[small] Random Acts of Kindness

Almost anyone who has occasion to go through any sizable inner city these days has seen the indigent folks with the cardboard signs… “Will work for food”… “Homeless veteran with PTSD- anything would help”.

What the signs will never tell you, of course, is that they are also quite possibly an alcoholic or an addict. It just goes hand-in-hand with both ending up in a hopeless situation, and preventing you from being able to escape or change. I speak from experience. I have been clean and sober for something over a quarter of a century now. No brag, just fact. While I did not end up in a burned-out tenement, or sleeping in the weeds, I did end up indigent and homeless, sleeping in the front seat of a pickup truck.

My bottom took me far enough down that I always look at people begging at stop light intersections with a “junkie’s eye”. For me at least, your contribution wasn’t going to buy food …it was going to take care of my Jones. A bag or a bottle…  so I will not give money to street people. I will feed them.

Whenever I find myself with more dollar store consumables that I can consume… which is pretty much constantly… I make up packages of those exact same things that I would take out hiking.

I keep a few in the car. These I can then pass out to the indigent, and needy at a stoplight. Jerky, crackers, cookies, breakfast bars… there is a decent caloric weight in each bag that can keep somebody going for a day at a time.

 

I pray that none of us ever has to deal with homelessness or dereliction, but if it did happen, think what a little kindness, and a little bag of food might mean to you

 

Tomorrow I need to go “down Babylon”, so I just made up four new packs out of my extra stuff for those I might encounter who can’t leave it behind as easily as I will.

 

 

[Random Info Tidbit: one of the other things that the indigent and homeless can always use is a new pair of socks… they have them at the dollar store, too]

Cold hands are not happy hands

A couple of years ago, in the Fall, when I saw all of the squeeze’n’shake, “hot-hands” chemical hand warmers start showing up on all the check-out counters, I got nostalgic for my old Zippo™ lighter fluid hand warmer that I had had back when I was a teenager. I got one when I was probably 11 years old, and first started out going winter camping in Boy Scouts. I seem to remember that my brother and I were both given them one Christmas.

Back there in Michigan, they were pretty popular with the ice fishermen. You could even get a little flannel belt with two pockets to hold them over your kidneys. I remember loving having mine when I was out sledding as a kid.

I did remember them kicking around for years but not getting much use when we later lived in the Carolinas. Then I had vague memories of having used one down on Cape Cod back in the 80s when I was building houses and slating roofs… right through the winter. I hadn’t seen it since I moved to Maine in 2005… I guess it just went away…. the way things do when you move. You get rid of things and have no memory of doing so… then later on you miss having them.

I looked them up on the Internet, and sure enough, you could still buy one on Amazon. The best part was that they were still being manufactured by Zippo. So, I ended up adding one to a purchase to come up to the free shipping. [ in the same matte black that I purchased, they are currently priced at $12.92 on Amazon ]

Just in case you are not familiar with these units:

You simply pull off the little chromium heating element and add lighter fluid to the bottom half. You then hold a lighter flame under one side of the element for 15 or 20 seconds. Somehow this causes a slow, continuous combustion of the fumes from the fluid. You slip the spring-fit top half back on, let it heat up for a minute or two, and then put the whole unit in the little drawstring bag.

 

You can get up to eight hours, or even more, on a single fill-up… And it gets far, far warmer then the chemical units.

If you buy the chemical packet heaters over the counter at a variety store they can cost as much as $2 a piece. Doesn’t take too long to come up to the full cost of this unit even if you throw in an extra $5 for lighter fluid.

I have been really delighted to have one again. On cold mornings, even right here in the house, I will fire it up and put it inside the collar of my fleece, against the nape of my neck. It warms up the blood going to my brain, and at my age that’s probably a pretty good thing. Of course, once you head outside, it will warm your fingers up in just a few moments, even through gloves.

 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I was rooting around in the back corner of one of my bureau drawers… Voila!

 

Old Faithful.

Note that the old school unit features a large hole so that you could poke a cigarette  in and then light up off of the glow coil.

At some point I had hand-sewed a replacement bag out of an chamois cloth LL  Bean shirt remnant after that same hole burned a corresponding burnhole in the original red flannelette bag. Yes, this old unit would need a consumer protection warning in today’s weenie world. The chromium metal gets hot enough to cause first to second degree burns.

The design has changed only minimally. Real plated brass, real metal chrome like on yer ’53 Cadillac’s bumper, a bit heavier, and it appears to be a few/16ths thicker, so it holds a bit more fluid, and lasts a bit longer. [now going on nine hours]

I put some fluid into the old antique… it fired up instantly. I think that it’s fairly certain that it even gets hotter than the current units.

One for each pocket.

One of Life’s Unanswerable Questions…

“Can a guy have too many hats…?”

If you bought this one, the answer is probably, “YES !”… Even at $6.85 US.

I am not a big fan of camo. I have one coat that is essentially a camo military BDU with a hooded sweatshirt liner. It’s a nice coat that only cost me about $15 at WallyWorld a few years ago. But it is a bit heavy to take along if you’re going camping. It’s also non-weatherproofed cotton, and so is prone to getting pretty soggy if it gets wet out. It does it have those great mil-spec pouch pockets that lets you stuff in a lot of gear, and there are upper, slash-pockets for your hands in addition to the big patch ones down lower. It’s a great coat in fall for just taking a meander in the woods since you can carry along so much just in the pockets… As long as somebody doesn’t mistake you for a deer. [Good Idea #1: Wear Orange in the Fall !!]

None of my actual camping/hammocking gear or tarps is in camo. Just not interested, and I like to be able to see my stuff when the light gets dim. It’s hard enough not tripping over my guy-lines.

However, for about that same $6.85 US, I did buy this nice, low crown, BDU-style cap in “fallen leaves” camo outta Sham Shui Po at some point in the past few years…  Cotton, with a full cotton top-lining, and a Velcro backstrap it was one of those deals that you would pay $30 for at a Cabela’s, or Bass Pro Shop… $23 bucks more… all for a sewn-in brand tag that cost $.13.

 

It fits nice and low on your head, so the brim provides really great shade. I broke it out this morning to sit in the sun out on the front porch and warm myself in the snow glare. Figgured it was worth showing… Then I found the “gillhie” hat and knew I had to do a post.

Totally Worthless Factoid: back when men still wore fedoras, “Looks like you need a new hat…” was Brooklyn slang for a twenty dollar bribe… 

 

[sorry, no link for my hat… Seems to no longer be offered]

 

 

The Beloved Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop

This is another one of those informational posts.

 

We have all had the cashier at the register ask us, “Did you find what you were looking for today, honey?”… when you weren’t looking for anything in particular and are spending $25 anyways.

 

 

I frequently make reference in these posts to the “Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop”. These are actually a variety of different places. Primary among them is Ocean State Job Lot, a chain that originates out of Rhode Island. Our other contributor, local to Maine only, is Marden’s, where their slogan is, “You should’ve bought it when you saw it“. However, the phrase can also include any a variety of mom-and-pop discounts… The kind you go to get a great deal on the ubiquitous “Blue Tarp”, cheap painting supplies, and even cheaper screwdriver sets.

Elsewhere you can usually find the same kind of places being called “Big (guy name)’s”, “Building #Xxx”,   ____Warehouse, etc. They all stock stuff that you might not see the next time you go, so you end up going back on a regular basis… “just in case”.

Mine almost always relieve me of at least a couple of dollars. I get great deals on snack foods that are appropriate for camping, unique foodstuffs that make my cooking more adventurous, and small electronics and another useful junk that comes in cheap enough that it’s not a problem if you lose it in the woods. Marden’s actually has great deals on shoes and boots. Brand names like Timberline and Merrill… but only if they happen to have one in your exact size, ‘cuz there may only be three pairs all-told in that style. That’s why I call them fell -off -a-truck joints. It’s almost always closeouts, closing-business-salvage and small quantities.

When you’re looking to scrounge a cheap alternative, these are the places to go… even if you don’t know what you’re looking for or just what you might want to scrounge that particular day.

Whazdis “90%/50%” Buzz On Here…?

Since there are often references to this, and previous explanations are now buried deep in the archive, I wanted to do a quick post, and actually link it to a new “tag”.

I have been living on a very reduced income for quite a long time now. Currently, things are a little bit better, but when I started this blog I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income. As a result, a lot of these posts concerned finding alternatives to higher priced items.

Whether it’s by DIY, $$-store finds, scrounging, substituting, or buying a lower priced version of a  high-end item, there are a lot of ways that you can “make do”.

My guideline throughout my gear posts has always been, “if you can get something that provides 90% of the utility for 50% or less of the cost you got a good deal” … I frequently make reference to this as “the 90%/50%”. *

~A symbol of balance made of stones on a sea cliff~

 

For me at least, figuring out ways to make do is its own reward. Sometimes this could mean doing without, or settling for less. Nearly everybody could throw out about a third of the stuff in their pack and never miss it. Some things are just a luxury that you really want, and you are willing to pay the cost whether it is monetary, weight, bulk, convenience etc. Part of “hiking your own hike” is finding your own balance in that equation.

 

Most of you’re probably aware of the term “gram weenie”. I’m not one; I am a money weenie. My own parents grew up during the American depression of the 1930s. They knew what it was like to do without. Some of this ingrained frugality passed on to me, and it was increased by my severely reduced income. If you want to cut the tags off of your clothing and gear, hack off the handle of your toothbrush, reduce the weight of your tarp a few ounces by purchasing one made of Cuban fiber… great! [for you]. If that’s what you want, and that’s what you can afford, Go for it! In essence, I do exactly the same thing with my expenses. In everything from my utilities to my “spree” spending, I try to trim every corner I possibly can.

I have the handicapping “luxury” of being 67 years old. I am not going to do a PCT through hike. When I go out, I’m either camping out of the back of my SUV, hiking a limited way into the woods to hang up my hammock, or heading off in my canoe or kayak down a lake. That means I don’t have to worry about that couple of extra pounds. I do worry about having enough money left over to pay for the travel expenses and to provide myself with a few luxuries and comforts to make my time as enjoyable as it can be. Do I have a 27 ounce backpack to carry my gear…? DUH!… but I bought a discontinued model when it went on closeout. This is what 90%/50% does for me.

I buy some of my stuff out of Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong’s Kowloon section. I can find items that are for all intents and purposes identical to those sold by the Cabela’s, Walmarts, LL Beans, and all the other stateside gear outlets…. They just won’t have that branding tag. I might have to wait two weeks or a month for delivery but they mostly come with free shipping included, and at far lower prices. I have almost never been disappointed in the quality. The same thing goes for dollar store finds. I can find sturdy, non-loadbearing, Aluminum carabiners priced at $.69 over at my Fell-Off-A-TruckStop. They are every bit as good for their uses as anything else on the market. I don’t need some fancy, twist lock carabiner to put on the end of a rope and hook up my Bear bag… Why, you know… I could just tie the line right through the handles on that plastic bag the stuff I grabbed at the grocery market came in. It would work just as well.

Like I said, my 90%/50% criteria works fine for me…. Now you know what I’m mean by it.

 

[ * Just recently I violated my own guidelines by buying a pretty darn expensive 30° top quilt (when it comes, I’ll do a review and explain why I made the exception). I’ve violated those guidelines previously when I bought my AMOK Draumr hammock. In both these cases however, I waited until the items went on sale. But I have also consistently saved money on other things that have made these splurges rationalize-able/ justifiable in my own mind.]

Laguiole “Picnic” Knife

Last fall I got a wild hair and finally bought a Laguiole style knife. I say “style” because these are one of the most heavily cloned knives out there. “Laguiole is like “Kleenex”… It has passed into common usage for any similar sized, folding pocket knife with a similar sweeping blade. I was under no illusions when I ordered this that it was an actual, handcrafted knife from the village of Laguiole, France, or even the adjoining town of Thiers. For one thing, the Shepherds Cross detail on the handle is upside down, and the rivets are not perfectly aligned. While it actually did ship from France, it is certainly a generic version. And, quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

Here’s a quick link to the Wikipedia entry, and it contains other links at the bottom if you want even more information>>  The Laguiole knife

I have quite a number of what I consider to be decent knives suitable for a variety of purposes, but I lack the money to do any serious collecting of fine blades. This is where my 90%/50% criteria is often used.

The classic Laguiole pocketknife was what you took along to cut up your  fruit and cheese, your baguette and sausage on a picnic in the French countryside. If you had one of the units with the corkscrew, you could open your bottle of cheap vin ordinaire.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.19.33 PM

One of the hallmarks of Lagouile knives is the semi three-dimensional bee on the spine of the knife over the ferrule. A second is the engraving along the spine. [the photo at the left is clipped off the Internet, but shows both of these features] Even on the non-handcrafted knifes, the the finer the detailing of these, the better chance of the entire knife being higher-quality. These were two items that I looked for when I started shopping around and comparing the offerings. I was lucky, and the knife I purchased was even more finely detailed than the one shown.

 For my purposes, that is quite enough. This one comes branded “Laguiole L’ Eclair”. It is reportedly made in China of an unknown quality of stainless steel, but takes a very fine, sharp edge with minimum effort. Certainly fine enough for preparing food, and use as a “picnic” knife. The blade opens with a satisfying “snick”, but this is not a locking style knife. However, it does take a firm push up against the back of the blade to disengage the back spring.

The slim blade makes it ideal for slicing. This is why I chose to add one to my camping cutlery. I have big, heavy knives; I have pocket knives and pocket tools. I can dress out a deer carcass, hack up some kindling, and take care of most ordinary camp chores. But none of them have the long, thin blade to finely slice an onion, or to make it a real pleasure to deal with that plate-sized, porterhouse steak that just came off the flaming hardwood coals of your open fire and render it into thin, juicy morsels. The Laguiole does.

It it is also the perfect size to go with my titanium dining set, and carries around perfectly in their mesh bag. Together with the SnowPeak spork, I’m covered. I can prepare and consume in perfect grace, dignity, and high style… while out “roughing it”.

I like using “nice” stuff. That’s how I roll.

Return of the Prodigal Spork

18 months ago I lost my sweet SnowPeak titanium Spork.

I broke camp in the middle of the night because of the appalling nature of the coked-up junkies in the next site. They had returned at 1 AM, started a screaming match, and were being abusive to a three-year-old child. I left to go to the police department and turn in a CHINS report.

When it came time to sort my gear out down cellar after I got home, I discovered I must’ve left my spork behind. I knew it had been sitting out on the picnic table, and I pretty much assumed that I had just overlooked it in my hurry to be gone. I wrote it off as “Oh,well…” and eventually got around to ordering another one off of Amazon when they went on sale.

I was really fond of that little sucker. So fond that I actually used it around the house on a daily basis. [I am on my own since my wife passed away, and using the spork for a lot of things made it easier to just stay caught up on my dishes]. That’s why I sprung for a second one.

For under $10, I highly recommend these. They are available from Snow Peak and several other folks in basically identical form factors. You can even get them heat-anodized into various colors. The prongs are just long enough and sharp enough actually hold food, and the”spoon” is decently sized for scooping up liquids. If your broth is really thin, you are probably better slurping it up over the edge of your cup bowl and using the spork to clean up the chunks. And it’s just long enough cannot leave your fingers completely grotty if you were dipping down into a freeze-dry bag. It’s a great choice if you want to hold your carry down to a single eating utensil. With a good knife to cut things up, It’s really all you need.

Anyway, for all those reasons, I was really delighted when I put on my hunting vest recently and found it tucked in a pocket. I hadn’t “lost” it after all.