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 not 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 for a glimpse of 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 wasn’t sleeping very well, and I wasn’t 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.

Campa and his grandson last fall.

 

 

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!

Jasper watching Cam skate on a recent day!

 

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!

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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…..

 

 

They Shot a Movie Once…

I got a chance on Wednesday to spend the afternoon with my daughter and grandson. My son-in-law was out of town on business, so I went down after my grandson’s afternoon nap to hang out with them.

We started at the Kingston Penitentiary where they are shooting a movie. Since the band The Tragically Hip are from Kingston, and they have a song that starts with the lyrics, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown…” I felt that it was synchronistic and cool to check out a movie being made in Kingston. Does that make sense? Actually a lot of movies are made there, since it is very old (in North American terms) and was once the capital of Upper Canada.

Kingston Penitentiary was built in 1935 and considered Canada’s Alcatraz. It housed the baddest of the bad and closed in 2013. The movie “Alias Grace,” based on a book by Margaret Atwood, is about a young woman housed there in the early 1900s after being convicted of murder. The great thing is that the movie is a joint production between the CBC and Netflix, so I will get to see it eventually! I remember I loved the book when I read in 25 years ago … in my novel reading days.

They had dumped dirt on the road over top of pavement in front of “KP” (as Kingstonians call Kingston Penitentiary) to make it look like it would have a hundred years ago. It was a long walk to get there since there were so many roads closed around it. My grandson, who is now walking and prefers to not be stuck in a stroller is also not able to focus on long distance walking. Every blowing leaf and empty recycling box (which made a great stomp-like drum) is a new source of wonder. In front of KP he was mostly interested in the lumps of dirt. I share his wonder with soil but was I distracted by whole movie-making process.

movie-set

After we were done we visited my Dad, my daughter’s grandfather, and Liam’s great grandfather. What a wondrous time we live in when 4 generations are sometimes around to enjoy each other’s company. My father marveled at Liam’s dimples. Liam marveled at the 6 remote controls on the coffee table. Everywhere else that Liam spends time, these types of gadgets have long since been moved to higher places because regardless of how many brightly colored, BPA-free plastic toys are around, cell phones and TV remotes are always way more interesting in his opinion.

After dinner I was playing on the living floor with him at one point and he brought over a book (Six Little Chicks, a gift from Michelle) and sat on my lap wanting me to read it. At his age he has about a two-minute attention span for books, but I must say, I melted when he snuggled in wanting to be read to.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, this all took place the day after the U.S. election when so many people seemed off-kilter … even Canadians! Admittedly it had been a raucous and pretty brutal election, and I hope that the message the electorate sent was simply one of dissatisfaction with the way the status quo is unfolding. Based on that, I’m supportive of the results. Message received, hopefully.

But in a world where the zeitgeist of the day seems to be negativity, “us against them”, it’s that ‘they’re the problem’ or whatever, spending time with a child is delightfully distracting. My grandson is happy and content. Every day he gets up with a bright, unclouded view of the world. Every day is going to be a great day. He doesn’t have any negative baggage. If he had done a face plant on the sidewalk, and I hadn’t been able to stop the fall, I’d probably still be feeling great guilt, but he’d just be ready to chase leaves again, holding no grudge. As a grandparent I’d like to see him walk around in a one of those giant plastic balls you see people rolling around in. With a football helmet on. Alas, this does not seem to be a practical way to go through life.

I love my daughters very much, but I don’t seem to be able to remember very much from when they were this age. I was working long hours getting a business established, being involved with the local environmental group, being on the city’s “Sustainable Development Committee” and trying to pay bills. It was a time of sleep depravation and stress, and those wonderful moments that children bring to your life can be overlooked when you are so overwhelmed.

I think the difference with a grandchild is that I only see him about once a week so I have pent up affection and enthusiasm that I have a brief opportunity to shower on him. Then I get to leave and have a great night’s sleep.

The love of grandchild is a wondrous, powerful thing. It’s the kind of thing where you want to move mountains for them to have the same quality of life that you’ve had. Or run in an election for a party that probably won’t win, but that might move the dial on the need to deal with climate change a little further to the “Action” zone. No one likes to lose, especially in an election where the outcome seems so important. It is a depleting, exhausting activity.

My grandchild is teaching me to be positive everyday. To value the important things in life. To get over the slights against me, or the actions of others I may disagree with, and focus on all that is good in this amazing world of ours. To be grateful in the moment. I am giddy at the thought of spending time with him. There is no joy greater than getting a grandchild to smile. I love him fully and completely.

Only love prevails.

walking

 

The Feng Shui of My Wind Turbine

Remember that scene in the first Star Wars where the Death Star blows up that planet and Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “There’s been a disturbance in the force”?

That’s been the theme of my life for the last couple of months since our wind turbine got knocked out by lightning. For the last nine years, I’ve been able to look up and see the wind turbine, from pretty much anywhere I stand near our house. It’s a wonderful, glorious, beautiful thing. It reminds me of the cost of living in an advanced society … that requires electricity … when electricity poles don’t run to your house.

So while it was down, first so that I could diagnose the problem and then to order and wait for the replacement parts, there was a disturbance in the force here. I felt like the “Feng Shui” of the place had been thrown off. Not that I know anything about Feng Shui. I thought it referred to where you put your couch in the living room, but according to Wikipedia it is the Chinese philosophy of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment. With that description it makes sense to me that the Feng Shui of this place has been off kilter.

In so many parts of my province people are vocal in their opposition to large wind turbines, claiming they are a blight on the landscape. They never mention the utility poles that line every roadway and the power lines which crisscross the province, and the enormous electricity towers that dot the landscape. Nope, it’s the wind turbines that are the problem.

And yet I somehow find them so beautiful. And I absolutely love mine. Especially at this time of year! With less and less sunshine, and more and more wind, the wind turbine is a marvel. I’m surrounded by trees and forests and somehow it just feels like it fits in.

This may be because of the literal translation (according to Wikipedia) of Feng Shui which is “wind-water.” You see, after our drought this summer, the pond that the turbine towers above is dry. It’s never been dry before, but this summer’s historic drought did it in and we have yet to see enough fall rain to put any water back in to it. In my silly, rose-colored glasses, idyllic world, wind power represents the potential to reduce how much CO2 we belch into the air to make electricity, and therefore reduce these weather anomalies like droughts. And therefore the wind/water connection is very close.

Do you think about electricity all the time? I do. It’s amazing stuff. And when you make all your own you get a marvelous appreciation for how difficult a process this is. And expensive. Without the wind turbine I had to run our gasoline powered generator several times, which I haven’t had to do at this time of year for, well, 9 years. It was horrible.

It’s not the expense of doing it, it’s the carbon I put into the atmosphere. It feels like defeat. I grew up watching ABC Wide World of Sports, so I have been experiencing “the agony of defeat” every time I turned that generator on, like the ski jumper who goes off the ramp to bad results.

But now the turbine is up and I am living “the thrill of victory” once more. Michelle keeps finding me just standing there gazing at the thing. “You gonna get any work done today?” Nope. Just gonna stand here looking at this marvelous machine. And if I do any work, I will probably use some electricity to help my efforts, and some of that power is coming from that amazing machine up at the top of that tower.

cam-admiring-wind-turbine

Once we got the tower down and my friend/neighbor Sandy, the engineer, spun the blades he noticed there was too much movement in it. He said the bearings should probably be replaced. I was skeptical. But since I was ordering a new rectifier I added bearings too which were not expensive.

When they arrived Sandy helped me remove the old bearings and put in new ones. So much grease! Again, the old bearings looked fine to me, but whatever, if it made Sandy happy, I was fine with that.

Then my other wonderful neighbor Ken and Sandy and I put the tower back up, and I turned off the brake, and it started to spin, and generate electricity, and I said to Sandy “Listen… there’s no noise!” There was noticeably less sound coming from it than previously. The noise was never excessive and because it meant I was making electricity, I loved it, but clearly, Sandy was correct. The bearings weren’t sitting correctly or there was too much play and the new bearings corrected this.

Ken has a saying that he often repeats to me when we work on projects and I say stuff like, “Are you sure that little weld is going to keep this tracker from flying apart in a wind storm?” He says “Oh ye of little faith.” The solar trackers have never flown apart. And once again my skepticism was proved false when Sandy’s diagnosis of wonky bearings proved bang on.

I believe I am becoming, slowly, less skeptical … ‘of greater faith’ in people more knowledgeable than me. I would rather not have taken the turbine down. Lowering and raising the gin pole tower is a stressful job, for me anyway. The forces and stresses seem enormous. And yet somehow down and up it goes.

And if it hadn’t been struck by lightning we wouldn’t have taken the time to replace the bearings. Now it’s not only quieter, but there’s less vibration and new lubrication and things are all working better, I’m potentially getting more electrical potential out of this marvelous machine.

More electricity for cutting wood, and watching Netflix and making toast! I do love toast!

Feng Shui has been restored to Sunflower Farm. It is once again the “Sun- and Wind-Powered Farm” and it features ‘all-you-can-eat toast.’ Well, within reason.

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Thanks once again to our wonderful friend and blog reader N.B. for his generous donation to the “Help Fix the Wind Turbine Fund.” Your donation could not have come at a better time and was most appreciated!

 

 

 

Channeling My Inner Horse Whisperer

I’m one of those people who has a way with horses. I’m terrified of them, and they know it.

I love horses. Or rather I love the results of their hay consumption and how it helps build my sandy soil. So I do spend some time around them.

I was thinking about horses recently because of an incident in a nearby city. A young person, perhaps with the help of spirited beverages, decided to slap a police horse. No really, they did this. They were probably egged on by people nearby. So they slapped the horse, but showing a complete lack of self preservation, they slapped it on its hindquarters. Really? You slapped a horse there?

And the horse, even though it is one of those amazing crowd-control trained horses, still managed to aim a good kick at the butt slapper.

I have learned from my time around horses that they know exactly how you feel about them. Show them who’s boss and they will do exactly what you want … most of the time. Fear them, and they will treat you like dirt … or a play toy … whichever comes first.

From time to time I have helped to look after my neighbor’s horses when she was away. This often meant getting them from the barn, across an unfenced lane to a paddock where they would spend the day, and then leading then back into the barn again at night. A real horse person would make it very clear to them exactly how things were going to go down, and discipline them verbally if they got off track. I bribed them with oats and I even did that poorly. I wore steel toed work boots, my chain saw pants and several layers of bulky jackets to hopefully absorb some of the shock of a kick, but the horses still knew they were in control. And why wouldn’t they? They’re about 2,000 lbs. heavier than me.

Yet somehow this same neighbor is able to jump into horse trailers the size of a small bathroom, wearing shorts and sandals, with 4 of these monsters, and uses Jedi mind tricks to get them to do exactly what she wants. This just isn’t fair, but like my inability to make it to an NHL team, I have accepted my limitation.

Recently I was over at my neighbours’ to retrieve the horse manure trailer (a happy time for me). The horses were in the barn, but they didn’t seem too interested in me, just a passing, dismissive glance out the windows when I arrived. But for some reason, on this particular day, once I got the truck hooked on to the trailer, they decided to investigate. And so 4 or 5 lumbering, Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized monsters were clustered around the truck investigating my presence.

jasper-in-the-truck

Jasper the Wonder Dog thought it was awesome … like Jurassic Park, only he got to watch from the inside of the truck cab, although my window was down and it’s amazing how far a horse can get itself into your truck when it wants.

Eventually I was able to squeeze myself back inside and slowly drive over towards the gate. But on this day, the horses had decided I would not be leaving the compound unescorted. Whether due to boredom or just some horsey mind trick they blocked the exit and showed no signs of moving.

So out I waded into the sea of towering extremely dangerous horses to try and coax them out of the way. First I tried the gentle, calm verbal persuasion technique. They didn’t even acknowledge my presence. Then I started with the friendly face rubs and firmer “Time to head back to the barn” talk, which got me nowhere.

They had decided that something about my Ford Ranger was extremely attractive and 4 (or 5?) horses were licking the truck hood, sticking their heads into the window, examining the truck bed and checking out the manure trailer. Now, they could have examined the manure trailer any time during the previous weeks but suddenly because I was trying to leave with it they were intrigued. Really? You have to do that now?

 

All my finagling is premised on never, EVER getting near the kick zone of one of these beasts, which just slows the process to a dead crawl. Finally, because Alyce wasn’t there I asked another neighbour who often looks after the horses to help. He came down and was able, with great difficulty, to finally cajole them out of the way, and to allow me to exit the gate, which he closed behind me.

I’m pretty sure alcohol must have been involved in the horse slapping incident, because no one in their right mind does that. I’m pretty sure our DNA contains the same intrinsic warnings about the potential harm from a horse’s rear section, as it does about snakes. If it is slithers on its belly and hisses, proceed with caution.

A local radio station suggested that punishment for this slap could include cleaning up the horse stable. And I wondered, is that punishment? I love these places. That’s where the best soil supplement you’ll ever get comes from.

Michelle and I seem to have spent much of our lives enjoying activities that society sees as punishment or deprivation. You hear about prisoners living on ‘bread and water.’  I can’t count the number of times Michelle has made a fresh loaf of bread, and along with a glass of our awesome well water, provides our lunch. It’s fabulous. Why is this problematic? Shoveling horse manure as punishment? And this is punishment because….?

sandwichloaf

My time around horses has taught me a great new respect for any movie I see with legions of horses riding at high speed. This is an extremely dangerous activity and one viewers should be (but I don’t think usually are) in awe of.

When Hollywood comes calling, which it will, when the world has grown tired of Ryan Gosling, and Ryan Reynolds and all those other Canadian imports, and they want me to finally step up and fill the void, my contract will emphatically specify that some nudity is fine, but nothing to do with horses. Unless the horse is animatronic like at Disney World or the role requires the cleaning and shoveling of a horse stall. This is what careers are made of.  (And great raspberry patches!)

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Thanks to PB for his recent generosity. Thank you for not only expressing your gratitude in a comment but with a donation as well. Both were much appreciated!

Picking Spinach in the Dark

I am NOT in a rut. I don’t think I’ve ever really been in a rut. Life constantly throws new things my way, and I’m getting better at just going with the flow. When I think of people who put on car doors for 30 years, I am grateful for the path I have chosen.

The last few CSA delivery days found me in the garden, in the dark, picking spinach by headlamp. And it was kind of weird.

headlamp-spinach

During CSA season, I try to get on the road with our weekly boxes by 11 a.m., and as the season progressed and there were more and vegetables to go into the boxes, this became increasingly challenging … like those games you play where the machine throws more and more balls at you and you have to try and deal with them.

At the end of the season we had all of the regular fall stuff … squash, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes, kale, etc. as well as a new crop of stuff that our members also got in the spring, like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce… and a bunch of other stuff.

I think spinach is really healthy and I therefore assume our members like it. But it is time consuming to pick. I could pick it the day before but I believe it’s better picked on delivery day, and we aim to delight our members. I could have skipped the spinach because there were already a lot of other greens in the box, but no, I wanted the spinach in there.

At this time of year it doesn’t really start getting light out until 7 a.m. or so, and there was no way I could get everything done for the delivery unless I started before 6. And so I got up and headed out in the dark, with my headlamp on, to start on the spinach. My headlamp is awesome. It is a really good LED one that my daughter gave me last Christmas, so I could set aside my cheap and ineffective Dollar Store ones finally.

It’s usually around 10°C (50°F) that early, and since we’ll have had a dew, it’s wet, and once your hands get wet they get really cold. Which brings up the point of this blog.

How the heck did I find myself in a situation where I’m out in the pitch black picking spinach? My instinct is that it’s less than ideal. I’d rather be in bed. Or reading. But alas, spinach picking it is.

I just read a book by Chris Hedges called “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” He talks about struggling places like Camden, New Jersey and he devotes a chapter to a city in Florida where workers, many undocumented, meet in parking lots at 4 a.m. to hopefully get picked to be bused out to produce fields to harvest crops all day, for meager pay. Much of the produce is grown under plastic mulch and has heavy pesticide residues and it sounds pretty lousy.

And I am grateful that my harvest activities were very much voluntary and under much better conditions, not counting the brutal heat this summer, which my comrade harvesters in the south would no doubt be dealing with as well. There was not a time during the season that I didn’t haul around a box of vegetables that I picked that I didn’t feel a kinship to others who put the food on our tables, often for very low wages in brutal conditions.

As I picked in the dark once in a while I’d hear a vehicle go by. And I’d think it was someone on their way to a job in the city. The two likely cities they’re headed for are a good hour away. And I wondered how long they have to work to pay for the vehicle and fuel and maintenance to get them to that job. Which takes me back to the first decade we were here when I drove 3 hours back to the Greater Toronto Area to see customers every 4 to 6 weeks. And I’d be up around 5 a.m. and on the road in the dark, and I never really thought much about it.

I would spend the day eating industrial food and dodging huge trucks and stressed-out drivers and constantly monitor the 680AM All News Radio station “with traffic on the ones” to figure out how best to navigate some of the worst traffic in North America, with it’s awesome new “All Day Rush Hour” … traffic that just never ends.

As I picked spinach I did the math on how much easier it is to make more money commuting to a city job. But except for the odd car on the road, I am in a place of peace, and quiet. Right now we hear a lot of owls. And I can hear the Canada Geese on nearby ponds. I don’t think I’ve heard the loons recently…I guess they’ve headed to overwinter in Florida.

When I think about it, harvesting spinach in the dark is pretty awesome. I have this great gift … property to grow food on, people who will pay me to grow organic produce for them, no neighbors, no man-made noise cluttering the sounds of nature … a wife who will be out to help once it’s light enough to start packing the boxes.

As I look back to the house the kitchen light is on. It’s powered by electricity from batteries that were charged the day before by the sun. For the last 100 years or so people have been looking back at this house in the early morning, after milking cows when the barn still stood, or picking spinach…without a high tech lithium-ion powered LED headlight… and seen what a warm inviting place this is. I would finish picking the spinach around 7:30 and that’s when we’d have breakfast.

the-glow-from-the-house

Breakfast included potatoes from our garden and eggs from our chickens. At this time of year, I chop up some spinach and throw it in the scrambled eggs to give it some color, and for the iron and other goodies it contains. That spinach … I picked that! In the dark!

sunrise

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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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