering talking to a local repair shop in town. If they quote me a price that’s not too terrible I just might bite the bullet and pay someone to do the job. With the proper tools and a lift it should take less than an hour. 

I’ve done car repairs in sub-zero temperatures before. Once I changed a water pump on a car parked outside my house in the street. After the job was done I discovered the replacement pump was defective from the factory. In the end I did the whole job twice. The things you do when young and broke. 

Now that I’m old and broke . . . 

Anyway, if the winds would die down and the temperature get closer to 30 I just might attempt it. 



Friday, February 24, 2023

More Medication Issues

Less than 24 hours before the big snowstorm my lovely wife discovered her prescription could not be filled. The local pharmacy “discovered” it would be 7 to 10 days before they could fill that type. My lovely wife needs these meds to have anything like a normal life. 

There was a mad scramble trying to get it refilled in a different town. That required getting the first pharmacy to release her order. It also required a new script from the doctor. Two hours before the pharmacy was set to close I received a call it was ready.

Then they quoted a price well over a thousand dollars. Yeah, that wasn’t going to fly. My lovely wife told them to apply the codes for a program she’s a member of. That reduced the price to a little over fifteen dollars. Huge difference. 

We made it to the pharmacy about a half hour before they closed and four hours before the storm hit. Almost every time she has to refill her order there are issues. The stress takes its toll.

As for the storm itself we actually didn’t make out too badly. We got about a half foot of light dry snow. That sure beats freezing rain, ice and wet snow. It’s sure a lot easier to shovel. 

I also got the part I ordered to fix the Blazer. Things are looking up.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Potassium Iodide Anyone? Everyone?

So the biggest land war in Europe since WWII has ground on for another year. It’s been interesting to say the least. Most of us expected to see Putin in Kyiv not Biden. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. 

So the question is, how desperate is Putin? His goals have not changed. Apparently some people are slow learners. 

Assume for a moment that the current Russian push does not go very well. Maybe the Ukrainian effort is really successful. They’ve pulled some big surprises in the past. Don’t sell them short. 

So what will a desperate Putin do? Will he actually follow through with his treats and go nuclear? I really don’t know, but I’m not afraid of the the rhetoric. Having grown up in the duck and cover age of the Cold War I’ve seen it all before. It seems every other week there would be a threat of global nuclear destruction. You can only maintain a level of high anxiety so long. After a while we’d shrug and go on with our lives. 

Personally, I can’t see Putin going the whole strategic nuclear weapon route. However, I see a less than zero chance that he might try one tactical battlefield nuke -just to make a point. He must know that going full out strategic war would be his death warrant. One nuke . . . he might think he can get away with that. 

I wonder if the Russian nuclear forces are as shabby as the rest of his military? Just a thought -and not one to bank on. 

What might be more likely is for the Russians to damage a Ukrainian nuclear power plant. They’ve put nuclear plants at risk before. It’s entirely possible that there would be a radioactive release from that sort of thing. It seems like the sort of “accident” that could lend itself to some level of deniability. 

With that in mind it might not be too bad an idea to have a few bottles of Potassium Iodide around for the fallout. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

It ain’t over yet

We’ve had a fairly mild patch of winter lately -with the exception of a couple of brutally cold days. Just to show how weird it’s been, we went from record cold to record warmth in the space of a week. That ain’t normal. 

Anyway, there’s a fair bit of snow in the forecast for the Great North Woods. I’m of two minds. In a way I’m pretty much over winter and wouldn’t mind more spring-like weather. On the other hand a decent snow pack helps prevent drought conditions. That makes a big difference. Just look at New Hampshire drought maps from previous years and the North Country does better than the rest of the state. 

At one time the Forest Service called Coos County “the asbestos county” as we have fewer and smaller forest fires. I’m sure deep snow packs were one of the reasons for that. 

Even with the predicted snowfall we are not having a particularly snowy year. That could change and March snows could bury us. Heck, April and May have been known to deliver significant snowfalls in the past. Of course, that was the past. Past performance is no indication of future results. 

Shoveling is just part of my winter exercise routine. Looks like I’m in for another workout. 


Monday, February 20, 2023

Some Days

Sometimes I’m too busy to blog. Saturday was one of those days. 

It had been a full day and I’d been looking to wind down for the evening. Then I got a text from my niece. She was driving my Blazer and she couldn’t get it into gear. We exchanged text messages but she still couldn’t get it sorted. Fortunately she was only a town away. 

She stopped at a gas station and was stuck. Good thing she was parked away from everything and not at the pumps when it happened. There was no figuring it out in the dark. In the end we transferred everything to my car and we came home. 

The rest of the evening was spent doing research on what the problem could be. Thanks to Google and YouTube University I had a plan. I’d suspected, and hoped, it was a simple linkage problem. Had the problem been in the transmission itself that would be the end of the Blazer. There’s only so much money I’m willing to put into a 2004 Blazer. 

In the daylight I was able to find the disconnected linkage and was able to make temporary repairs. It was a relief to be able to drive it home. New parts are on order. 

Since my favorite mechanic retired I find myself doing a lot more of my own repairs. If some untrained Bozo is going to work on it I’d rather that Bozo be me. There are garages I trust for some things but I really don’t have a general all around mechanic anymore. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and find a new guy I trust. 

 . . . but not today. 


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Feeding Everyone

Back during the Great Depression my mother’s parents fed everyone. Family, friends, neighbors -they fed a lot of people. 

My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who kept his mill job during the depression. It wasn’t a great paying job, but it was steady. My grandmother kept a huge garden and grew a lot of food. 

I’m old enough to remember the sizable shed-like building they had on their property. It housed an outdoor kitchen where my grandmother would cook her massive meals. There was a huge long table made out of old wooden doors and sawhorses. That’s where everyone would eat. 

Sometimes relatives would come down from Canada with food from their dairy farms. They’d also bring huge crates of salted fish. There were always huge mounds of potatoes -endless potatoes. 

My grandparents were far from well off. How they squeezed in all their kids into their small house was a mystery to me. They never owned a car. However, they shared what they had and took care of people. It’s just what you did. 

It was a depression, but you didn’t have to be depressed. By everyone sharing what they had they got by. From all accounts they kept their spirits up and had some good times. 


Friday, February 17, 2023

Tighter Belts

Interest rates are going up. That’s certainly putting the brakes on housing markets. It’s going to make borrowed money in general more expensive. I’ve seen it before. It’s been worse. When I bought my first house interest rates were around 16%. That sounds crazy high. However, I paid just $15,000 for the house. That’s not a typo. Sure, it was a small house and needed some work, but my monthly payment was less than $170. 

As conditions change there were be winners and losers. If you have the cash there’s going to be some good deals. We aren’t quite there yet. There’s going to be a lot of pain before the really good deals show up. By pain I mean things like bankruptcies, foreclosures, repossessions -rinse and repeat for a few cycles. Right now businesses and individuals are doing their best to hold on but not everyone is going to make it financially. 

In a couple years I expect to see some really good deals on used cars and I’m planning accordingly. Right now the prices on toys like boats and motorcycles are already softening. They toys are the first to go. 

Historically I tend to do pretty well during tougher times. I don’t have the right mindset for hopping on financial bubbles. Boom times don’t really benefit me much. When things get tight, that’s where I tend to do better as I can make my limited income do more for me. 

Of course, I’m no financial advisor. My finances have been messy from time to time over the years. There’s more to life than dollars and cents.


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Everything on the phone

Smart phones are amazing. Ironically the phone part is probably one of the weak links in all things they do. In reality they are powerful little computers. 

My beef is that they are used for more than they should be. 

Let’s take a simple example. Next to where I charge my phone I have a nice powerful rechargeable flashlight. The phone has a flashlight but that’s a poor way to use your phone. It’s pretty awkward to hold your phone in an upright position as a flashlight. It’s easy to drop it that way. A regular cheap stand alone flashlight is easier to use. If you drop it you aren’t damaging an expensive and fragile electronic device.

Then there are gadgets that are just silly. One those things that crosses the line for me is electronic meat thermometers that link up with your phone. Really? Do we need an electronic gizmo when a cheap stand alone meat thermometer works just fine?

Another one is automobile scan tools. I’m not a pro mechanic so the cheap $30 - $40 scan tools do most everything I need. They tend to be in shock resistant rubberized cases. I really don’t want my phone around heavy tools, grease, and fuels. 

If your phone is needed for everything you are big trouble when it breaks. You didn’t lose just a phone, you lost dozens of tools. 

Here’s a pro tip, carry around a small note pad and pencil or pen. You’d be surprised how much handier they can be than taking notes than on a phone. Personally, I feel a lot more creative writing on a pad than thumb typing on the phone. It also has the advantage of being able to jot down information and rip the page out to hand someone. Their are no issues with dead batteries. 

Smart phones are wonderful, but just because they can be used for everything doesn’t mean they should be.


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Collapse

Recently I was asked by someone when I expected the collapse to happen. 

Well that’s not a common question from most people. To put it into context I just happen to be storing a good amount of survival food for her husband. Their current space lacks the room but they are looking for something bigger. 

I both expect and don’t expect a collapse. It all depends on what you want to define as a collapse. Whole countries collapse, yet most of their people continue on. On any given day you can find areas of the planet going through their own local apocalypse. A day’s journey away and everything can be fine. 

Being prepared for natural and man made disasters is just prudent. 

So how about the whole planet experiencing a collapse? That could certainly happen. One day it will. I’m just hoping it’s millions of years in the future when the sun starts to burn out. 

There are definitely things that could set civilization back a long ways. We’ve come very close to strategic nuclear war and that would have been a collapse by anyone’s measurement. So far, we’ve dodged that one. Personally, in spite of everything going on in the world right now, I think we are further away from that possibility. At least we are less likely to do the unthinkable by accident. 

What do you do? The average person has very little influence on things like global disasters. What we do have is the ability to plan for the small collapses. That’s where things like stored food, water, and other supplies make a difference. It also helps to know when you should be down the road when an local apocalypse is about to happen. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Stuff Happens

I’ve been AWOL for a while. Stuff to do and to deal with. 

Things appear to have settled down a bit. My lovely wife, kids, and grandkids are well. My father-in-law’s health is a concern but he’s been moved to a better hospital -one with equipment, supplies and better doctors. Good thing my sister-in-law lives in the same state as her parents and has been able to take time off from work. There’s only so much my lovely wife can do from 2000 miles away. 

On the bright side it’s looking good for getting Medicare. It’s a process. I could stress about the way things have been going but it’s not like I expected things to go smoothly with Social Security. I had to laugh when I got a letter in the mail reminding me of my appointment -a day after the actual appointment. Fortunately, I was on top of things and didn’t need the reminder. It will be nice to have some sort of medical insurance again. 

There are also some things in the works that could improve our personal finances. I won’t know for sure for a few months yet but it’s occurring. We aren’t talking a huge pile of money but when you live pretty frugally in the first place it doesn’t take much extra to make a difference. 

So all in all, things aren’t that bad. Pretty good even. 


Friday, February 10, 2023

Rough Times

I’m avoiding specifics here to protect people’s privacy. 

We had a rough day recently. I had to take my lovely wife to the hospital all of a sudden. Fortunately that turned out better than it could have. 

That same day my granddaughter was locked down in her school for a mass shooter incident. Turned out it was a hoax, but that’s something you don’t find out until later. That was upsetting. 

Another daughter and her husband run a couple of Mediterranean restaurants. Some of their employees are from Turkey. They lost numerous friends and family in the earthquake. At least one employee can’t even go back to comfort survivors as he’s here on political asylum. 

Other friends and family are dealing with some heavy stuff too. Right now I’m feeling a bit emotionally wrung out. There are still things that I have to deal with and I’m moving forward. 


Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Fun with Medicare

I’m going to be 65 in a couple months. One of the neat things about turning 65 in the United States is that you can finally qualify for socialized medicine. Some people don’t like to call it that. Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night. 

Anyway, I’m not exactly a shoo in for the program. As far as Social Security is concerned I’m pretty much a ghost. The last time I paid into Social Security I was when I had a part time job when I was 18. I haven’t exactly contributed to the program.

Let’s back track a bit. First I tried to figure out if I qualified by going to Social Security’s on-line site. That didn’t get me very far. Then I went to an organization called Service Link that’s supposed to help people with these programs. After a couple of meetings they gave up and sent me to the Social Security office an hour away. 

At first they didn’t get very far. They had a hard time believing I didn’t have to pay into the Federal system because I was a firefighter covered under a state plan. That covered my retirement, but Medicare was not part of the deal. In later years firefighters were entered into the Medicare system, but I never was. 

It occurred to me that plenty of housewives, who’ve never worked outside the home, get Medicare under their husband’s contribution. I asked if I might get in under my wife’s contributions. They think that might work. However, they had no record that we ever got married. Don’t know how that happened. 

At any rate I had to go back to the SS office so they could make a copy of my marriage certificate. Of course, I was dealing with a new person and they had no idea what I was talking about. They couldn’t find any record of my application. Hey, it had been two whole days, so it’s no wonder we had to start from scratch. 

As it turns out my application is under my wife’s SS number. I’m still pretty much a ghost to them. 

Currently I’m scheduled for a phone interview at the end of the week. Let’s see how that goes. 

Personally, I think this is pretty amusing. One can’t take these things too seriously. Worse come to worse I can always do what I’m doing now: running up bills I can’t pay. What they heck, they can only ruin your credit once. After that you’re pretty much free. That’s one less thing to worry about. 


Monday, February 6, 2023

Frozen again?

I heard from a friend in Maine. While he got through the deep freeze in good shape, many of those around him didn’t. Their issues range from power outages, to furnace failure to lots of frozen and burst pipes. Then there were those who converted to heat pumps, only to discover the limits of heat pumps. In short, it can get too cold for heat pumps to work at all. 

My supply line froze again. The second time around around it only took about 30 minutes to thaw it. All the tools I needed were out and ready. 

It didn’t make sense that it would freeze again so I did a deeper inspection. It turns out the heat tape I put on the supple line had failed. It could have failed weeks ago but our temperatures were mild enough for it not to be an issue. There’s plenty of winter left so I’m replacing the heat tape. 

This cold snap got me thinking about Ground Hog Day -the tradition, not the movie. When I was a kid I always thought the six more weeks of winter was supposed to be the good outcome. Only six more weeks, what an early spring that would be! The ice doesn’t normally leave the lake here until the third week on April or so. Sometimes it extends into May. 

That doesn’t mean I won’t have my scooter out before then.


Sunday, February 5, 2023

Frozen supply line

I woke up Saturday morning to a frozen water supply line. It was -22 and the wind had been howling all night long. Dang. 

It took a couple of hours but I was able to thaw the line. It’s a process. The supply line is black plastic pipe so warming it with a torch is a bad idea. The pipe has a splice about 4 feet off the ground. It’s taken apart there and a smaller diameter hose is snaked down to the blockage. The other end of the hose has a funnel attached. 

A big kettle of water is heated up. The hot water is pored down the funnel and through the hose. The hot water slowly melts the ice blockage. The hose spewing hot water is slowly worked down the supply line until all the ice is gone. 

Once the ice is thawed the splice is reconnected and we are good to go. Then it’s safe to turn the well pump back on. 

Normally I only have to do this if the house has been shut down for part of the winter. At least I have a procedure that works. 


Saturday, February 4, 2023

So far so good

This blog post is being written late in the day on February 3. 

So how are we doing with the deep freeze? Overall, pretty good. 

Right now it’s -22, without the wind chill. During the afternoon the furnace had difficulty. In spite of running straight out the furnace was losing ground. That was due to the high winds combined with the cold. The wind was blowing from across the lake and not much slowed it down. As the wind died down the house became cozy again. 

As of this writing we still have the grid, so that’s a bonus. 

I didn’t venture outside. Frostbite takes about a minute to set in during these conditions. Saturday is supposed to be cold, but it’ll warm up Sunday. We’ll be back in the high 30s by then and that’ll be down right balmy.


Friday, February 3, 2023

Real Winter

First some good news. My relatives in Texas were just south of the ice line. My father-in-law was able to make it to his cancer treatment and back. 

Here in northern New Hampshire they are predicting -20 Fahrenheit. That’s about -29 Celsius for the rest of the world. The windchill is supposed to be about -50. Just to the south of me on Mt. Washington it will be -100. That’s colder than the average temperature on freaking Mars. (-81 F)

Thursday was a good day to run errands before the deep cold settled in. Cars don’t behave too well when it’s that cold. I’m perfectly happy to stay home. Why put extra wear and tear on my car when I don’t have to? Also, why put extra wear and tear on me. 

This sort of weather was a lot more common when I was a kid. I remember the occasional -40 day. Fahrenheit or Celsius, it doesn’t matter. 

Since my lung injuries I’ve been bothered by cold air. Long before the pandemic I was wearing face masks during cold weather. A good facemask made a big difference for my breathing comfort. These days I just sorta blend in. 

My main concern is about the wind. The last things we need is trees taking down power lines. 

On the bright side there’s much milder weather right behind this cold spell. 


Thursday, February 2, 2023

Ice Storms

I was watching the weather channels with a focus on the ice storms in the south central part of the country. My in-laws are in that area but right on the fringe of the storms. We haven’t heard from them so I’m hoping no news is good news. 

In my travels I’ve run into southern ice storms. My approach is to take the first exit that leads to a hotel. I learned to drive in snow country. There were times I drove through through raging blizzards. However, I won’t drive in ice storms. It doesn’t matter if you have a giant truck with four wheel drive. When the wheels hit the ice there’s nothing that will help. 

With the exception of studded tires. New Hampshire is one of the few states that does not regulate or ban their use. I’ve used them in the past, but only because I was given studded snow tires for free. They help but they aren’t magic. In fact, they only encourage you to drive when you shouldn’t Even if you have traction, nobody else does. Bumper cars with real cars is no fun.

When there’s an ice storm it’s a real pleasure to be able to stay home. Back when I was a firefighter I knew I’d end up driving the fire truck on ice to get to accidents. It’s pretty freaky to be sliding sideways down a hill with a fully loaded pumper with crew. I never crashed, but sometimes it was more luck than skill. 

If you get caught in an ice storm get off the road. Don’t be the reason first responders have to go out in dangerous conditions.


Wednesday, February 1, 2023

To simplify

Marie Kondo made a career of coaching people to simplify and tidy their lives. You were supposed to get rid of anything that did not bring you joy. 

Something drastic happened to her. Her house is no longer tidy. So what happened? She had three kids. 

Anybody who’s had kids knows what happens to your house. It is no longer a house for adults. It’s a house for kids. Kids play. Heck, it’s important to their development that they play. Their toys will not be isolated to a single room. If you are lucky you won’t step on a Lego with bare feet in the middle of the night. Odds are you will. 

In the end,  even the Queen of Clean could not conquerer the clutter of kids. 

Fortunately my lovely wife never got caught up in that tidy madness. For a lot of couples it seems like the wife would decide it was the husband’s things that didn’t bring her joy. I’ve seen my lovely wife’s craft room so that wasn’t going to fly. 

One person’s clutter is another person’s resources. While I’m not a hoarder I do like to have materials to work with. If something needs to be repaired I don’t go running to the hardware store. I poke around my junk piles and see what might do the job. A little cutting, a little welding, a bit of a paint, and stuff gets fixed. 

My organization goals don’t involve getting rid of stuff. My goal is to have better organized junk piles