Monday, March 30, 2020

In like a lamb, out like a lion

Forget the old adage that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. We've had the reverse this year.

In fact, March started out rather nice and I was able to get a bit of early garden work done.

I also started some seeds in the house: tomato, cayenne peppers, Anaheim peppers, basil.

Some have started to sprout.

(I have a feeling it's going to be a heavy gardening year.)

But then the great celestial powerhouse of weather reversed itself, and we're getting a late blast of winter. We've had wind. Rain. Hail. Sleet. And of course, snow.

Spring is around the corner -- the daffodils are doing their best to tell us that.

But it sure ain't here yet.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Financial irresponsibility

Here's an opinion piece I found entitled "Coronavirus reveals financial irresponsibility of Americans" by a columnist named The text appears below in its entirety.

I'm not sure how I feel about this piece. It seems brutally unforgiving.

At the very bottom is a snippet from another article entitled "Coronavirus lockdowns expose the financial fragility of the modern American lifestyle" which is similarly unforgiving.


How long could you sustain your household if you were to stop earning income? If you are like most Americans, the answer is not for long. Only 40 percent of Americans can afford an unexpected $1,000 expense with their savings. In fact, nearly 80 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck. It is no surprise that the probability of an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic caused many to worry.

In major cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, restaurants and businesses have been ordered to close. For many hourly workers, this means no paychecks in the coming weeks. Almost one in five Americans have already lost their jobs or have reduced hours. At the same time, salaried workers are concerned about job security, as mass layoffs at numerous companies loom. While the situation is understandably stressful for every person affected, it serves as a sobering reminder that Americans must learn to live within their means and regularly save money.

The need for all Americans to be able to sustain themselves for at least a few months on savings is accentuated during a time of crisis. This means planning ahead when times are good. Financial planners suggest saving at least 20 percent of take home income, while spending at most 30 percent on discretionary items. Yet too many workers still fail to think twice about spending entire paychecks for things they want but do not need.

Recent decades have offered us relative luxury. More than 80 percent of Americans own smartphones. The same portion of households own one high definition flat screen television, while over half of households own more than one. Over 60 percent of Americans dine out at least once a week, while nearly 20 percent dine out three or more times a week.

The current panic is refocusing us on what is important. We now stockpile the things necessary for our health. Smartphones, fancy televisions, and restaurant meals are usually luxuries rather than necessities. Living within our means is not just rhetoric. It is a means of guarding ourselves during times like these. We have so much to learn from those who came before us. How many of our grandparents fared the austerity of the World Wars and the Great Depression, discovering to save, mend, and repair?

The availability of credit gave us an opportunity with a great hangover. It made nice homes, flashy cars, and expensive consumer products within reach for earners across income levels. But purchasing on installment is often a trap and a major contributor to our $14 trillion in consumer debt. Financing items as diverse as furniture, laptops, clothing, and more with easily obtained credit opened the door to fiscal recklessness. Consider that average Americans spend $800 monthly on car payments.

It is not only low income and middle income earners who blow through their paychecks every month. Many high income earners also live above their means. Indeed, at least a quarter of households making $150,000 and above live paycheck to paycheck. Our fiscal irresponsibility means that when an unexpected crisis like the one today hits, Americans are unable to sustain their own families, even for a short time period.

So politicians from both parties urge the federal government to step in and dole out checks to everyone across the country. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that the administration wants to send checks to citizens totaling $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, with another round of assistance to follow if the pandemic continues.

While our leaders must act decisively in times of disaster, our own errors have made this situation untenable over the long run. On top of consumer debt, our government holds $23 trillion in national debt. A combination of stimulus checks, a potential recession, and new bureaucracies to oversee a recovery will further accelerate our rendezvous with financial default in the next generation. The money will eventually come due in the form of taxes, deferred payments for benefit programs, or outright inflation.

We each have a civic responsibility to our families and to our country. The more fiscal control we show at the kitchen table, the better our ability to handle the next crisis. A solid balance of fiscal government and personal finance courses at the high school level is a start. For most young people, however, true financial literacy is taught at home. We have a chance to show the next generation that saving is earning by another means.

I have hope during this crisis. It is a reminder, much like other traumatic events in history, of what is truly important. The survival and prosperity of our families is the key to our success. As the pandemic unfolds, the ability to budget, prioritize, and teach is our chance to make things better. Our grandparents suffered tremendously during the Great Depression. With the right attitude, we can teach our children how to prevent one.


And here's the snippet from the article "Coronavirus lockdowns expose the financial fragility of the modern American lifestyle":

"These state-wide shutdowns have placed a tremendous amount of stress on most Americans, and while this is understandable, most Americans have never attempted to prepare for widespread disruptions to their way of life. Many have never had to prepare, never thought of preparing, were never trained to prepare, and were only told that prepping was needless 'fear-mongering.' With credit cards in hand and new age theories in their heads, many young Americans were taught that everything is awesome, that the government or the universe would take care of us all. Now, after two weeks of shutdown and mass layoffs, most Americans are begging the government for bailouts, as hyper-inflation, higher taxes, homelessness, and bankruptcy lingers on the horizon."

Both these articles seem extreme. I welcome readers' reactions.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Beef and mushroom pie

In cleaning out the fridge last week, I came across a bag of mushrooms I'd bought a while earlier. These were supposed to get chopped up into salads, but the lettuce had gone south and was inedible. I didn't want to waste these mushrooms, however. They needed to get used up before they went bad.

Assessing what ingredients we had on hand, I decided to try my hand at beef-and-mushroom pie. My philosophy is "Everything tastes better in a pie crust." I modified an online recipe I found here.

First step: Defrost some bacon and beef (cube steaks, in this case).

I diced and fried up the bacon bits.

While those were cooking, I diced up the cube steaks and added flour.

I also gathered up various other ingredients: Beef broth, carrots, garlic.

Slicing mushrooms.

The recipe called for sautéing the mushrooms in olive oil, but why waste the bacon fat?

I also browned the meat in the bacon fat.

Adding flour and spices to the carrots.

Next, red wine. I loathe red wine with all my heart, but we had inherited this bottle and I kept it on hand for cooking. It's great for cooking.

Finally, I threw all the components together in a pot and just let them simmer for a couple of hours on the lowest possible heat.

When the simmering was done, I rolled out a pie crust and pulled everything together. This is the uncooked pie.

The baked result was utterly dee-lish.

Here's the recipe I used. Older Daughter doesn't care for onions, otherwise I would have added a couple. Feel free to modify for your own family's tastes:

• Six slices bacon
• 1 lb. mushrooms
• 2 lbs. steak (cube steak or other cuts)
• 2 cups diced carrots (and diced onions, if you wish)
• 2 cups beef broth
• 1 cup red wine (or Guinness beer, if you have some)
• Thyme and bay leaves (we have thyme in the garden, but no bay, so I just used thyme)

- Dice and fry the bacon and reserve the fat; put aside the bacon
- Slice and sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat; put aside the mushrooms
- Cut up steaks and mix with 1/4 cup flour, salt and pepper to taste
- Add 1/4 cup flour to the veggies and sauté in bacon fat until veggies are soft (I skipped the sautéing since the carrots were canned and already soft)
- Brown the beef in the remaining bacon fat, along with thyme and garlic
- Combine all ingredients (bacon, veggies, mushrooms, beef broth, wine/beer, beef) and let simmer on low for a couple of hours.

Pie crust:

• 4 cups flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/3 cups lard/shortening/whatever
• Enough cold water to make a dough

Roll out two-thirds of the dough to fit a 9x13 pan. Add filling. Roll out remaining dough to cover the pie, pinch edges.

Bake at 400F until crust is golden

Bon appétit!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Social distancing

Apparently this is making the rounds of the internet. Cracked me up.

Friday, March 20, 2020

More on solar panels

A couple weeks ago, I put up a post entitled "Are solar panels worth it?" The post sparked a lively discussion on the issue.

Reader Mike wrote a very long email about his experiences installing solar panels on his California home. I asked permission to reprint his email. This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea. Without further ado, I will turn the microphone over to Mike.

I could write a novel about the horrors of solar panels.

We spent $70,000 on a 7.5Kw system for our old place on Sonoma Mountain. It didn't cost us that much because Sonoma County had a "special" deal for people that installed solar of approximately $10,000 in rebates and tax incentives (since stopped), and my employer (County of Marin, of which I may tell you about my experiences there now that I'm retired and no longer in the PDRK [People's Democratic Republic of Kalifornia]) also provided the same type of incentives (since stopped as well). If it hadn't been for the incentives (local, State, Federal, PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric], we never would have done it because we couldn't afford $70,000. But, with the incentives, we could afford ~$23,000.00, so we got the system installed.

We were able to find a local solar company (Healdsburg) that had a excellent reputation and was in high standing with the State Contractor's Licensing Board, and they accepted ALL of the subsidies, no questions asked. In went the system. Excellent work, but I saw a problem right off the bat: the solar panels were installed too close to the roof (the Boss Lady and I had done TONS of research before jumping into this snakepit). I told the installer that the panels were too close to the roof, and that not only would we lose power due to the thermal interface (heat reflected back into the panels from the roof material), but that the birds and squirrels would build nests under the panels. The reply was: "Wah hail boy, we ain't nevuh had no problems lak thet with them critters ner any uh thet thermo interwhuteveh yer'r takking abit." Nevertheless, it was a quality install, even though I had my severe doubts about the "disclaimer."

Everything worked super-duper fine for the first six months (late summer into early spring) until squirrel mating season. I tried everything I could to discourage these nasty rodents (the big, nasty west coast gray squirrels) from building nests under the panels, just as I told the contractor. I used the hose, and a long pool brush at first, then had to resort to a pellet gun (being ever so careful to get correct shot alignment so I didn't hit a panel), and even that didn't stop them.

Then, we started having power-drops in full sun generating. Oh, my! It turns out that rodents have a "sugar craving" for the vinyl that coats electrical wires. I watched one of these tree-rats get electrocuted and fall to the ground (where my Rat Terrier immediately pounced and devoured the still twitching tree-rat). So, the calls to the contractor began. Since the system was still under "warranty" they had to come out and repair the damage at no cost to us. After coming out three more times to repair the rodent damage, they finally stopped answering our calls (seems that sometime between the first call and the third call, the company was bought out by a very large national solar company and their "policy" changed).

Fortunately for us, the guy that installed the system was still employed by them and he realized I was right and found a subcontractor that would come out, remove all the panels, install longer standoffs (as I had originally requested) so the panels sat about a foot off the roof, replaced all the damaged wiring, and put ALL the wiring in BX (flexible metallic cable), and all for only $7000. Such a deal! So, no more problems with tree-rats. After putting in a simple online search to "squirrel problems with electrical lines," I found TONS of articles about the problems tree-rats cause with all electrical systems, and most of the articles were from, ironically, PG&E.

So, there we were, all fat and sassy ... until one of the inverters blew out (our particular system had two inverters). Now we were fortunate in that all of our panels were made in the US of A before the Chinese started flooding the country with their cheap crap. Also, we got the very best inverters made ... from Germany. Now, when the system was installed, we got a 10-year warranty on the panels and the inverters. The inverter blew out about si years after the system was installed, so we figured we were gold.

Oh, not so fast, grasshopper! Turns out that the "10 year warranty" begins when the inverter is shipped from Germany. So, a solar company expects to make a ton of sales installing solar systems as it is the current rage, and orders maybe a hundred of these units for future installations. Sales just don't quite go as expected, and the inverters sit in a warehouse for a year or so before going to the installer, who may not install all the ordered inverters as quickly as expected. So, by the time our inverters were installed, they had languished in a warehouse for three years before going to the installer. We had to fight pretty hard to get the installer to "honor" the "10 year warranty." They did it, but our relationship with them was over.

Okay, here's the next problem with solar panels: The PDRK and PG&E will NOT allow you install a system that is larger than what your house is rated for. Hence, you are always behind the power curve (we needed a 9Kw system), and you never get to be ahead of PG&E. Additionally, unless you spend an additional $5000 to $10,000 for a UPS system and automatic switch gear, your solar system stops working when the power goes off, and you are still out of electricity.

Oh, it gets even better too. Then you find out that no matter how "optimized" your system is, it doesn't really do much during cloudy days, and especially during the winter (cloudy nearly all the time). Oh, yes, almost forgot the tree shade problem: when the State and PG&E first got rolling on solar they had a law passed that stated "offending" trees that blocked solar systems had to be cut down. That worked fairly well until some (wealthy, Democrat) treehugger had to have his precious trees cut down because they were blocking the sun from his neighbor's solar panels. Guess who won and who got screwed?

When we first had the system installed, PG&E had a special rating system for people that were willing to put up with a little "inconvenience." It was called "Time of Use." This program was an agreement where you got "stepped rates." If you agreed to NOT use very much electricity between 10 am and 6 pm, you got significant rate reductions. And, if you managed to not use very much electricity until after 8 pm thru 8 am, you got even better rates. Well, this worked out exceptionally well for us, as everybody was out of the house by 8 am, and nobody got home until 3 to 4 pm and we didn't start using electricity until around 6 pm.

Then everybody else and their relatives in the PDRK found out about "Time of Use" and started signing up. After the first year of "everybody," PG&E screamed "foul" and claimed "we're losing money." So "Time of Use" was immediately changed to screw everybody, and especially those of us using solar. How, you might ask? By changing "Time of Use" to extend all the way up to 9 pm in the summer, so that basically the only way we could get reduced rates was to NOT use electricity between 6 am and 10 pm. Then, PG&E "staged" the rates.

Fortunately, our house used a "fossil fuel" furnace, and we had a fireplace in the living room, and a wood stove in the family room and a whole buncha oak and madrone trees on our property. So, even though PG&E was trying to screw everybody on electrical rates, and especially people with solar systems (which PG&E had pushed to get everybody to install), if we hadn't had the solar system we would have been paying $600 or more a month in electrical bills (recall that this was 2007 to 2015 when PG&E started having supply problems, outages, lawsuits, and etc.), as PG&E kept getting permission from the State Public Utility Commission to keep raising rates, which they did every six months.

In some ways it was really funny: the State, PG&E, and the Counties went whole hog on solar providing subsidies, tax breaks, incentives, lower rates, etc., and trying to convince everybody to install solar to "save the world from global warming (remember that scam?) and climate change." Well, like ALL liberal drug-induced hallucinations, reality caught up with them. EVERYBODY jumped on the solar program to the extent that not only did PG&E lose money big time, but so did the State and the Counties. Well, nothing hurts a liberal more than losing other people's money, so the whole thing imploded.

Then there was the State/PG&E "buyback" scam. Originally, if you installed solar, any "excess" electricity your system generated had to be PURCHASED by PG&E at the current rate at the current time. This meant that if YOU were on Time of Use, and weren't using any electricity during 10 am to 5 pm, PG&E HAD to buy your "excess" electricity at the high rate. Well, you can imagine how that icewater reality enema hit the PG&E pocketbook. Yep, after a diaper fouling temper-tantrum in front of the (compliant) State PUC, the "buyback" was adjusted, and of course, "adjusted" in PG&E's favor. Then PG&E installed "smart meters" on everybody that had solar systems. On my days off during the week, I'd go out to the "smart meter" on the bright sunny days to see if we really were sending anything back to PG&E. Well, we were, but not nearly as much as we should have been.

And, don't even get into these rip-off "lease" solar programs! If you think PG&E was screwing people, these solar leasing companies screw you even worse: they OWN you!

So, all in all, we never began to pay off our investment in solar. Did it save us rate money? Yes, if we didn't have the solar system, we would have been bled dry by electrical charges, even with a solar water heater (that never worked properly: if the power goes out on a hot, sunny day (as happened a lot), the circulation pump shuts down, the system overheats, the pressure relief valve opens to relieve system pressure, creating a vacuum gap in the circulation system which causes the pump to burn out when the power comes back on) to save on water heating costs, and the fossil fuel furnace and fireplaces.

To answer the question: the only way solar will pay off is if you are in a southwestern state (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) where the sun shines a lot and the state isn't run like California. Anywhere else (like up here in the great wet Pacific Northwest, including Idaho), and there is no cost benefit because there just aren't enough bright sunny days to generate enough electricity to offset the usage.

I've covered just SOME of the stuff one has to look at and research before getting into solar electrical systems. The ONLY solar system that actually paid off for us was a solar-operated gate: the solar panel kept the battery that opened and closed the gate perfectly charged, even during the winter. Never had a problem with it.

Hope this tidbit answers some of your questions on solar systems.

Sincerely, Mike

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bad language, funny song

Doubtless you've heard about two brothers, Matt and Noah Colvin, who had been "filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes," according to the New York Time. The brothers admitted to cleaning out stores in multiple states with the intent to resell the cleaning supplies on Amazon at inflated prices.

Amazon dropped the hammer on them and the state attorney general sent a cease-and-desist letter, leaving the men with 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer. Chastened, the brothers decided to donate their inventory.

Being creative, two self-described "good ol' boys" from Tennessee decided to immortalize this attempted business endeavor through music. Warning: Really really bad language, but I laughed until I cried.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Foot, meet log. Log, meet foot.

Splitting firewood (yes, wearing shoes). This is what happened after I dropped a heavy log round on my foot, edge first.

Pretty, no?

Fortunately it was just a bad bruise. Nothing broken.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Sudden homeschoolers

With many states closing their schools over concerns with the coronavirus, many parents are being tasked to do something most have never considered: homeschooling their kids, at least temporarily.

It's one thing to start teaching your own children after much forethought and pre-planning. It's another thing entirely to suddenly become responsible for their education without preparation.

I've been asked to write an article on homeschooling children on a temporary basis. The article should be upbeat and positive. Since I can think of no finer resource than my dear readers, I thought I'd start by soliciting your advice and suggestions.

I'm working on the assumption most children will have lesson plans and books provided by the schools, so parents don't have to create these from scratch. Also, let's work on the assumption the parents have no interest in homeschooling on a permanent basis, but instead are just trying to cope with a temporary situation.

"Kids" can range from ages 4 through 18, so let's brainstorm for all age groups. Remember, parents are being dropped into this in the middle of things, so many are floundering around, figuring out what to do.

Some things to think about:

• Suggested online resources

• How to keep parents (usually mothers) from feeling overwhelmed

• Suggestions for games that teach (for various age levels)

• Suggestions for getting kids to see parents as teachers; how to become a teacher at home

I'm open to other subjects as well.

So let's hear 'em, folks -- give me your ideas for how "sudden homeschoolers" should handle things.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

And the madness continues...

Yesterday I went into our small town (population 1000) to check our post office box and to pick up some tomatoes for Don.

Curious, I peeked into the aisle stocking hand sanitizer. Stripped bare.

Pasta was low, but still in stock.

Needless to say, no toilet paper or facial tissue.

In the paper-goods aisle, I overheard a young woman on her cell phone talking to her husband, discussing toilet paper options. I got the impression the young woman wasn't local, and that she was on a scouting trip to find toilet paper.

So, for those who find themselves short of this basic bathroom necessity, please consider these:

These are cheap, three-for-a-dollar washcloths I picked up years ago at various dollar stores. They are our emergency TP supply and can be treated like cloth diapers -- put soiled cloths in a bucket of water until it's time to wash them, then wash in hot water. There's no more "ick" factor than diapering a baby. They come in a variety of ugly colors, so each family member can have the ugly color of their choice, if desired.

As for hand sanitizer, try this recipe:

2/3 cup rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, 70% or higher
1/3 cup aloe vera
Essential oil

And please, folks, stay calm. This is not the bubonic plague.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Adventures in the city

Yesterday, Older Daughter and I had an adventure: We went into Coeur d'Alene. Holy cow, it was crazy.

We had a few items we wanted to buy (soy sauce, broccoli, steel wool [for the woodcraft business], onion sets for planting. No, toilet paper was not on our list; but I did want to buy some pesto.

Where's the very best place to get pesto? Why, Costco, of course.

It was, to use the drollest understatement, a madhouse. There was not one spot in the entire parking lot that was free, not one. People were illegally parking all over the place. Just as Older Daughter told me to go get the pesto and she would circle the parking lot until I was finished, we saw a vehicle leaving and slipped into that spot.

Inside was, as expected, very busy. Areas such as clothing, books, electronics, etc. were noticeably deserted of shoppers. You can guess where everyone was.

We strode to the section in the back with the pesto, and I plucked up two jars. Then curiosity got the best of us and we walked to the back where bottled water, toilet paper, and dog/cat food are kept.

Not one pack of toilet paper was available. Not one. A Costco employee had been stationed, as far as I can tell, for the sole and exclusive purpose of telling people the store was out of stock for TP.

Feeling the urge to get out of there, Older Daughter and I went to stand in line, me with my two humble jars of pesto.

Next stop, Winco (for a box of wine, some bulk yogurt-covered raisins, and bagels). Things were fine, if crowded. I took a peek at the TP aisle. It looked like a war zone, but they had plenty of TP in stock. There seemed to be a dedicated employee restocking it as fast as he could.

At Winco's checkout line, I noticed this sign:

We went to Cash'n'Carry. It was quiet, peaceful, and fully stocked.

That was yesterday (Thursday). Today (Friday), things seem to be even more panicked, but we're staying home. It's too crazy out there.

And, just for chuckles....

So what's going on in your neck of the woods? Share your war stories.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Your smile of the day

Let's step back from serious subjects and put a smile on our faces.

Here's a dog who loved the sprinkler so much, he brought it inside the doggy door.

Isn't this nice? Now he gets to share the fun with his humans.

(Original article here.)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Attention, women homesteaders!

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Cyndi Ball, founder of the National Ladies Homestead Gathering, for the Lehman's blog.

Hop on over and read the interview. If you're near Lehman's, it would be worthwhile seeing Cyndi Ball in person. And if you're a woman homesteader, consider joining Cyndi's organization.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Are solar panels worth it?

This cartoon absolutely cracked me up:

I have a question for readers: Are solar panels worth it?

A number of fairly recent articles sparked this question.

One interesting observation came from an off-grid family in North Carolina. The memorable line was this: "The easiest way to go off-grid is to need as little electricity as possible."

A little over ten years ago, when our local power supplier announced they were increasing prices, we started a long-term project to whittle down our electricity usage, including using LED lights and line-drying clothes (that's why the above cartoon amused me). We've kept our power usage moderate, about 616 kWh per month. By the above criterion, "needing as little electricity as possible," we'd be decent candidates for going off-grid.

But as one person wrote about last year's rolling blackouts in California, "California blackouts expose the total scam of solar panels: They don’t work when the grid goes down."

The author observed, "That’s a far cry from what buyers of solar panels have been promised. ... Even when solar panels do work, they’re still largely a scam. Power companies like PG&E rip off solar owners by charging much higher rates for electricity delivery than what they credit you for 'uploading' watts from your solar panels. So while your panels are providing power to the electricity company at a discounted rate, that same company is still charging you retail rates for the power you use. Furthermore, solar panels lose as much as 30% of their effectiveness when they aren’t regularly cleaned, meaning the actual power delivered is far less than what the panels claim to deliver."

People pour thousands of dollars into grid-tie solar systems, but do they ever recoup their expenses? And what happens if the durn things don't work when the grid goes down?

And for those with battery banks, how often do they need replacement, what happens to the old batteries, and how much do replacement batteries cost? All I can see is dollar signs all over the place, not to mention a heavier environmental impact than people want to believe.

A small panel is probably worth it for modest tasks like charging flashlight batteries, etc. But on a large scale, with enough panels to provide power to run all the electrical appliances in a normal home, it seems the costs can never be recouped. And for times the panels don't provide enough juice (long stretches of cloudy weather or whatever), then a backup generator is necessary, adding to the expense.

Also, there's the old axiom of moving parts. The more moving parts something has, the more likely it is to break. Almost invariably, high-tech solutions are complicated, require continuous maintenance (often by professionals), necessitate specialized parts, and are prone – simply because of their complexity – to breakdowns or other mishaps. What if something goes wrong within this complex system? Can you diagnose the problem and fix it? Do you have spare parts? And in a grid-down event, can you obtain more spare parts, and/or hire an expert to rectify the situation?

Some people say you shouldn't own stuff you can't fix, but I don't think we should be too purist about this concept. I don’t have the faintest clue how to fix a computer. Ditto for the car, the well pump, and the chain saw. These items are useful and valuable and help make our lives easier and more productive. But arguably they’re not critical to our survival. If they were knocked out of commission, we have low-tech backups so we won’t be hungry, thirsty, sitting in the dark, and unable to stay warm.

In other words, high-tech solutions may not always be superior to low-tech options. It strikes me that living a low-tech lifestyle -- using as little power as necessary and being fully prepared to live without it -- is a better solution.

So are solar panels worth it or not? What is your opinion?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hello Charlotte, goodbye Charlotte

We had a small spider which had taken up residence in our bathroom.

I'm a softie when it comes to spiders and didn't want to put this little lady outside at the time, since the weather was bitterly cold. So I left her there.

A couple days later, I noticed Older Daughter had affixed a sign underneath the spider's modest web:

So now the spider had a name: Charlotte.

A day or two after that, Older Daughter started laughing and called me into the bathroom. Charlotte had a new sign above her web:

Don created it.

My family never ceases to make me smile.

A couple days later, Older Daughter emerged from the bathroom and reported, "Charlotte is making a run for it."

Sure enough, the little gal was on a different part of the wall. Since the weather had turned sunny and warmer, I scooped her up and put her outside. Goodbye Charlotte.

Just a little snippet from the Lewis household.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Whirlwind trip to Seattle

Last week was very busy. That's because Older Daughter and I made a quick trip to Seattle.

Older Daughter, as you may recall, is staying with us while job-hunting for a nanny position in the Emerald City. The job search had been on hiatus, however, until the weather cooperated. To get to Seattle from North Idaho requires crossing Snoqualmie Pass, famous for heavy snow and treacherous road conditions.

She applied with two nanny agencies, and both were impressed with credentials. However one of them wanted to interview her in person before they matched her with a prospective family. Older Daughter invited me to go with her -- a little excursion -- and we made plans to drive.

Unfortunately Snoqualmie Pass wasn't cooperating. We had to leave last Sunday to make it to Seattle for the Monday interview, and with Snoqualmie out of the question, we had to take a detour around the Cascades. (White Pass along Hwy. 12 wasn't in any better shape.) Our best choice was to head south along Hwy. 395, pass through the Tri-Cities area of southwest Washington, travel toward Portland along the Columbia River, and then head north again through Olympia, Tacoma, and finally Seattle. Total travel time: ten and a half hours.

So off we went. It was a very, very windy day, which caused no problems until we approached the Tri-Cities area of Washington. Suddenly we were in the midst of dust storms and tumbleweed.

Tumbleweed was slamming across the highway in what looked like an eerie dystopian video game where the players must dodge the explosive monster plants or whatever. But of course, we couldn't dodge, not while traveling at 65 mph down the freeway. Instead, we just had to accept slamming into them.

The plants tumbled across the highway and piled up on the barrier between lanes. Can you see how the dust is obstructing the view beyond the highway?

Tumbleweed also piled up along fencelines.

At one point, visibility diminished to the point where cars were pulling off to the side.

Most of the tumbleweed went beneath the car, but one particularly large and vicious plant with a stem at least two inches across skidded across the hood of the car and slammed into the windshield so hard we marveled it didn't crack it. It wasn't until later we saw it had left a series of gouges on the car hood.

As we crossed and then paralleled the Columbia River, we saw the water was remarkably choppy.

Gradually the weather improved as we headed west. When we stopped at one point to stretch our legs, we noticed tumbleweed fragments caught in the grill of Older Daughter's car.

Other vehicles were similarly decorated.

Fortunately that was all the drama we experienced on our trip to Seattle. At last, late on Sunday afternoon, the towering downtown of the Emerald City loomed before us.

We booked ourselves into a modest motel. The next morning Older Daughter had her interview with the nanny agency, and she aced it. With her qualifications (four years as a live-in, two years volunteering at a women's shelter daycare, certified graduate of the nanny school, and endless other certifications under her belt, including CPR), she's golden in the Emerald City.

We celebrated her successful interview by going out for sushi, Older Daughter's weakness.

With an afternoon to ourselves (it was too late to leave for home), we then indulged in my weakness: the Woodland Park Zoo. I'm crazy for zoos but seldom get to visit one.

And of course...

After the zoo, Older Daughter wanted to venture into the belly of the beast, downtown Seattle. (I love how this photo turned out -- so very very urban!)

The reason was, she wanted to see something she'd heard about, an automated store called Amazon Go.

Frankly, we were underwhelmed. It was nothing more than an overpriced convenience store...

...and cameras and sensors were everywhere, including the ceiling. Shudder.

Some random city sights as we headed back to the motel:

And sadly:

The following morning we left for home at 7:45 am, right at the height of rush-hour traffic. Such is life.

But the downtown was beautiful, gleaming in the morning sun.

Ditto the Space Needle.

Even prettier, Mt. Rainier.

This time we were able to take Snoqualmie Pass, since it was clear. What we thought interesting was this: Within one hour of leaving the motel, and despite all the traffic and highways, we were deep into the mountains.

This proximity to wilderness areas is precisely what interests Older Daughter about Seattle. She missed wilderness while living in New Jersey, and looks forward to hiking opportunities.

Here's the Snoqualmie Pass area.

The view from the east side of the Cascades.

The drive back across eastern Washington was mind-numbing but uneventful.

The Columbia River was calmer than the last time we saw it (much further downstream).

We even caught a glimpse of the wild horse sculptures that decorate a hillside in this area.

Can you see the sculptures in the distance on the hilltop?

Oh, and here's a new addition outside of Spokane: a massive Amazon fulfillment center.

So that was our whirlwind trip to Seattle. Older Daughter is now undergoing the tiresome necessity of background checks, reference checks, and other factors. She has her eye on one particular nanny position, so we'll see what comes of it.