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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.

Mommy’s Alright, Daddy’s Alright, They Just Seem a Little Weird

When you’re a parent there comes a time when you have to look back and think about your parenting choices and their impacts on your kids. And how did they perceive you as a parent? The song lyric from the title is from the band Cheap Trick. It was on their 1983 Live at Budokan album and the song is called Surrender.

I played it the other day and was taken back to a day when I was pretty young and my parents called a family meeting, which they rarely did. We all sat in the living room, with the so hip deep red shag carpet (it was 1968 or thereabouts). They then proceeded to tell us that they were selling the house and were going to buy a sailboat and we were going to sail around the world. What? No school? Can we leave tomorrow?

I do recall it being brought up that they had never sailed a day in their lives, but we lived near Kingston, Ontario which was swimming with sailors, so really, how hard could that be? I had sailed with my neighbor Paul in his “Laser” which required locking your feet through this seat belt strung down the middle of the hollowed out leg area, then hiking yourself as far out over the water as you could. It was so much fun until the wind gust died and you went into the water head first, although at age I’m pretty that was a blast too.

As it was the world wide adventure never happened. I’m sure inertia eeked back into my parents’ life … the mortgage…the promotion that was probably offered when they heard he or she were leaving … maybe they thought they shouldn’t interrupt the kids from school.

And really what kind of person would do that anyway? Yank their kids out of nice, controlled, suburban lifestyle, with access to good libraries, shopping, activities … well that would be just wrong. That parent would be completely irresponsible. Clearly. No doubt about it.

No wait, that’s me! Back in 1998 we moved from a suburb of Toronto 3 hours away to the woods, with no phone, internet, or electricity cables to the house. We were going from the middle of advanced 20th Century Developed First World Affluence, to the middle of nowhere.

Listening to Cheap Trick the other day was when I finally figured it out, that I was even worse than my parents! I followed up on my threat to drop out. “Daddy’s alright, he just seems really weird!” I had at least become my parents in spirit, and I believe this is many children’s fear. I could do worse I suppose.

My father is still alive, so I would never refer to the “sailboat incident” as a ‘mid-life’ crisis, but come on, what else could you call it? That is so “Mosquito Coast”ish (the movie/book where Harrison Ford drags his family to “Brazil” for his midlife crisis) And why are so many wives tolerating these male mid-life crises?

I have no doubt that I was the prime instigator in us ‘going off-the-grid,’ but Michelle was right along there with me during the whole ride. It took us close to 5 years to find this place. When it came time to pull the trigger and put in an offer she said, “Just do it.” Was that encouragement or an ultimatum?

Regardless, here is where we ended up when our girls were in their early teens. I can’t tell you how many people have said to us, ‘oh we’d have done that if the kids hadn’t been in school. We didn’t want them to have to leave their friends.’ Oh get over it. They’re kids. They’ll adapt. And yes, we were homeschooling so it was easier, but today, why do I get the impression that ‘friends’ for kids today are mostly pixels through text and online chats on smartphones as opposed to hanging out after school and building stuff with Lego … which you should never do once you get to high school … which I might have been doing but would never admit to publicly.

So how many kids think of their parents as stressed out and miserable? How many parents come home from work every night bagged? Pissed off at their boss? Another promotion overlooked. More job cuts and those who manage to hold on to their jobs just get more work dumped on them … blah blah blah. To counteract the stress they say, “Let’s book a trip, I need a change of pace. And we NEED a bigger car.”

For the first little while after our move our daughters still saw me stressed out about earning an income, especially with the challenges we had with phones and communications and therefore fax and early internet stuff. But as we were able to shift more of our income to book publishing and producing information about sustainable living, well that phase was over for me. Plus, the girls did a few years of high school and then went to university, so I suppose they missed most of the really happy dad days.

Today, as long as we don’t talk about last summer’s drought, everything here at Sunflower (aka Cam’s Midlife Crisis) Farm is pretty awesome.

I left a city where I was pretty miserable when I was 39. I have heated with wood, which I love, and grown much of my own food for almost 20 years. I have spent 20 years looking out my windows at nothing but forests and ponds, and often wildlife. When I wanted I chickens, I just got them. There is no by-law against it here. When I want to snow blow at 3:30 am (as I did the other night when I couldn’t sleep) there are no neighbors within earshot to complain.

Michelle has asked our daughters to each contribute a chapter to the book she is just finishing on homeschooling. I hope they discuss their experience with moving from suburbia to the bush. I hope it didn’t impact them too negatively. Me, on the other hand, well listening to and responding to my midlife crisis was the BEST thing I ever did (after marrying Michelle and having kids, obviously). If Sunflower Farm is what a midlife crisis looks like, they can be pretty awesome!

Post-Climatic Stress Disorder

(I wrote this in the fall, hemmed and hawed about posting it, then watched the news last night and decided it might be relevant).

I was watching images of the people dealing with the latest weather catastrophe to hit the south. And yes, I know that you can’t chalk up one weather event to climate change, but I figure now that ABC News has a whole section of videos on their website that I access through Apple TV called “Extreme Weather,” you have to start wondering sometimes.

I have a friend who knows someone who was in the middle of the crazy evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta last May, when wildfires forced the entire city to bail out. The videos taken by people fleeing the fires are pretty horrific. My friend says that this person is suffering from PTSD. I think that’s quite possible. If you’re not used to fleeing a raging wildfire that is threatening your life, then it’s probably a pretty jarring shock to the system.

Several months after the wildfires and billions of dollars in damages later, Fort McMurray was hit with flooding. They got months’ worth of rain in just a few days, after the drought that had caused the wildfires. Again, it just kind of makes you wonder. In 2016 the Canadian insurance industry had the highest payouts ever.

We experienced a drought here last summer. It was brutal. It was depressing. It was excruciating. But it didn’t play out over a longer time frame. It wasn’t two hours to “Get Out of Dodge.” It was all day, every day, for 4 months. It started in May, carried on into June, July and August, and we still got next to no rain in September. We can call it 5 months.

And the heat. Toronto set a record for more than 90 days with the temperature over 26° (79°F), which meant that I worked out in the sun longer than I ever have in temperatures that were usually 30°+ in the shade and 45° in the sun. I hate summer. I really do.

I think we did an amazing job of producing a basket of produce for our members last summer, every week, for 16 weeks, during the worst drought to hit these parts, well…ever.

So I started asking myself, can you get PTSD from a slowly occurring event? And if it’s related to a changing climate, is it “Post Climatic Stress Disorder?” Nothing blew up near me, there was no firestorm, no flood, and yet, somehow I felt quite dazed and drained by the experience last fall. At least with a flood, the waters my recede in a week or two. But I had to spend all day, every day, for 5 months, watching my vegetables struggle. They were all stressed, all summer long. There was no respite. There was never a drenching rain where I felt I could stop watering and irrigating for a day. Not a day. It sucked the life out of me.

I won’t do it again.

At least not in a CSA format. I’ll grow food, but I won’t ever put myself through that again. Michelle and I grow great food. We (she) organizes the CSA exceptionally well. But we can’t do it well without some help from Mother Nature, and she appears to be increasingly uncooperative when it comes to creating optimal conditions for many human endeavors, like growing food. I don’t blame her. We’ve kind of been using her for a dumping ground of fossil fuel burning waste and she’s getting a bit of a fever and she’s pissed. I’d be too. I’d start making the weather erratic too if I were her.

I read a book a while back before I started running for the Green Party called “Don’t Even Think About It.” It’s about how people react to climate change. One of the situations it discussed was what happens when you talk to someone who has just experienced a natural disaster that may be connected to climate change. If you point out that this disaster was probably caused by climate change and ask them if they will change their lives in any way to deal with climate change, more often than not their response will be, “I just want to rebuild my home, rebuild my life and get things back to the way they were.” It’s totally illogical, but I get it. Let’s just rebuild and hope it doesn’t happen again. Until it does.

So I have been putting myself in that situation since our drought last summer. Am I guilty of saying “I just want to get everything back to normal, and I don’t want to focus on climate change right now?” And of course all summer that’s what I wanted, to get back to normal, which meant some rain. I accepted the dead lawn. I accepted the death of hundreds of dollars and years worth of work on blueberry and raspberry bushes, because I couldn’t spare the time or water to save them, but just a bit of rain may have helped a few other things.

But the more I thought about it, I had already taken action, my post traumatic climatic shock response, prior to the whole thing becoming so darn personal in my life, and creating havoc with my life this summer. I got out in front of it as it were. “Pre Climatic Stress Disorder.”

Michelle and I learned running for office is incredibly time consuming. And we did it provincially and federally for the Green Party. It sucks your time, and your energy and your spirit. And by the end of the federal election I was really questioning it. What the hell I was thinking? Why put so much effort into something with an outcome that does not have a Hollywood underdog sort of ending. The best you can do is hope to just move the dial a little further towards something actually being done for a threat that holds so much potential for so much grief for so many people.

The Canadian government signed the Paris Accord and has made commitments to start reducing CO2 levels. They are way too conservative. They are totally inadequate to meet the Paris targets. But at least they are talking about it. At least they are seen to be doing something. And Canadians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we will have a price on carbon and it will make fossil fuels more expensive.

The CSA eventually ended. We got rain several days after it ended in October. Obviously.  We’ve had precipitation this winter. I’m hoping the ponds will fill up again. It’s actually freezing rain right now. I think I’ll go out in it and get soaked and shiver and raise my fists in the air in rage and scream “Where were you this summer you useless rain gods?” Might as well try for a Hollywood cliché ending whenever possible. Look for video footage of my rant coming soon to my YouTube channel.

The Plague Comes to Sunflower Farm

“I don’t get sick.”

Ever know one of those people who says this?

Or “I don’t watch TV.”

What? I love TV! I watch as much as I can!

I was one of those ‘I never get sick’ people, but I hope I didn’t brag about it. I felt incredibly blessed to be able to avoid a lot of stuff. I think it helps that I still have my tonsils. So many of my peers got them surgically removed as children, Michelle included. Quite often, I would just suffer through just a sore throat, while Michelle got the full blown cold.

But once our kids were grown, and out of the house, we both managed to avoid getting colds and flus. We’ve led a pretty isolated life here in the bush. And when you aren’t and about with other people, well, it’s just easier to avoid a lot of bugs.

Then we had a marvelous, amazing, joyful reason to leave our little piece of paradise enter our lives. If our grandson doesn’t get up to see us we drive to see him, minimum once a week. And you know, when your 18-month-old grandson who spends time at daycare wants to come and hug you and have you pick him up, you just do it. I’m finding it physically impossible to NOT kiss those cheeks, regardless of how snotty that nose is.

Welcome to Germ Land. Let’s just see how good your immune system is ‘Campa’. (Michelle came up with that … a combination of Cam and Grampa!)

Turns out my immune system is not so good.

We both got a cold before Christmas but by the time the “kids” arrived we were feeling better and had a great time with them. Perhaps it hadn’t actually gone away, but we were just too determined to let it spoil the fun.

So after the kids cleared out a couple of days later the cold came back to Michelle with a vengeance. I was starting to think I had licked it in Round One before the holidays, but no such luck. It came back again for me a couple of days after it hit Michelle.

Michelle actually went to see her doctor, which she is loath to do, and the doctor suggested that she had a touch of bronchitis. I think that’s a code word for a wicked evil bug that you just need to shut up and get over because they don’t have a clue to beat a cold bug.

Today is January 19th and we’re both better but still have the occasional cough.

While I was sick I would have a good day and think, well that’s it, I’ve gotta get some fresh air. One night we had a blizzard so while I was feeling fine I snow blowed the driveway and pathways, I did firewood and I shoveled snow away from the greenhouses that are bending in because of the volume of the darn stuff this year. Later that night I lay on the couch shaking with my legs aching, coughing like I had TB, hot one minute, freezing cold 10 minutes later. What the hell was this thing? It wouldn’t leave me alone.

Ever look at a smart phone and marvel that it has way more processing capability than the computers that put a person on the moon? Ever wonder in amazement at what humans are capable of, then realize that these microscopic little viruses are way smarter than us? They can mutate and pass along information to circumvent a body’s immune system, just marvelous, marvelous stuff. And you know, they are going to be “the last man standing.” When we’re gone they’re just going to step back and be giving germo-high-fives all around. I wonder what they’ll do then, when they don’t have humans to torment? And will they really be that happy about wiping us out?

In my book “The Sensible Prepper” (available here) I suggest that people should watch the movie “Contagion”. Not necessarily from the pandemic perspective but from the what happens when lots of people get sick, or jurisdictions starting closing borders to slow down the spread, and economic activity grinds to a halt and how quickly store shelves go bare. After this cold bug I don’t think I can ever watch that movie again.

This bug has reminded me how much physical effort our low-carbon life really takes. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but with this bug wheeling a load of firewood into the house using the hand cart feels like climbing to Camp 2 on Mt. Everest. And that 25 kg (55 lb) bag of chicken feed that needs to be dragged in from the barn, well, it may as well be a small car because it feels just as heavy and I will be just as winded when I’m done. Then I’ll sit and pant and breath like Darth Vader and cough like I’ve got whooping cough, because it sure feels like whooping cough. My stomach and chest muscles will ache from coughing. I’m not sleeping very well, and I’m not that hungry. At what point in our evolution did some trait to take away your hunger, just when you should be eating to stay strong to take on the infection, become dominant. Evolution sucks!

I’m feeling much better. And each day that I am healthy and invigorated I will be grateful for good health. It’s easy to forget to be grateful if you’re just healthy all the time.

Soon I’ll head down to the city to see my grandson. And he will have picked up some new horrible thing my underdeveloped immune system has never seen before, and he will come tearing down the hall squealing with delight, and he’ll make sure to pass along some of that new thing. And for the joy that boy has brought into my life, it is absolutely worth it.

Sorry if I’m droning on about my grandchild, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the contract when you become a grandparent that you have to do this. I’ll try and contain myself in the future.

 

 

My Prime Earning Years

Happy New Year everyone. Time for resolutions about being a better person, making better choices, blah blah blah.

This fall Michelle and I did a lot of soul searching about such big life questions. Mainly about how to earn an income … or whether to earn an income … no, that’s not fair, it’s really about how to earn ‘some’ money.

I had an opportunity to take a job in the city and it was a tough choice. It would mean a real income, and it wasn’t a bad gig. The challenge was the drive, and the inability to live our lives the way we’ve become accustomed, which is to strive to have as little impact as possible and to produce as little carbon as possible. As soon as you turn that key in the car every morning that goes out the window, in a big way. As does the net-zero wood heat, because we’d end up having to burn some propane to heat the house and cook, and as I discuss in an upcoming blog, I’m loath to do that.

So here I am, at 57, in my prime earning years, and not prime earning. Well, now that the CSA is over and we haven’t got other things rolling, not earning at all.

This is supposed to be terrifying, and there is the odd moment of that. Those retirement financial ads do wear you down a bit. But then I think, it seems like a crappy way to live a life, work until you’re 60 or 65 and hope you live long enough to come out ahead of the pension fund or financial instrument that you paid into all your life. Oh, and you most likely didn’t head to work all happy and cheery every morning. Most of us can be pretty miserable with the whole work thing, so you travel during your time off, and flip your cars every 3 years because it’s a huge distraction. I’ve been doing the same thing for almost 20 years and I never tire of it. I just have to leave my front door to get a smile on my face living where I live.

I blame our frugalness for our current dilemma. We got very lucky, bought a small house at a reasonable price in 1987, worked and saved like crazy and paid it off in 1996, then bugged out of the Greater Toronto Area, or “Death Star” as I often refer to it, in 1998.

So for almost 20 years I’ve lived in paradise, grown a ton of food which I love to do, and cut and heated with firewood from our 150 acres. Really, it’s been pretty awesome. We’ve been livin’ the dream. During this summer’s drought we were livin’ the nightmare, but crap like that happens and you have no control over it. I have been getting better every year at accepting those things that I cannot change and trying to see the bright side to every situation. This summer I was forced to invest in several water pumps which I had always meant to do but which human inertia had stopped me from doing.

Last summer when we hinted that we might give up on this blog we heard from a lot of people who still enjoy it and wanted us to continue. We’ve had kind of a spike in people subscribing since then which is nice too.

We’ve also had a number of people tell us how many people would love to live the way we do. The challenge is we have to try and monetize this blog or figure out how to make some money from this.

The challenge with the internet is making money from content and it’s really quite tough. I also know that so many of the places I visit on the web kind of tell the same old story over and over or focus on just one specific topic. If your theme is the coming Zompocaplyse, and it hasn’t happened, for say the last decade, then your blog gets kind of stale. Our blog runs the gamut but basically comes back to life off the electricity grid and our perspective on the mad mad world we live in today. As world events and technology and my perspective changes, so does the blog. With the number of subscribers who’ve stuck with us for a long time, this seems to be a model that people like.

So with this in mind Michelle and I are launching two new businesses. The first is “Simple and Practical Websites”.  https://spwebsites.ca/ For years Michelle has been doing our websites and others for friends and associates using “WordPress” which is a free, online web development tool. Now we’re going to promote it.

The second business is that we’re going to do the whole B&B thing with Sunflower Farm which we kind of started a while ago but then got distracted with running a CSA and stuff. https://sunflowerfarm.ca/ We’ve decided this is a way to take some of the interest the blog nurtures and allow people to come and check out the place. It also lets people get a better perspective on how we really think, since I read Edward Snowden’s book and just watched “Citizen Four,” the documentary about him, I radically self-sensor myself on-line. Sure, I’m a shiny happy guy all the time, but there is the odd moment when I let myself slip.

So the deal for the next little while is this. I’ll keep posting a shiny happy ‘life-off-the-grid, sustainable independence, homesteading is awesome but here’s the reality’ blog early in the week. Then later in the week I’ll post a ‘here’s what we do for a living and if there’s a fit with what you’re looking for … someone to do a basic website … a place to visit and really check out off-grid living … then here’s why to come to Sunflower Farm.’

This way you can ignore the second weekly blog if you don’t want hopeless commercial interruption. I will endeavor to keep this second blog entertaining. In fact I’ve already scoped out some of our “theme” weekends/workshops and they are A) Pretty Funny B) Pretty Awesome C) Pretty Ironical D) All or none of the above. (‘ironical’ is actually a word, even though most people just use ironic)

The thing with the second blog post is this. If you’re following this blog because you have some interest in country living, as I’ve said all along the challenge with ‘livin’ the dream’ is ‘earnin’ an income’. So this way you can follow along as I try to shamelessly promote how we do it and you can see if it makes sense for you.

Worst case scenario when you read the Thursday blog you can write a tirade about why you didn’t subscribe to this blog for an on-going sales pitch and how you are officially cancelling your subscription in outrage (you know, the FREE subscription) then I’ll write a biting/witty response about how we’re not livin’ in some communist republic and how we’re still in a capitalist world and how I’ll pitch my dam wares any time I want. Or not.

So stay tuned. Fun stuff to come!

A Neighborly Snow Day

NOTE: Sorry for the delay in posting. We moved our web host over the holidays, and we both got sick with a brutal cold so we haven’t been running on all cylinders.

It’s been a snowy winter and after last years horrible green Christmas we were thrilled to have a white one this year.

One snowy day, just before Christmas, I had my day all planned out – breakfast – dishes – snow blow our place – a bit of office work – then out to the bush to start hauling some of next year’s firewood that I’ve cut. I need snow so that I can pull the sled of wood out to the road that runs through the back of our property. I could spend $10,000 on an ATV so I don’t need snow, but for now I’m frugal (and resistant to taking any more money out of my rapidly dwindling retirement fund.)

Since there was enough snow for me to snowblow, I headed down to our neighbors at about 11 a.m. to do their place and some other driveways that Ken is responsible for. He was away for a week, and he lives on top of a hill which makes it hard to get to their place. His neighbor’s driveway is like of those roads you see on the TV show, “Death Highway Truckers” where they take big rigs along donkey trails in the Himalayas. It has this 65% incline along a cliff and if you tumble off, well, writing off the tractor is going to be the least of your worries. And yes, I use Ken’s tractor which has a rear-mounted snow blower that runs off the PTO so you have to drive backwards and it’s a pain. The snow blows down the back of the seat and even though I had on ski pants they eventually soaked through and I got quite chilled.

I finished up snow blowing at about 1 p.m.

On the way home there was a horse on the road. It’s owned by another neighbor. He hasn’t built his house yet but he keeps his horses there. One of them was out and my best reasoning did little to convince it to return quietly to the paddock. I tried to phone my neighbour when I came home to have some lunch but no luck, so I went and grabbed John, who was horse sitting at Ken’s, and brought him back to help me corral the horse.

It was a Belgian draft horse, like the kind you see in those horse pulls at fairs, so it weighed more than a Ford 350 and was 18 hands high, which is like two stories. Unlike me, John isn’t afraid of horses, so he got a lead shank around it while I opened the gate, trying to keep its buddy, also a Belgian, inside the paddock. It was a success and as we climbed back on to the road the horse’s owner showed up.

He had just got his truck stuck down where he keeps his round bales of hay. So I took John back and then went to the stuck truck. Luckily he has an old pickup with snow tires he was going to use to try and pull it out.

I try not to live a cliché but there’s this great song by Corb Lund that goes something like “so the Dodge got stuck and then the Ford got stuck…” and that was kind of how it went.

I asked my neighbor why his truck has all season radial tires, given where we live. He explained that the truck came with them and he hadn’t replaced them. And then I asked, “Why is the transmission not engaging properly when I put it in reverse?” He explained that it needs a new transmission which is about 2 grand. So I said, “I know your tractor is old, but it really is the best way to get round bales to horses.” My neighbor said, “Well, it needs $700 for a new transmission.”

I love being around people who do not have limitless money and have to make choices. Where I came from in suburbia, when stuff breaks, you just buy new stuff, or pay someone to fix it. Now I meet people who, like me, are ‘income constrained’ so have to make choices. It sometimes seems like a more legitimate way to go through life. “This life not covered by warranty!”

By the time we had moved the truck part way out, we had ripped the trailer hitch off his old truck. Then he came around and hooked it to his front bumper and since I got to drive in forward (which his transmission seemed to handle better) through a lot of mud and snow slinging, we were able to unstuck it.

It was clear to me he was not having a good day. Once the round bale was rolled into the paddock, and the trucks were unstuck, I think his day got better. There have been too many days to count since we moved here when neighbors have helped us out and it is always gratifying to have a chance to pay it back.

I didn’t get back to my house until 4 p.m., which around here at this time of the year is getting pretty dark. I got my truck up the hill near where I was going to haul wood and then Jasper and I (okay, pretty much just “I”) pulled a few loads of wood to get a path knocked down in the snow.

The day did not go as planned. I did not accomplish the goals I had set out for myself. But it was snowy, and wintry, and I drove a tractor and chased a big horse and got a truck that was really stuck, unstuck. It was such an awesome day. I must say I never had these days when I worked in an office.

(If you’ve got a few minutes do watch the Corb Lund video. It really captures country life.)

Shopping Downtown – on Princess Street in Kingston

I love shopping downtown. Especially at this time of year. What a cliché really. But how can you not be nostalgic at this time of year?

I suppose I am getting a bit cynical in my old age, like when I hear the Christmas song lyric about “children listening to hear sleigh bells in the snow,” which sounds pretty awesome until you realize that if you lived in a time and place where people got around in sleighs in the winter, you probably wouldn’t have any time to celebrate Christmas because you’d be spending all day feeding animals and cutting firewood to try and not to starve and freeze to death, and trying to avoid getting polio and TB and based on the mortality rate, well, you’d be dead by now anyway. But other that, ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

I don’t really ‘shop’ anymore, but Michelle and I do spend a bit of time on Princess Street in downtown Kingston. We’ll get a few photos of our grandson developed (Hey Cam, 1983 called and wants it’s ‘non-digital actually printed color photos that you can put in album’ back!). We’ll visit “Tara Healthfoods” and hope they have some of those Montreal style wood oven baked bagels that aren’t necessarily healthy but are awesome anyway.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA   www.downtownkingston.ca

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA www.downtownkingston.ca

Forty-five years ago I actually did ‘shop’ on Princess Street. I was just a kid. I had a Globe and Mail paper route which was a morning paper. So I’d be up early (in the dark in winter) ride my bike to the mailboxes (or pull a sled), load up 40 or 50 papers and deliver them. The subdivision was really spread out so it seemed to take a long time. The Globe actually published on Christmas Day, so after we opened our presents I went out and delivered papers. It wasn’t until later in life when I started reading enjoying the Globe myself that I realized how much people must have liked getting it, because I got lots of $5 and $10 tips, which in the 1960s to a 10-year-old seemed like an awful lot of money. Apparently I wasn’t charging enough for home delivery. If I’d have known then what I know now…

One year I came up with the perfect gift idea for my mother. She had a few souvenir spoons, like the kind you’d get when you went to Niagara Falls. So I realized that she ‘needed’ a souvenir spoon holder. I trudged up and down Princess Street in pursuit of this, the most perfect Christmas gift, EVER! I found one and I purchased it with my own money, that I earned, getting up at the crack of dawn to deliver papers. So it seemed like a pretty big deal. Since Mom would have driven me downtown I’m not sure how I hid it to get it home, but she seemed to like it. It looks tacky as hell to me now, but hey, I was 10.

There is something very special about strolling on Princess Street with its Christmas lights and decorations, in cold weather, and if we’re lucky, with snow flurries. It really harkens back to another time. A time when “main street” was the life of a town or city. Where merchants lived in your community, served in government, or local service organizations, and gave back to the community where they earned their money.

Most North American cities have had the life sucked out of their downtowns. There has been a giant sucking sound as big box stores vacuumed shoppers to the outskirts to buy stuff made in other countries. I get it, it’s how capitalism works, but it’s doesn’t mean I have to think it’s necessarily getting any better.

Princess Street in Kingston though is an anomaly. It has a vibrant downtown for a number of reasons. I think it has a lot of people who think like I do and like patronizing stores where they know the owner. Kingston is a popular tourist destination so the downtown gets very busy in the summer with tourists. And Queen’s University, with it’s 22,000 students, is within walking distance of downtown, and since most students don’t have cars, they walk to where they can shop.

It’s interesting to watch the metamorphosis Princess Street continues to experience. The Zellers and Woolworths where I shopped as a kid have been replaced by dollar stores. The higher end and more fashion centered retailers like American Apparel, H&M and the Gap have moved further north on the street, closer to the University.

When we moved back to the Kingston area almost 20 years ago I had been listening to a band called “Weeping Tile” on CFNY in Toronto. I knew it was a local Kingston band and couldn’t find the record anywhere because the record label had just gone under. So a record store called “The House of Sounds” got Sarah Harmer to drop some CDs into the store so I could buy them. It’s hard not to have a connection to Princess Street.

I just read a book called “Trash” written by a woman who grew up in Kingston around the same time I did and she talks about going to a smoke shop on Princess Street so her grandfather could buy tobacco and she could buy comic books. I bought comic books at that store! And I saved them, later in life hoping that someday they’d be my retirement fund. Then eBay came along and it turns out lots of people saved their comic books, so apparently none of us are going to retire on what they’re worth today. I still have them for sale if you’re interested!

The holidays remind of us connections with people and places. Princess Street reminds me of my mother. I remember her dropping me off at the Stafford Music Center once a week for my trumpet lessons. I can’t smell cigarettes today without thinking of Stafford Music Center, because apparently musicians like to smoke. And I stopped playing trumpet as soon as my parents let me, another career door slammed shut.

The times I shopped on Princess Street as a kid were full of happiness and promise. My parents kept me warm and fed so I never thought about money. Life was just about possibilities. Heck, no one had even heard about carbon back then, or AIDS, and no one I talked to ever mentioned the threat of nuclear annihilation, so it was pretty blissful.

My daughter, son-in-law and grandson moved back to Kingston. When he’s older I look forward to taking my grandson shopping on Princess Street. As is required of old people, I’ll regale him with stories of what it was like when I was his age. How I used to get up at 5 am and deliver papers in weather so cold it froze my eyelashes together (true story) and then had to get home and eat Red River Cereal (which was really just what we’d call birdseed today) and then walk 2 miles to get the bus … uphill … in both directions. And like all smart grandchildren he’ll roll his eyes and give me that “Grandpa, you’re full of crap” look. I can hardly wait!

I hope you have a lovely downtown street to shop on and you can enjoy the same warm feelings about the holidays that I enjoy every year. Happy Solstice!

xmasgreeting2016

 

 

The Cake to Firewood Quotient

This is going to be a really complicated blog. There will be a lot of complex formulas and math and hard stuff to understand … like laws of thermodynamics, and real smart stuff like that.

Or not.

Since I never did ‘real good’ with math, I won’t be using a lot of formulas and calculus and things that I never understood during my illustrious and short-lived academic career.

Yet the formula I’m going to introduce could in fact change the course of human history, kind of on a par with E=MC2 or that formula for the perpetual motion machine. It goes like this:

Daily consumption of calories from cake should be less than or equal to the calories burned hauling firewood

I know, it seems pretty basic, but it’s something I’m having trouble getting my head around. Although, most days I am pretty much sticking to this.

This summer, during the hottest summer on record with an historic drought to boot, I was having trouble consuming enough calories. It would probably have been better if more of my calories were in the form of kale and other green things, but they weren’t and I accept that.

But now, the CSA is over and I am burning way fewer calories. So along came my birthday, and the large chocolate cake with cherry pie filling layered in and I had this sort of epiphany, that this can’t go on forever, otherwise I will end up getting my own reality TV show and ill have to be removed from my house with a forklift.

This is not Cam's cake, but very similar. His wasn't quite so pretty and he was too busy eating it to photograph it!

This is not Cam’s cake, but very similar. His wasn’t quite so pretty and he was too busy eating it to photograph it!

So I vowed to force myself to burn a whack of calories each day before I ate cake. In honor of Marie “Let them eat cake” Antoinette when she learned the peasants didn’t have bread to eat (just before the revolution), I have enough bread but still love cake.

First the good news. I managed to make the cake last a full week. We have one of those glass cake domes and I realize that nothing makes me happier than a cake under a glass cake dome on the dining table (with a cake in it, in case I hadn’t made that clear). So I made it last as long as I could. It would help if Michelle ate cake, but she has the willpower of a monk and can ignore bad foods like a ninja warrior … if they were adept at junk food denial.

Next I had to kick into gear my firewood campaign to get next winter’s firewood cut and hauled. A couple of hours of cutting can result in double or triple the number of hours hauling, so out came the big plastic sled to start moving the wood close to the house. During the dark fall and early winter months I haul the green firewood through the bush to the house, then by March and April we have those fabulous cold sunny periods where we have tons of electricity so I can buck the lengths into fireplace sized logs with the electric chainsaw, and then split them with the electric log splitter, the solar powered electric log splitter to keep them as close to zero-carbon as I can.

hauling-wood-1-copy

There are tons of devices you can strap on now to count your footsteps and work out the calorie consumption of your workout, and calculate your body mass and blah blah blah, none of which I own or will ever own. I go by how damp my t-shirt gets from the sweat generated hauling sleds of firewood at or near my physical capacity.

It is awesome! I love hauling firewood, and I love heating with firewood, and I love eating cake. So each night when I sat down with my ‘reasonably’ sized piece of cake, I felt no guilt.

These are really bad calories. I get it. Too processed, too much fat, too much sugar, probably too many artificial colors… I mean seriously, I might as well take up smoking. But regardless of how many documentaries I might watch on the evils of sugar, I shall cling to my one-time belief that ‘you can metabolize’ sugar and live in the splendid whacked out bliss that cherry pie filled chocolate cake brings me.

It will not solve the problems of the world. It will probably not move me further up the karmic ladder of spiritual enlightenment. But it does make me happy. And it gets me off my ass and on to next years’ firewood.

Michelle always laughs at this time of year when people ask her, “Does Cam have this year’s firewood done yet?” Hah! It was done 18 months ago. I’m working on winter 2018 now. If I had another reason to celebrate I could probably get 2019 done in good time. Is chocolate cake a yuletide tradition somewhere that I can honor here at Sunflower Farm? I’ll go check the calendar and see whose birthday is coming next so I can celebrate it … with a cake. Cake goes in, firewood comes out.

Science is so awesome! It’s all good.

Chickens in Business Suits

In Michelle’s and my continual reinvention of ourselves economically, I am about to embark on the most exciting business pursuit yet! We’ve run our own businesses for 30 years, done electronic publishing, published awesome books on renewable energy and sustainable living, done workshops at colleges and at our homestead on independent living, run a CSA … oh the list seems endless.

This next one though … it’s gonna be “Something to Crow About” and I’m going “Rule the Roost!” In other words, it’s my best idea yet!

I am now the world renowned business guru (which really is all that’s necessary for this qualification … just refer to yourself as such on the interweb) presenting talks to corporations and organization throughout the world. The topic?

“Applying everything I’ve learned from my chickens to make your organization prosper.”

How awesome is that!

It comes from a blog I wrote a while back called “Lessons Learned from my Chickens” (read it here). During the summer I was contacted by a Director at a large organization in the UK (that’s right, the British Isles…and they ruled the world at one time, so they know their stuff) to let me know he had used the themes in this blog for a presentation he had done to a business group. He had chickens himself and found the principles of the blog most appropriate.

How cool is that!

It shouldn’t surprise me that he was British because as I recall the chickens in the movie “Chicken Run,” about chickens who decide to escape their captivity, had British accents. Which begs the questions, do my Canadian chickens have Canadian accents? Probably eh! Sorry!

Someone finding value in a blog like that is one of the many cool things that have happened as a result of our blog and Michelle and I continue to marvel at the whole process.

So now that we’re officially out of the CSA business (thanks to climate change/Mother Nature/and droughts … not necessarily in that order but all equally relevant in the decision) we need a new gig. So why not use what we’ve learned growing food and running a food business to apply it to a business case … especially in the challenging and fast changing climate we’re in today.

First off, I need a new suit. I feel I should wear a real power suit. Like Armani. Or Hugo Boss! Are these still trendy? This way people will take me seriously. No wait, that’s what everyone else is wearing.

Nope, I’m gonna wear overalls! That’s it! And a straw hat! I don’t wear overalls when I work on the farm, but that’s what people will expect, and so that’s what I’m going to give them. Live the cliché baby!

And props. I’m gonna need props. I used to use them in my renewable energy talks, so I need something new and fresh … something that really brings home what I’m talking about. A big TV? Binders? Computers? No, no, I’m going to bring a chicken! I’ve got some great cages I’ve scrounged, so I’ll take one of the ladies along to add legitimacy to the whole process. I mean, anyone can put on overalls and call themselves a farmer, but if you show up with a chicken, well no one can take you to task.

I’m trying to decide on which of the ladies to bring. We have two black ones. Michelle probably knows their breed, I just know they are a heritage breed and they make what I find a really annoying squawking when I’m out with them. The other ladies make more of a cooing sound as I fill up their bowls with mashed potatoes or apple peels, but the black ones have this kind of grating squawk, like nails down a black board, that they make constantly. While I risk being drowned out by her during my epic presentation, that kind of distraction can add infinite humor and human interest to a presentation.

Note to Self: Train black chickens to make noise during PowerPoint presentations.

photo-5

The chicken, of course, will need to be wearing a little business suit, which I will have photographed beside me in my farmer garb for the promotional materials … chicken in suit … obviously the one in control of the situation.

So that’s it then. I’m ready.

I’m just going to dump a highlight/promotional preview on the website and YouTube and just sit back and wait for the bookings.

It is going to be epic. Corporations will want to fly me to training sessions. Organizations will recruit me to annual general meetings and events to attract widespread interest. Because really, who could pass up a chance to see a guy, and a chicken, tell you how to behave at work? That’s gotta end badly!

Note to Self: Make sure people film presentation on cell phones, have faulty latch on cage, train chicken to free herself during presentation, try and catch escaped chicken which is basically impossible since they can run faster than you (see the movie “Rocky II”), have witty seemingly ‘off the cuff’ observation of how this fits into overall business theme, get video posted on YouTube, once it goes viral double rate on presentations … no triple the rates!

People seem to love Jasper, so I’m thinking I will have to incorporate Jasper the Wonder Dog into the whole affair. Even if I just bring him along and get him to sit beside me during the presentation I know that the number of people rating my presentation “Exceptional” will increase significantly, just because they like him. Plus, I’ll ask him to use his Jedi mind tricks on the audience to “LOVE” the presentation, and “Like” me on that social media thing that I no longer belong to. I watch the talk show “Chelsea” (Handler) on Netflix partly for her and her great writers, and partly to see her dog “Chunky” greet guests and just lay around on stage, chewing on his front paws, just like Jasper! Who’d have thunk other dogs would do the same thing!

face close up

I can see it now. My time here at the farm will become increasingly rare as I fly from exotic location to new and exciting countries. My passport will fill up with pages of those stamps you get when you fly (not sure what they are) and I’ll have frequent flyer miles coming out the ying yang to use up. Which I won’t want to do. Because I hate flying, and well, the whole carbon thing. Kind of like how I hate being away from the farm. Like I how I hate not being able to keep the net zero-carbon woodstove warming our cozy little piece of paradise going if we go away overnight. And how when I eat eggs at a restaurant I feel great guilt because they were probably from chickens in cages, as opposed to our own, that as we speak are roaming the property, eating what’s left of the kale and brussel sprouts, and digging in my raspberries! Hold on, I’ll be right back, gotta chase them outta there.

So, huge income, high name and business recognition, less or no time for firewood/growing my own food/tending the chickens/walking in the woods/just hangin’ out.

Note to Self: Never mind!

*******

Michelle’s Message: Tomorrow is not only Thanksgiving for our American readers but it is also Cam’s birthday! Time for homemade pizza and Black Forest cake! It’s the simple pleasures…..

 

 

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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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