Author Archive

That Was Fun … Not!

Whoops. I did it again.

Sorry if you recently got a weird email from our website. Long story, but it was my fault as I try and learn some new software and well, I used it on my website and things went horribly wrong.

I love the TV show “Arrested Development” and they have a great pat line “I’ve made a huge mistake!” I love it and use it all the time. They were using “huge” before, well, anyone else.

Michelle and I ran our CSA for 5 years and I think did a pretty darn great job of growing vegetables for our members. Then along came last year’s drought where we didn’t get rain for…well…like…ever… or at least from May to October, which is kind of a big deal if you grow food.

So that was too much and we decided to not run it this year. It’s been hard. I really like growing food. I love being outside and in the soil. But after many years of trying to find a ‘niche’, I still believe with the current economic model farming is still very much a story of ‘go big or go home” business. Get lots of land and a big tractor. Yes, you can find cool ways to specialize but a lot of it is extremely labor intensive so it’s a young person’s game. And I wish them all the best at it, until I get back in the game. Hopefully with my grandkids… really soon!

We are doing websites again as we have for many years. And like anything technology related things have become even more complex. We’ve been using “WordPress” to develop our websites and I’ve been learning a very cool ‘theme’ which makes it easier to control websites. It used to be you had to be an HTML programmer. So, I’m excited about this new easier ‘shell’ shall we call it that is kind of like a “WYSIWYG” or ‘what you see is what you get”.

But of course, for it to make setting up websites easier, it must be hard to learn. Right? Well at least it is in my world.

I decided the best way to learn it was to actually have it on my own website cammather.com. “And how’d that work out Cam?” Ha ha. Not so good. It sent out a rogue blog notification and well, things just went downhill from there.

Again, sorry about that.

I’m sure you’ve never had a bad experience with technology. Your credit and debit cards always work, statements are always correct, your computer and phone and tablet always work flawlessly.

Netflix has a great documentary called “Silicon Cowboys” about some Texas Instruments people starting Compaq computers in the early 1980s. This probably would not mean too much to most people, but I started selling microcomputers in 1982 so it was at the heart of the whole Apple II, IBM PC, Macintosh, Clones, ‘compatibles’ like Compaq …  evolution.

It was fun to see how much polyester was in suits in the ‘80s. How puffy some women’s hair was, along with their shoulder pads, and how they actually made Compaq computers in Texas. Can you imagine?!

I was looking at screens running DOS (Disk Operating System) and remembering I spent a lot of time training people on microcomputers. Michelle bought one of the first Macintosh computers off the line because we wanted to find out why 1984 wasn’t going to be like “1984” (the book)

“Silicon Cowboys” made me remember just how little you could do on computers in the 1980s, and how when you went from an 8086 Intel processor to an 80286 it was a big deal. And how when Compaq was the first computer with an 80386, well, it was a pretty big deal in my world. I believe it was called “Moore’s Law” which suggested the processing speed would double every 18 months. Which meant that a year a half later, your computer would be twice as fast. So, 3 years from now your computer would be 8 times faster? 16 times faster? Is that how exponential growth works?

All I know is that kids today just have no idea of the processing power of their computers and smart phones. I look at what our iPhone does and I marvel at it all. I think it is compounded by having been in the whole corporate struggle for computer supremacy which involved mind-boggling innovation.

I still marvel at it. And then I think about our reliance on this stuff. I think about moving when I was 20 years old and setting out with my dad’s station wagon on a Sunday morning and getting a flat tire on Hwy 401 on our rental trailer and what was involved. And how much easier it would have been to have a mobile phone. Just a cell phone let alone a smart phone.

Michelle and I have one cell phone because we are usually together. When I left the hospital after our grand daughter was born for my long trek home, my daughter was still a little tired from the birth. I wanted to make sure she was okay. But once I got on the highway I had no way of knowing. Michelle kept the phone.

So, for hours I was traumatized by not having a cell phone. I tried a pay phone at a rest stop but on my third try when I finally resorted to using a credit card they said the call would be $11, or $17 or something like that so I hung up. You know, better to be stressed for hours.

She thankfully was fine and I worried needlessly. And I wondered if I would have worried as much if cell phones weren’t available, like that day in the late 70’s when we just left in the car with the trailer for the move. Is all this technology necessarily so great?

I won’t lose any more sleep over it. The technology is here so I’ll just do my best to try and master it. I did figure out a way though to use an old iPhone our daughter gave us to work on the rest stops along Highway 401 because they all have free Wi-Fi. So now I just use “G-chat” or “Facetime” and call people with the phone and actually can see them as I talk to them. When I was selling computers in the 1980s I could just never imagine a time when you would be able to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the world, on your smart phone, away from your home. Meet George Jetson…

first Divi training post

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This is a sample of text Cam has added to test Divi.

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My 1888 Brain

This is all related to slow internet which is a country thing, but sometimes can be a city thing, and a twisted convoluted story to get to the point, but really, aren’t most of my blogs like this? Bear with me?… (bare with me?) if you are so inclined.

We often get asked about what we use for internet out here in the country. We use satellite internet because there is no fixed wireless in our region. This is a good thing because it means there isn’t the population density to warrant a company installing towers for wireless. So I’m not complaining. Satellite internet is part of many people’s rural reality.

Right now, with so many (166,000 households in Canada last year so what is that in the U.S., 2 million?) canceling their cable/satellite TV and just watching stuff online, it means that at 7 pm when everyone sits down to watch Netflix, well … the whole internet slows down. But with a satellite there is limited bandwidth so the bottleneck slows everyone down … a lot. Our internet provider has launched a new satellite to deal with it, but it will take a few months to be operational.

So, we’ve been renting movies. Yes, I do a lot of reading … in the mornings … but really …  reading after dinner is a one-way ticket to la-la land for me. We rent from Tim at the local video store when we know that we’ll be driving through town and can return the DVDs the next day, and we’ve been borrowing some from the library. This is a good thing too since it shows up on their records as transactions which helps keep the local branch open, in a time when they’ve closed others in our rural area.

So, I’ve been bringing home stacks of movies, most of which we don’t get around to watching. The last batch had Season 5 of Six Feet Under,” the HBO series about the funeral home. It was exceptional and it was from 2005, so we watched it 12 years ago. But at the age of 57 this means that I when I am re-watching something a decade later, it all seems new to me.

Well, not all of it. I do remember a lot it, especially the final episode where the series is all wrapped up in the absolute greatest bit of movie/TV writing ever.

But there was one scene from Season 5 which has stuck in my mind in a big way. Okay, so spoiler alert, if you are about to watch Season 5 of Six Feet Under and want to be surprised DO NOT READ THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

In one of the episodes one of the lead characters, now deceased, returns to do a quasi rock video scene to the song Celebrate by ‘Rare Earth.

He is all dressed in white in a ‘from the other side’ sort of theme singing “I just want to celebrate another day of living, I just want to celebrate another day of life…,” a cautionary tale from the great beyond to remind you that you’d better enjoy every day you’ve got left … which might not be many for some of us. Because really, who knows?

I love this song and often break into quite a loud rendition as I walk this marvelous piece of land Michelle and I inhabit … briefly but extremely joyfully.

So, for 12 episodes I kept trying to recall when this video sequence was going to appear, and well, it turns out, my 57-year-old aluminum-and-soda-pop-addled brain just couldn’t reach down deep enough into its synapses to remember it. I had a feeling, and I got it, 2 minutes before it appeared … in the final episode. No points for you Cam! Oh, my memory was of a 2-minute rock video…nope…it was all of 10 seconds max!

We started thinking about all the noise that our brain would have had to filter through to get that data. How many tens of thousands of hours of videos, millions of words in books, billions of words in day old newspapers and Guardians, would it have to get through to remember something I’d watched over a decade ago.

Then at breakfast one morning Michelle and I discussed how differently our grandkids’ brains will be wired because their brains will be exposed to so much more video and imagery than ours. We’re piling on the hours late in life but when we were kids, TV was a Saturday morning in the winter thing so our parents could sleep in, and rarely did we watch TV in the summers or after school because we just disappeared on our bikes into the woods or suburbs and didn’t return home until we got hungry. Sure, the risks were probably there, but you didn’t seem to hear about them as much so parents were like, “See ya at dinner.” Antibiotics, vaccines so we didn’t get smallpox, endless freedom to play, OMG I was born at a charmed time in human in history.

So how many of the images cluttering up my brain are someone else’s creation, like the scene in the second Jason Bourne movie when he jumps from a rooftop and crashes through a window on the other side of the street and the camera follows right behind him? That was so cool but it wasn’t me doing the jumping, it was like 100 stunt people and movie technicians.

Which finally got us to thinking about the kitchen we were having our breakfast in. A kitchen that in 1888 when our house was built, or in 1910, or 1940, a farmer would come in for breakfast and every other meal, exhausted, or his wife would work in the kitchen, until they collapsed after dinner, most likely without the income to afford or the energy to read a book.

All of their memories were theirs. All their experiences were their own. As they sat and reflected on their life, it would be a recollection of only images and experiences that they had actually participated in.

It’s a very cool distinction. I created many vivid images over the years reading about Ayn Rand’s Henry Reardon or Margaret Atwood’s Grace Marks from ‘Alias Grace.’ I didn’t even see visual images of these people but somehow, they occupy my brain.

If the concept is accurate of this death myth/image of our lifetime passing before us as we prepare to cross over to the other side, I think the 1888 brain would offer a much more legitimate experience. Mine, while populated by a billion hours (into my teens) spent playing with Lego and Meccano, jumping off roofs in homes being built in my subdivision and staying out way too late to overfill a pillow case on Halloween could very likely be cluttered and corrupted with all these other images that I didn’t experience myself.

It would be great if you could get a filter to ensure that all your experiential memories were your own. I’m sure there’s ‘an app for that” on your Smartphone! Oh, and that latest episode of Game of Thrones you’ve been wanting to watch …

The Homesteading Retreat Weekend

(or more specifically the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome weekend!)

Michelle and I have had great success with our one day workshops over the years. We are grateful to the many people who’ve come for the day to learn about our experiences and outlooks on energy systems, food production, the economy, security and the reality of living the homesteading dream.

People have often traveled great distances to get here, and then they have to travel home on the same day. Some, especially our American guests, have stayed in nearby motels. I’m sure this allows them a chance to wind down before they head back to the city, and so Michelle and I have often discussed allowing people to stay overnight here to avoid this.

One of the reasons we don’t usually offer an overnight stay after a workshop is because of my voice. For many years I did workshops at colleges where I’d have a morning workshop followed by an afternoon workshop which meant 6 hours of talking loudly, as well as the whole before/lunch/after informal chatting. I believe in keeping people awake, so I talk loudly (and much to Michelle’s consternation …’quickly’) and spend a lot of time shouting and cajoling and doing my best Sam Kinison imitation which ends up with me collapsing on the floor … just to make sure that people are paying attention to the part on … energy efficiency, or the basics of home security, or the world according to Cam in general.

Anyway, my voice was usually gone by the end of the day and I would have to spend most of the following day (usually a Sunday) not talking. Michelle LOVED IT!

The result is that I’ve learned I need to be more careful with my voice and it seems to be working. I do way less yelling and friends say they miss the old ‘angry Cam.’ Alas.

So we have decided to offer our first “Homesteading Retreat Weekend.”

I’m also calling it the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome ‘this must be just like livin’ in paradise’ weekend. I have never been one who believes in being short and concise. Long-winded and convoluted is more my style.

For this workshop our guests will be able to arrive on Friday night, which means they won’t have to get up really early and commute to our place. We’re excited about that.

The weekend will include three meals on Saturday, beginning with our totally awesome Sunflower Farm breakfast, which I rave (and blog) about constantly because it’s my favorite meal of the day. Then we’ll do the workshop as we have in the past. We focus on energy in the morning – all elements of it including solar, wind, wood heat, solar hot water, hot water production in general, propane back up, geo-thermal, etc. After lunch we focus on food – first on production with extensive tours of our gardens, then discussions of all areas of food preservation and storage. Then after the afternoon break we talk about all those things most people at the workshops seem to want to talk about most – economics..i.e. alternative currencies, security, and how do I tactfully put it…ah….er…sensible preparation for potentially temporary disruptions to those modern luxuries…i.e. electricity, water, heat.. that we often take for granted.

At our past one-day workshops, it was at this point in the day that this seemingly divergent group of people in our home would begin to find out what they have in common and that is when the best sharing would take place. So this time at our weekend-long retreat, the discussion gets to go right into dinner and beyond. I’m very excited about that. At our lunches once people get talking I often find it hard to drag them away from their conversations with complete strangers who they are now the best of friends with, to get out to the gardens to talk about important stuff … like horse manure.

On Sunday morning, we’ll enjoy another utterly fantastic life-altering Sunflower Farm brunch (OMG Michelle absolutely hates it when I build stuff up and create unrealistic expectations) … did I mention you’ll use this brunch as the standard for which you’ll compare all other brunches for the rest of your life, none of which will be up to scratch? Nope, no pressure here.

And after that you can do what you want on Sunday. Hang out and chat. Get the hell out because you are soooo tired of hearing me drone on that you feel that you’ll need some sort of brain cleanse to ever think clearly again. Go for a bike ride, canoe on Fifth Depot Lake, help me weed the garden, load a box up with vegetables to take back to the city … you name it. I think what I’ll do is offer a long walk on the property. People only get to hear me wax poetic about the magic of being temporary custodians of our 150 acres of paradise, so this weekend I’ll have the chance to take guests out and explore it themselves. If you’re desperate for bird watching or hope to see deer or otters, we’ll leave Jasper the Wonder Dog at home. Or we can take him and he will sprint miles ahead of us and sprint back to us and bound and leap with the joy that a border collie just seems happy to spend his day doing.

So there you have it. How’s that for a sales pitch? Two nights, 4 meals & refreshments, the undivided attention of 2 individuals who have lived the homesteading reality for 2 decades and will give you their honest assessment of what’s realistic and what’s not, and time for reflection by a pond and recreation in the heart of “Land O’Lakes.”

The cost for the weekend is $700/couple. We’re saying ‘couples’ because so often at our workshops people say, “Oh I wish I’d brought my spouse because ‘they’ need to hear this…” This way you both experience it so you lose the personal bias when get home and say “Homesteading is totally awesome!/totally unrealistic!”

We offer home cooked meals, peace and quiet, infinite perspectives on your retirement goal of moving to the country/quitting your job and moving off-grid/getting out of suburbia and earning an income away from the rat race, etc. It’ll be a blast.
We’re doing this the weekend of August 18-20th. The lakes will be swimmable (i.e warm enough.) The garden will be at its prime which means much of your food will be picked hours before its cooked. Hopefully it will be great weather for your bike ride or walk in the woods and to hear the loons on Sixth Depot Lake at night so you can you turn off your white noise machine. That weekend falls just before a new moon which means if there aren’t clouds you can spend the night in complete darkness realizing just how puny and insignificant you are in comparison to the expansiveness of the universe and its billions and billions of stars you see from our front yard. And you’ll be able to pick a box of veggies to take home with you to enjoy all week long.

We are going to limit this to 3 couples. We think this is the most workable. I’m thinking from the interest we’ve had in the past it will be booked quickly and I think we’ll only offer this once this year. Send Michelle an email at m.d.mather at gmail.com to ask questions and reserve your spot. I’ll give our blog readers a few days to respond before we put it out there to the rest of the ‘interweb.”

Hope to see you soon! For some photos of our place be sure to check out www.sunflowerfarm.ca

(If you are interested, but that particular weekend isn’t good for you, let us know and we might be able to change the date.)

 

 

 

My Own Private Cognitive Behavioral Psychology

I’m reading Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Undoing Project,” to which you reply “Well that’s a surprise! (since I’ve blogged about every one of his other books.) Yes, that’s true, but he just seems to pick great topics. “The Big Short,” which they bizarrely made into a movie, was a great exposé of the 2008 meltdown. “Boomerang” followed that up on how other countries dealt with insolvent banks. “Flash Boys,” which was about high frequency trading even resulted in Lewis being interviewed for a “60 Minutes” episode. His book “Moneyball” was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and I just love the movie version of his book “The Blind Side”.

So “The Undoing Project,” you could say, dovetails a bit from “Moneyball” in terms of how sports teams were trying to use new techniques using computers and stats to build winning teams. Using raw data got away from so many of the subjective decisions that sports scouts make that often end in disappointment.

This latest book looks at two psychologists who set behavior or cognitive psychology on its side starting in the 1960s. One of the things I do remember a lot of from my one illustrious year in “Commerce” at Queen’s University in 1982 apart from “Film Studies 101” was “Psychology 101.” Apparently I was in the wrong course. Now when I see the moon on the horizon as it comes up and it looks “hhuugggeeeee” I realize it’s the “moon illusion” and is because you have a point of reference with the horizon. Or how when you’re on a train and it stops it feels like it’s going backwards even though it’s stationary, called “the motion parallax.” Who says I wasted a year!

The two psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman studied how ‘heuristics” influence our decisions. According to Wikipedia “In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others.” I am the king of shortcuts!

The book has lots of those cool examples of how people make decisions. If I ask you “are there more words in the English language that start with a “K” (or R or some other consonants) rather than have a “K” as the third character” what would you say?

Most people say more words “start with K” but it’s wrong. The problem is you can readily remember words that start with K, so you assume that holds throughout the language. My brilliant wife said “Well, there’s ‘ask’, “awkward’…” and listed several other words I would never have thought of, which is when I was reminded how I ‘married up’ when I linked up with Michelle.

There is a fancy name for this which I don’t recall. I’m being honest here rather than plowing back through the book to pretend how smart I am that I remember such things.

If you read people a list of 39 names, if you have 20 male names like “Joe Blank, John Smith”, and 19 female names like “Lana Turner, and Hillary Clinton..” and then ask people if there were more male or female names in the list, they will say more female names because they recognized some and their minds dwelled on them. It works the same if there are 19 recognizable male names.  Again, there is a cool intelligent sounding name for this, which I don’t recall. I am not destined for a career in cognitive psychology.

It’s always fun to read a book like this, at a time of human history like this, because I think it’s important to think about how and why you perceive things the way you do. I know it had me thinking critically about things.

One example was Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album which was a “huuggeeely” successful 1973 album. There is a ‘thing’… ‘an urban legend’…’a fact’…???  that if you start this album at exactly the same time you start the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” you’ll find that all the songs link up with the movie, like Pink Floyd wrote the album as a sound track. When we lived in the city and didn’t heat with wood or have 3 acres of gardens I sat down one Sunday afternoon to test the theory. It was quite amazing how closely so many of the lyrics did link up. I remember the line “The lunatic is in the grass” just as the scarecrow falls off the pole and rolls around crazily on the ground. Like how really, how could there be so many coincidences?

So it kind of looked to me like this may be true, until a couple of months ago when we had TV for a bit and I saw a PBS documentary on Pink Floyd putting that album together and it had interviews with the band members and producers and it just never felt like at any point they were trying to sync it to Wizard of Oz. They seem to be having enough of a challenge just getting cool sounds of synthesizers and stuff. So after that I was thinking, well, apparently I had that one wrong.

I’d seen another PBS documentary where in 1964 Lyndon Johnson says something like “If we enact the Civil Rights Act the democrats will never get votes in the south again.” The South had been historically democrat but went republican after that for many years. Then I just read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance who grows up near Appalachia and he has some many other explanations for why some states that you would think would be Democrat aren’t, including religion, an independent streak, fear of big government, etc.

The take away for me is that it is increasingly difficult to figure a lot of this stuff out and growing more so. It seemed on election night a lot of the Trump team were pretty surprised with the results and they were in the trenches. There is no shortage of articles everywhere right now trying to analyze where this general anger and frustration is coming from and I, like many other people, try and read them and digest new perspectives. Everywhere I look these days I see things that make no sense. The current highs of stock markets. The Toronto Real Estate bubble where the average detached home is now over $1 million dollars, and in January house prices went up 22% over last year. Really? Who’s buying them? Who’s got that kind of money? Am I the only one that sees how badly this bubble is going to burst?

“The Undoing Project” at least gave me a few more mental tools on how my mind works to process difficult questions. Michelle will suggest I should just stop paying attention, read fiction and “become comfortably numb.” Well, that’s not gonna happen. And some days right now it kinda seems like reality is starting to look more and more like fiction.

*******

If you are inspired to read one of Michael Lewis’ books, please consider using the links to Amazon below. We receive a small commission from Amazon for any sales that result from one of our readers using our Amazon links. (The links will take you to amazon.com. Once there you can then switch to the Amazon store for your country.) Thanks!

Other Michael Lewis Books

Deepwater Horizon

Okay, you have to see an awesome movie that’s available to rent now.

It’s called “Deepwater Horizon” and it’s about the blowout of the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 2010 that caused a lot of oil to pour into the Gulf. It was such a depressing time to watch the news that year.

It’s an awesome movie just from a build up of tension and stuff blowin’ up perspective. But holy cow, what a reminder of where we’re at in terms of energy!

First off, you could call this the “The Peak Oil” movie. What? But Cam, there’s tons of oil out there, and it’s purdy darn cheap right now, so I was pretty sure that whole ‘peak oil’ thing has been debunked.

I believe that would be an incorrect assumption. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which all the OECD developed economies use for energy data, says we hit Peak Oil for ‘conventional’ oil in 2005. Conventional oil is one of those wells you drill that gushes oil. We don’t get those anymore. The Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) on those original wells were 100 to 150 to one, in other words, for every unit of energy you put into getting the stuff out, you got 100 units as a reward.

Fracking uses massive amounts of energy to get at shale oil, so it has a very low EROEI. The tar sands are pretty low too. Let’s face it, at a certain point it’s just not going to be worth it. And when I watched “Deepwater Horizon” that’s all I could think of. This really expensive rig costs $1.5 million/day to drill down 3 miles to the ocean floor and then a mile after that to get at the stuff. It’s really hard, uses tons of energy to run the rig and fly the staff out and make the equipment, etc.

So, one can only assume from an examination of what we have to go through to exploit the last hours of ancient sunlight trapped and liquidified at high heat and pressure, that it would kind of indicate we’ve found all the easy stuff. If we’re workin’ this hard to get at the stuff, there can’t be much/any easy stuff left. You could write your doctoral thesis on how this movie supports Joseph Taintners’ theory that as societies start having energy issues, they add layers of complexity. The technology on this drilling platform is mind blowing!

My next observation is just a ‘was it just me who noticed’ this?” But it seemed kind of pertinent to this disconnect that some of us have between the big picture and little picture. And, let me preface it with the fact that I own a pickup truck.

I’m thinking that the director put it in for a reason, or maybe it’s just me. The crew all arrives at a helicopter airport to get transported out to the rig, so the camera flies over the parking lot. And it’s all pickup trucks. I couldn’t spot a single car. Now, maybe there was a car dealer next door and this was a storage spot for pickups, but I’m pretty sure it was the crew’s parking lot.

They are oil workers and it’s America. I get it, so they can drive any vehicle they want. But what I learned in publishing a book about electric cars is that ultimately, fuel efficiency comes down to weight. Doesn’t matter how efficient the engine is, if you’re hauling around a big load, you will burn more fuel. The point here is not ‘can they afford to drive a pickup?’ Of course they can. The question is ‘do you need a pickup truck to drive “X” hours, probably by yourself, to your job, where your vehicle will sit for 3 weeks while you’re on the drilling rig. My assumption is that they don’t have home building contracting jobs on the side that they need a pickup for because their work and shifts wouldn’t allow it. So logically, since they know how hard it is to get at this oil, they should be using it sparingly. All you need to commute to your job is a Chevy Aveo, or Ford Fiesta (35 mpg combined) versus a Toyota Tundra pickup truck (15 mpg combined). http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/best-worst.shtml

But Cam, don’t you own a pickup truck? Yes I do? And do you just drive it around? Absolutely not! I can’t afford to. I drive it to haul horse manure or firewood. Otherwise it sits in my driveway and I take the Civic. In fact, I now have to drive 30 minutes to get my chicken feed, and so I have to negotiate my way into the loading bay between pickup trucks where the other drivers can’t often see me since the vehicles they are driving are so big. But sorry, it doesn’t make any sense to take the truck for three 26 kg (57 lb.) bags of feed. Although the Civic rides awfully low, it’s still about the weight of one adult.

I’m not preaching here. I’m just sayin’, we’re in the twilight days of the oil age. If we all use what’s left more wisely, it’ll make the transition away from it less traumatic. I can dream, can’t I? I think the coolest thing for one of these workers would be to arrive at work with an electric car! The movie makes it out like there’s a lot of good-natured jawing and ribbing that goes on with the crew on an oil rig. So, they’re gonna get ribbed about something. Might as well be that Chevy “Bolt” station wagon you own that gets the equivalent of 119 mpg… 8 TIMES better than their pickup!

I remember seeing a documentary (PBS) at the time that interviewed a wife of the one of the crew members who dies in this disaster. He came home from a shift quite agitated and proceeded to make a will which he never had before. He sensed something was up about this well. The cost in human lives to our relentless search for energy is really put out there in this movie.

It’s a pretty awesome movie, even if you don’t spend the whole time analyzing it from a ‘peak oil’ perspective. I probably would have enjoyed it just as much as if I hadn’t, but those days have past. My mind doesn’t work that way anymore. But I supposed if I had to offer a one-line review for “Deepwater Horizon,” it would be “Stuff blows up real good!”

My next movie review will be for a romantic movie where I will share my feelings and analyze the most emotional parts of the plot. NOT! When’s the car chase? And when does Jason Bourne arrive?

The Fabulous, Actual and “For Real” Off The Grid Weekend at Sunflower Farm

So, I’ve noticed a term that’s becoming really, really over used in our world today, and that’s “off the grid.” I hear it in movies and on TV and read it everywhere. Come on, enough!

I suppose it’s a good thing because it makes what we’ve been doing for 20 years seem hip and cool, but at a certain point, as an ‘off-grid’ purist, well, it’s getting overused and misused, a lot.

So often in movies and TV right now it seems to be kind of a generic term for anyone who’s trying to be a little less ‘out there.’ It more often refers to people who are trying not to have an online presence, as opposed to someone who lives without power lines to their home. Of course, I can’t remember any specifics right this minute, but I can see “The Dude” character played by Jeff Bridges in 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” saying he lives off the grid, mostly to avoid his past. I finally watched this movie, which people have been raving about for years, when it came out on Netflix and it’s pretty good. But really, Jeff’s apartment in L.A. has electricity … that’s not “off the grid!”

Do I sound petty and bitter? Well of course. Living off the grid can be a royal pain, so people usurping the term devalues it. I paid my dues. I want the kind of respect and admiration I’m due. (What a blowhard like me deserves!)

Now that Michelle and I are offering people the opportunity to stay at Sunflower Farm, you too can experience what it’s like, to live … and I emphasize ‘authentically’… off the grid.

What does that mean? Well, first you can dispel the image that we live in a yurt with dirt floors … not that there’s anything wrong with yurts or dirt floors. Will you have to use an outhouse? Do I have an outhouse? Yes. Do you have to use it? No. In fact, you can stand in the bathroom and flush the toilet repeatedly. I’d rather you not and I’ll explain why, but hey, if that convinces you this ‘off-grid’ thing is for real, then bring it on. I would rather you do that in July than December though and I’ll elaborate when you’re here.

Can you bring your curling iron? Yes, of course. Can you use it? Yes. Can you bring a window air conditioner? Yes. Can you use it? Well, if we can find a window it will fit in, sure. But I’ll think you’ll find the guesthouse cools off very nicely at night during the summer. There’s lots of windows to get a great airflow and nights cool off much better in the woods than in the city, because cities are big concrete heat sinks. So yes, if you have a regular appliance that plugs into on a 110V wall outlet, you can bring it. How long you run it, or how much ‘energy’ it uses … we can discuss that. Mostly we think we’ve got everything you’ll need.

Sunflower Farm was featured on the cover of Mother Earth News October/November 2014 issue and we had lots of enquiries after that with people interested in learning more. Read the article here;

 

Some people just have a general interest in being off-grid, others are interested because they’d like to do it themselves and want details of the reality of the process.

Now you have the opportunity to come and check it out for yourself. Stay overnight or for a few nights and get a feel for our reality. It’s pretty normal but you will come to understand its limitations, or how we approach our reality versus someone living on the grid.

We have a spring workshop planned and lots of people have attended those, but technically I could kind of cheat on those i.e.. I could run the generator for days before and since that workshop is during the day and we usually have some sun and wind and don’t need too many lights on, our place might just ‘go dark’ as soon as everyone leaves at night. Those big honking batteries I showed might have been empty and Michelle and I just sit around at night and read books by candlelight! Ha ha, that isn’t going to happen. There’s too much great stuff on Netflix and YouTube to watch! And we love lights.

Regardless, if you want explore this concept of living off the grid, book a stay at Sunflower Farm and come and live the dream … at least for a day or two.

Visit sunflowerfarm.ca for all the details and while you are there check out our other awesome theme retreat experience packages!

 

 

The Net-Zero-Carbon House … almost

Years ago, Michelle and I did a ‘green’ show in a big city and a person perusing our books informed us she had gone “completely solar” in a somewhat, dismissive, ‘that was soooo easy’ sort of way. I was intrigued. We’d been off-grid for a decade and were still a long way from being completely free of fossil fuels. After several probing questions, I was able to qualify that what she meant was that all of the calculators in her home were now solar powered … and I’m pretty sure that even back then it was hard to buy a calculator that wasn’t.

I just made the mistake of reading a great book by Andrew Nikiforuk called “Slick Water, Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry.” It’s about the challenges of living in a place like Alberta that has a huge industry fracking to get at natural gas. (http://andrewnikiforuk.com/)

It reminded me that we must have hit ‘peak fossil fuel energy’ for companies to be putting so much effort (and energy) into forcing out things like shale oil and natural gas. It also reminded me that the choices we make, in our purchasing decisions and how we choose to live, impacts other people. The book follows one woman’s challenges with the results of fracking around her rural home, and the lawsuit she eventually launched to try and draw attention to the impact of resource extraction.

As I read a bit more each day and went further and further down the rabbit hole of modern day energy production I was getting more and more critical of what I was up to in my own home. In July we just breeze by being completely “solar,” and I mean more than just using solar-powered calculators. I mean everything from cooking to hot water, and this is a big deal. We are very proud of it. It feels great.

In November and December, it’s much more of a challenge. As I remind people in my workshops, in the northern U.S. and Canada (according to Natural Resources Canada) 60% of your home’s energy requirements are for heat, then 20% is for heating water, and the remaining 20% is for all your other electrical needs … washing machines, toasters, TVs, computers, electronic toast butters … all the essentials.

We’ve got the heat covered by heating with wood which is carbon neutral and which I’ve blogged about … on and on … ad nauesum. The real challenge right now is hot water. We have a Solar Domestic Hot Water (SDHW) heating system which we invested $5,000 in. But it is pretty ineffective when the sun is only up for about 2 ½ hours a day and barely clears the tree line because it’s so low and basically gives us zero hot water. So, we improvise and use our marvelous woodstoves for hot water. I say woodstove (s) plural because we one in the house and one in the guesthouse.

Every second day or so I heat up 4 or 5 stock pots of well water on the woodstove for our bath. Michelle has the first bath because she can stand it scalding, and then a while later when the water is humanly tolerable I use the same water. Then we leave that bath water in to heat the bathroom in the cast iron tub, because the bathroom is on the north side of the house and a long way from the woodstove. In the morning I use the bath water to flush the toilet. Sure, it’s “Little House on the Prairie-ish” but I love it. It just feels right. We are in complete control of all the inputs, including the massive amount of energy required to heat a bath full of water. When you live in a typical house and just pay energy bills and turn on taps and get hot water out of them, you never really have a handle on the enormous energy required to make that possible. And you never think if you heat with a fossil fuel, what the impact is on someone who lives near the well where that propane or natural gas came from. I strongly recommend you read “Slick Water” to give you some perspective.

The challenge is that we use hot water for other stuff. Like dishes. I only do them with a kettle of hot water heated on the woodstove. And shaving. I only shave with a kettle heated on the woodstove … first sink full to shave, second sink full to rinse the soap off. Hand washing … well, our bathroom is so far from the hot water tank that we’re used to washing with cold water by the time it gets to the bathroom taps, so I just wash them really well occasionally with hot water … from the woodstove.

So … heat … check … net-zero-carbon. Hot water … check … net-zero-carbon.

Cooking … ZZZZZT (loud gameshow buzzer sound when you get the answer wrong). We have a propane cookstove. A woodburning cookstove is in the plans, but right now in the kitchen there is a beautiful, monstrous piece-of-art propane stove reeking havoc on some poor fellow human who moved to their piece of paradise not realizing they were near a coal-bed-methane deposit.

So breakfast preparation starts an hour prior to eating. Kettle for coffee goes on the woodstove. Hashbrowns and eggs are cooked in cast iron pans heated on the woodstove. Bread is toasted in a cast iron pan on the hottest part of the woodstove. This is my favorite way to eat toast because it’s less dried out than using the electric toaster. I do so love toast. Michelle makes the most awesome bread to toast!

After breakfast, dishes are washed in woodstove-heated hot water. Water for the chickens is warmed up using water heated on the woodstove. Ugly sweet potatoes and potatoes that I’ve had in the root cellar go into a stockpot on the woodstove, boiled until mashable, then served warm and mashed to the chickens. They love these and devour them, especially on a cold day.

There are some days when it feels like I spend the whole day trying to live a typical North American lifestyle in terms of what we accomplish, while doing it pumping no carbon into the atmosphere, so feeling like I am living on the prairie a hundred years ago … but with internet and Netflix.

So if your response to reading this is “Well, see, you can’t realistically live without fossil fuels so why even think about the impact of their extraction” I would suggest that’s simply not the case. Most of our readers live plugged into the electricity grid and could be heating their home, which uses 60% of energy needs, with a ground-source geothermal heat pump. This provides some hot water as well. If you live in a state or province where electricity is generated with coal, you could purchase zero-carbon energy through an intermediary in Canada like “Bullfrog Power.”

Yes, you will pay a premium for these options, but it’s not usually a large premium. If you like and respect your neighbors like I do, you could never imagine doing anything that might impact them, such as digging up your yard if it was going to affect their water supply. If you start thinking on a bigger picture basis about your purchasing decisions, making these changes is much easier. And with a geothermal system your spouse won’t roll their eyes at you as you come up with new and more complex ways to use less or zero fossil fuels. It can be a fun game, until it’s not. Then you’ll need to clean the bathroom or something to get back in their good books, and no one wants to go down that road, least of all me.

(p.s. We do fall down as we do use a bit of propane and I still own and drive a car … but I’m working on it)

An Iconic Photograph

 

So, here’s my dream photo. I took it on January 14th.

This is the time of year when companies start trying to appeal to those vivid images we keep in our heads, the ones that make us do things, like book trips south, and buy mutual funds so we can end up on the golf course. It’s not bad enough that we are bombarded, beginning at Halloween (well now it starts just after Labor Day) with images of the stuff we need to buy for Christmas. And now, car companies hit us with lots of ads for treating ourselves with a new vehicle under the tree.

These images are tough to fight against.

So, I have been using this little theme (or “meme” I think I could call it.) It’s a quote from our neighbor who was having a bad day when I helped him to get his trucks unstuck (read about it here.) In the middle of it all he looked at me and said, “I just want to build a cabin on that hill and sit by the woodstove.” And he will do it, because he has the hill, and the property and he’s built his own houses before. You know, just like you and I. Last winter he was skidding pine logs out of the bush using those big draft horses of his. I’m pretty there’s no cheaper way to be mortgage-free than to have the skills to build your own home, from materials on your property. What a concept.

So right now, during our cold winter, or when I come in from shoveling snow, or hauling a load of wood in, my line is “I just want to build a cabin and sit by the woodstove.” It is a wonderful idea, but hard to achieve. Modern woodstoves are extremely efficient, but at some point, you still must drag a load of wood into the cabin. And you have to cut that wood, and split it and dry and get it to the cabin. But we can always dream.

So, on January 14th I took this shot.

Where should we start? With my shoes? These are running shoes that I used to run in. That was a long time ago, but they are like slippers now, and I really need to wear shoes since our floors are pretty cold. I’m holding my latest favorite “rooster” coffee mug and on top of the woodstove the Melitta (thrift shop) coffee pot has my next ½ cup of coffee keeping warm in it. I drink one and a half cups of coffee in the morning and it is a delightful decadence.

Then there’s “Jasper the Wonder Dog” who would be perfectly happy to be outside herding sheep, all day. But since we don’t have sheep, and the chickens are in a secure enclosure, well, he’s kind of in winter mode and laying around more than he would prefer. But he stays healthy and slim, so I’m not going to nag him to get more exercise. That’s not MY job.

Check out that woodstove! Oh, the heat and warmth and light from a woodstove. Could there be anything more beautiful at this time of year? Well, according to those tourism ads, yes, it would be sitting on the beach … until the tsunami wave arrives, or someone mugs you for your phone, or the airport calls (the place where you spent most of your first day of your holiday) to tell you they never found your luggage, or wait, is that a bit of a gas pain or is it Montezuma’s revenge about to hit me again like the last time I had one of those drinks? Yup, I’ll take my woodstove anytime. Tell me every one of your southern holidays from flights to accommodations has been perfect and I’ll tell you I think you’re ‘exaggerating’. Maybe you should have got that new shot before you went, the needle for the new thing you don’t want to get. Or you could stay home.

On top of the woodstove is this morning’s bathwater in the stock pots. In January when I took this there still wasn’t much sunlight to make much of difference with our solar domestic hot water production, so we supplement it with zero-carbon woodstove heat. Could we use propane? Absolutely? Might it negatively impact someone near where it was taken from the ground? Potentially. So, I take the slow, zero-carbon, Little House on the Prairie technique and make my hot water the old-fashioned way… I’ll earn it.

I should probably have been more careful and made sure the LED Xmas lights weren’t in the photo, but it was January 14 and yes, we still had Xmas lights in the living room. Is that pathetic? Absolutely. When we come down at 6 a.m. it is still dark for almost an hour and a half and these things use so little power and are just so darn pretty and festive-looking that they’re the last Xmas thing to come down. Every other Xmas decoration was tucked away.

I’ve got my cabin in the woods and I CAN sit by the fireplace all day if I want. I rarely do spend too much time there, but when I do, it’s absolutely magical. When I jump out that sky diving plane after getting ‘the diagnosis’ and decide I’m not going to pull the cord to the parachute, and start looking through those photos in my brain … playing LEGO when I was 5, learning to water ski at 9, learning to windsurf, kissing Michelle for the first time, watching my daughters grow up, seeing my grandkids become part of the family, dropping big heavy scary trees for firewood that always remind you of how precious life is, I think this might be the last memory my brain will fixate on. Then the orange glow of the fire can turn into a white one. Perfect!

Wonky Websites and the Sunflower Farm Family Expands!

Sorry if the blogs have been a bit wonky lately. There are a variety of factors at work.

The first was our move to a new host. I’m pretty sure most of us have had the experience that anything technology-related is fraught with potential ‘challenges’. When you realize the complexity of the internet today sometimes I’m amazed that anything works at all.

We’re paying a new host where our website actually resides on the web. We switched to GoDaddy which Michelle has been using for years. I was very excited about this because Danica Patrick is my favorite NASCAR driver. Well, she’s the only driver I know, but I’m a huge fan, even though I don’t watch too much car racing.

We use WordPress to create our website, and over the last few weeks our website keeps getting hacked. Sorry if you’ve gone to read blogs and they were bizarre. Well, they are always bizarre, but in this case the hackers left their mark and wrote crazy notes or left bizarre graphics. Really? You people don’t have anything better to do with your time? Now we’ll have to pay for anti-hacking protection. Sigh…

The good news though, is that we didn’t really notice this for a bit because we’ve been distracted with becoming grandparents … again! We are now twice as old!

“Sophee” was born to our youngest daughter at the end of January and we consider ourselves to be doubly and infinitely blessed. Mom and baby and Dad are doing great and we are thrilled. We drove through the Greater Toronto Area (aka GTA, aka The Deathstar) to see her the morning she was born. I stayed overnight and Michelle stayed there for 10 days while I came home and manned the fort … or fed the chickens as it were. With wood heat and pets and chickens to feed, our place is not well set up for lengthy times away, especially at this time of the year. We have propane heat backup but I hate using it for so many reasons (which I will cover in an upcoming blog.)

That was the longest period of time that Michelle and I have been apart since we were married, 34 years ago. I know, it sounds pathetic, but we’re not the types to take separate vacations … or vacations at all for that matter.

It’s kinda awesome when Michelle is away for a few reasons

  1. I get the La-Z-boy chair! We should have two but can’t fit another in our living room because apparently in 1888 farmers weren’t spending much time in front of the idiot box so they didn’t consider that when they built the place.
  2. I get to eat pizza every night! First I bought one on the way home from visiting Sophee, then when it ran out I made one, from scratch, dough and all. It turns out that it was a stupid idea because now Michelle knows I’m not the helpless ‘pizza-dough-challenged’ individual who pleads with her every Friday night to make pizza.
  3. I get to watch all those movies like “Black Hawk Down” that she doesn’t want to watch. The pets often find new places to sleep when all the stuff is blowin’ up because I don’t hold back on the volume.

It is quite bizarre though to be here alone since our little piece of paradise has been a shared experience for almost 20 years. Yes there are ‘2 cats in the yard’, Jasper the Wonder Dog and chickens who love me … especially when I’m delivering warm mashed potatoes to them, but it’s not quite the same. Our family uses “WhatsApp” to communicate and there were regular updates on Sophee’s progress, but it was still weird to be alone.

While I was home alone I got to help out with our grandson, who now lives closer, so we were doing the whole grandparent thing full bore. It is a privilege and we really do feel blessed to have healthy grandchildren who we can spend time with. It very much puts what’s important back in to focus.

It’s such an exciting time for us and also a huge distraction from what’s going on in the real world out there, so it’s a really great way to avoid focusing on some of that negative stuff. This is hard for me.

Our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had campaigned on electoral reform which meant changing our “first past the post” system which saw his government form a majority with 39.5% of the popular vote. This means that more that 60% of the people who voted didn’t vote for the government we got. It’s kind of similar to when presidents lose the popular vote but win more electoral districts.

Anyway, the Liberals had campaigned on this when they were in third place, then they got elected with 39.5% of the vote and said “Well, we think everyone is pretty happy with the old system so even though we had this committee talk to experts and Canadians and even though the committee said we need a system of proportional representation, well, we’re going to break our promise.” It was a deceitful, dishonest, cynical thing to do and because I heard the Liberal candidate in every All Candidates Meetings say, “If you elect Justin Trudeau to be our Prime Minister this will be the last election with first past the post.” I found it pretty infuriating. So as Nathan Cullen, who was on the electoral reform committee said, “he lied.” But apparently they think they can get away with it, so they did it anyway. And you wonder why some people don’t bother to vote.

Sorry, but I took this one kind of personally because it would have helped the Green Party.

On a happier note, my grandson has this great coffee making toy set and he makes great coffee and he pours in the coffee, then the sugar, then the cream, and says “Thank you” constantly which is hilariously cute. I could do it all day.

So I shall stay focused on my family. Michelle and I will try and figure out how to keep the blogs from getting hacked hourly. And the world will continue to unfold the way it will whether I’m paying attention or not.

Thanks for listening.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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