Living Outside My Comfort Zone in the Snowpocalypse

Since we moved off the grid 16 or so years ago, I have spent a great deal of time doing stuff I’m not initially comfortable with. Much of this has been related to activities with my neighbor Ken who really personifies the “No Fear” moniker that many people like to emblazon on their t-shirts. Often the exploits of these people do not live up to the hype. The activity of climbing walls inside of a building with sculpted handholds and safety ropes comes to mind, but I really shouldn’t pick on any activity in particular.

I think I’m inspired to write about this latest escapade because it seems there is a growing portion of the population with a less than optimistic view of the future. These people often engage in activities on weekends to make themselves more resilient. I think this is awesome. People get out of urban areas and develop new skills and develop new networks of friends they can rely on, and anything you read on this subject will emphasize the importance of belonging to ‘community,’ regardless of whether your ties to a community are religious, geographic, familial, whatever.

Our neighbors Ken and Alyce have a tractor that they use to maintain their property and to move round bales for their horses. Ken has a snow blower on the back of the tractor that he uses to clear his driveway and laneways and he also does the same for a number of his neighbors. Ken and Alyce enjoyed a trip south recently and so I volunteered to look after the snow blowing. I had never used his snow blower but I had used the tractor, so I went over the day before they left and got a lesson on using the PTO and driving backwards, etc. That is the downside to his set-up, that the snow blower runs off the PTO and you therefore have to drive backwards to clear snow. But once you get the hang of it there’s no problem.

We’ve had this weird anthropogenic climate change/polar vortex-induced winter (sorry, but this is my bias) during which we had no snow at Christmas and almost nothing in January. I helped Ken attach the snow blower to the tractor midway through January because it was the first time we had enough snow to use it. As Ken and I sat at his dining room table before he left at the end of January he had the weather forecasts on his tablet and he insisted, “Look, there’s basically no snow predicted for the next two weeks.”

If anyone ever makes a prediction like this to you, head for the hills because fire and damnation are about to rain down on you. And as was to be expected I pretty much had to snow blow every second day while they were away.

One Sunday was a particularly challenging day. It had snowed all day Saturday but it was fairly light snow so I didn’t bother to snow blow. Maybe 4 – 6 cm (1-1/2 – 2-1/2 inches) had accumulated. The forecast called for it to snow all weekend so I figured I’d leave snow blowing until Sunday. On Sunday morning the snow continued but I thought I’d better bite the bullet and get’r done. There was a brutal wind, which usually I love because during the dark days of winter like this our wind turbine just howls and keeps our batteries full, and our fridge chillin’ and our TV casting the eerie blue light that I am so entranced by in the evenings.

By the time I had snow blown our driveway with our walk behind snow blower, the wind was blasting the snow around and along with the falling snow freezing rain was also falling. It -15°C (5°F) The Celsius scale is just way better than Fahrenheit when it comes to figuring out temperatures. Water freezes at 0°C. So anything below zero is cold. We tend to get freezing rain between +2°C and – 4°C, in other words the zone where the water droplets can’t make up their minds whether to be snow or rain. That day it was -15°C but we were still getting freezing rain. I’d never seen this before. It was kind of like on that movie “The Day After Tomorrow” or those other apocalyptic movies where crazy stuff happens.

It was dark, freezing cold, snowing, with wind speeds reaching gale force … oh yes, and we also had freezing rain. So off I went.

Usually when I’m working in these situations I have a backup plan. For example if “the trailer falls off the truck” or if “the truck gets a flat tire” or if “the ATV gets stuck,” I can call Ken. Well Ken was 2,000 miles away, so that wasn’t a plan that day. And there were literally no cars on the road because, well, it was really crappy out and the roads were ice covered and really, you’d be nuts to be out and about.

I got Ken’s driveway done down to the road, past his little bridge where you perch precariously over a 10 foot drop to a creek. He’s never installed a guardrail there and so it’s really fun to drive across the bridge on a tractor … while driving backwards … on ice …. Downhill … while snow blowing so you can’t really see where you’re going. I had done enough of his place for now and decided that I’d better do down to the barn later. I figured that I’d better get over and snow blow for Ken’s neighbors in case they had emergencies and had to get out of their driveways. At that point the snow blower broke. I was just engaging the PTO and the bolt from the PTO to the blower broke. I guess it serves as a shear pin. And there I was in the blizzard, with the freezing rain, and the gale-force winds, without gloves on so that I could replace the bolts on the PTO, asking myself, how did this happen? Aren’t most people snuggled up by the fire today? It was like the Talking Heads song “ … and you may find yourself, behind the wheels of a large snow blowin’ tractor and you may find yourself replacing bolts on PTO in blizzards … and you may ask yourself … how did I get here?”

Once I got it fixed I headed out on the road to snow blow at the neighbors. I put the tractor into a higher gear so I could get there faster, which meant that I had an additional wind chill. Usually I would wear ski goggles but they kept icing up from the freezing rain. So as I drove it was hard to see because my eyes were watering so badly. And of course, unlike western Ontario which is all nice and flat, I live in Eastern Ontario where the retreating glaciers carved deep holes for lakes and high granite ridges so all the driveways I had to snow blow have about a 70° incline one way or the other. Plus I was now at the end of 5th Depot Lake and because the wind was out of the east it had 7 miles of open lake in which to accelerate and really get nasty. The wind stung as it hit my face. No facemask or goggles could stop that wind.

I’m sure my neighbours appreciated having their driveways cleared. I know that I hate the feeling of being marooned because of snow. In my previous life in the city someone else plowed my snow. Someone else provided my heat and electricity and grew my food and fixed my stuff when it broke.

And there I was, the only personal out in the crappy mess, with howling winds and pelting freezing rain, and breaking equipment, and frozen feet … and it was all starting to feel pretty normal. You can’t train for this sort of weirdness. You just have to do it enough that when you turn around and see that the machine isn’t throwing snow anymore, you have to figure out why not. And if you want to get the snow moved and do the job, you just have to figure out a way to muddle through. It’s kind of terrifying. And kind of awesome. To use the title of a George Monbiot book…“Bring on the Apocalypse!”

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Don’t forget our new book, “The Sensible Prepper” is now available. Thanks to everyone who has ordered it! For more details go here.

As Quoted in “The Globe and Mail”

You may have noticed we posted a blog as usual on Tuesday this week, and then we posted again on Wednesday. There’s kind of a story to that, one that harkens back to the odd way the universe often unfolds for us.

Last week we had two bizarre coincidences related to back issues of The Economist and The Guardian that my dad saves for me. These accumulate during the growing season when I don’t have time to read much, and I get caught up on them in the winter.

On Tuesday I shared an article with Michelle about the story of the artist behind the “big eyes” paintings. We were both familiar with the paintings but didn’t know the story behind them. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Keane)

On Tuesday night we watched the movie “St. Vincent” and one of the previews for upcoming movies was for a movie called “Big Eyes” about this story. Now, I’m sure the Guardian story was related to the fact that there was probably a book about the story that had now been made into a movie, so I get that. But it just seems strange that I’d read a random article about something I’d never heard of and then saw a preview for a movie on that subject that night. What are the odds? Really.

On Friday morning I was reading The Economist from the week Nelson Mandela died and he was on the cover. There was a great obituary that I read to help fill in some of the gaps I was missing about his life. Michelle came home from Tamworth later in the day with our Friday night video. She had chosen it without any input from me or any knowledge of what I’d been reading. It was the movie “Mandela.” Do do, Do do (theme song from The Twilight Zone)

About a year ago we had just about completed our book “The Sensible Prepper” but it did not have the advance sales with our U.S. distributor to warrant a large print run. As the book business has evolved and our book sales have decreased, there was no longer an economical model for us to continue large print runs sold through a distributor. So we put the book on the back burner.

Recently we got back to thinking about finishing and publishing the book. We are using a service from Amazon called CreateSpace which is essentially a ‘print on demand’ service. You order the book, they print it. We make less money, but we don’t have to put up a whack of money for a big print run to get the ‘per book’ cost down, and potentially take a hit if they don’t sell.

We had the book ready for printing about a week ago and then I switched to getting the eBooks ready. We figured we’d pretend we were a real publisher and roll out the eBook along with the printed version. There’d be marching bands and parades to celebrate.

I had been struggling with the various electronic formats for eBooks … “ePub” for Apple, “.mobi” for Amazon Kindle … the regular headaches. I couldn’t get the table of contents to translate, blah blah blah. Finally on Tuesday morning I got the Kindle version working, it passed the test and we got it uploaded. It would be available for sale within 24 hours.

That’s when we got the phone call. It just seemed very strange to get the call the day the book was available.

There was this strange thing happening in Toronto. A ‘bunker’/’tunnel’ had been discovered in a conservation area near a university. The story led all the newscasts, local and national for the day.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/torontos-underground-mystery/article23175623/

Because the bunker was near one of the venues for next summer’s Pan-Am Games people seemed to freak out. Surely there was a sinister plot behind the mystery hole. On Monday night I heard the Toronto Police were going to be giving a press conference on Tuesday.

Every radio newscast on Tuesday led off with the “tunnel” story. After lunch we got a call from a reporter from The Globe and Mail asking for my comments on the bunker. Really? My comments? They asked if I thought it was the work of a survivalist? At that point I didn’t have much context about the bunker but it certainly looked well constructed and perhaps it was.

I suggested to the reporter how great it was the some people in the city had so much energy they could devote it to endeavors such as this. They moved a lot of soil in their excavation. But here was the problem. I realized it didn’t matter what I said, I was likely to be portrayed as the ‘survivalist’ preparing for the zombie apocalypse. I explained to her that our new book “The Sensible Prepper” is not a guns & ammo extreme survivalist book. It is a logical guide to some of the steps people in a technologically advanced society should take to deal with the potential outcomes of extreme weather that climate change is causing.

I suggested that FEMA and most governments in the developed world are starting to educate citizens that they need to stop assuming that power and water and food systems will always function uninterrupted. They are victims of their own success. Because we’ve had so many decades of reliable public services we can’t imagine a time when they won’t be there. And when some random flood or ice storm or Super Storm Sandy leaves hundreds of thousands of citizens without those systems, they are simply too overwhelmed to deal with the fall out. Is it ‘extreme’ to suggest to someone it’s not a bad idea to have 3 or 4 days worth of food and water in their home? Is it ‘radical’ to recommend someone in an apartment have a sterno stove to warm up some soup if they lose power for a week? I don’t think so.

Regardless, I got a sense that it didn’t matter what I said, the reporter was simply going to keep chatting with me until they got the response they wanted. And I made it very clear I was not a ‘survivalist,’ merely someone who had gone off-grid to reduce their carbon footprint and was merely passing along some of the things I’ve learned about living independently and ‘preparedness’.

And that’s how I got quoted in Canada’s National Newspaper … as a survivalist. Sigh.

Oh well, as Anita Roddick from The Body Shoppe used to say, no publicity is bad publicity. Mayor Rob Ford proved that for Toronto, right?

After I saw the details from the press conference I think there’s a very good chance it was built by someone prepping. If they’d moved the pile of dirt they dug up further away and spread it around it may never have been spotted. And if the police wanted to know whose hole it was, why didn’t they just put some of those remote cameras on it, the kind Canadian Tire sells for hunters? They were in such a panic to fill it in. If they’d been patient they could have asked the builders ‘what’s up’ because apparently they didn’t break any laws. And then whoever dug it could have had their 15 minutes of fame and been headline speakers at “The Survival Expo” in Niagara Falls this summer. https://www.thesurvivalexpo.com/ That’s right. A whole weekend long expo about off grid living, homesteading, and prepping. I wish they’d skip the survival word, but extreme always sells better.

Apparently there is interest in this topic by the public. If you would like get a gentle initiation into the whole concept and help yourself relax and be mellow next time the power goes off, you can order “The Sensible Prepper” here.

Sensible Prepper CVR

The Sensible Prepper Has Arrived … Finally!

I was watching the news in January and saw a report on a fire at an apartment complex in New Jersey that affected 400 Sensible Prepper CVRpeople. That seemed like a huge number of people to be affected but the buildings seemed to be wood structures and the fire spread quickly.

The report included an interview with a family who had to leave their apartment very quickly, and they lost everything. How devastating. They starting talking about how they really had nothing, they had lost all of their identification, important documents … works. Yikes. Here’s a link to the news story;

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30929258

A couple of summers ago I saw a report on Colorado I believe where torrential rains had washed out a number of bridges and people in between had to get out quickly because the bridges might be out for months.

And I thought, you know what, these people needed “Bug Out Bags.” I know, I know what you’re saying. Mather has cracked, and now he’s a survivalist and will soon be doing reports on the proper color of camo. Or you’re saying, “What’s a Bug Out Bag?”

Well that’s just it. That’s why I think this is an important conversation. A “Bug Out Bag” is simply a backpack you keep near your door in case someday some law enforcement person or someone in authority comes to your door and tells you that you have to evacuate … NOW! No time to start rifling through your apartment for stuff, you just have to go.

Extreme weather seems to be increasing the frequency of these events with extreme rain turning into floods, and multiple tornados ripping through areas and “super storms” too. There are all sorts of great fun for weather junkies but kind of disconcerting for anyone affected.

We have friends in Boston and this winter they have been buried in snow. It just doesn’t seem to stop. Transit has been shutdown, schools canceled, the city is closed. And in a tightly wound, technologically dependent society which uses a just-in-time model of delivering food and supplies to cities, it would seem that the times of assuming that someone in control will look after you are rapidly drawing to a close.

And that’s where our new book “The Sensible Prepper” comes in. This book evolved from our book “Thriving During Challenging Times” which posited that if those trying to govern our society just had to deal with climate change and extreme weather, or the economic crisis, or peak oil and resource depletion, or you name it, they might do it very well. But because these are all happening simultaneously they will be hard pressed to keep a lid on things. Our system is highly connected and tightly wound and complex systems like ours are very prone to shocks.

So, you should take some basic steps to make sure you’re not the person lined up waiting for bottled water that might not come today. So “The Sensible Prepper” is full of ‘Practical Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Building Resilience.” Nothing Mad Max/Book of Eli/The Road sort of apocalyptic madness and mayhem. I simply suggest that it’s time you took some basic steps to make sure you’re ready for the next disruption of normalcy that is becoming more common. My daughter who lives in downtown Toronto, in a wealthy, well financed, vibrant city was without power at her apartment for 7 days over Christmas last year after an ice storm devastated the electrical system. The system is too tightly wound. It is not resilient enough, so you need to be.

While Michelle and I live off-grid and power our home independently, our lightning strike damage which knocked out all our essential systems two summers ago taught me that I needed to have a better back up plan. It wasn’t the grid that went down, it wasn’t someone else’s fault, it was just Mother Nature doing her thing. It was a huge and costly hassle but it reminded me that I had to have a redundant system if I wanted to really achieve the goal most look for in power independence. In the book I share how to do that using the grid as your first source of power and then developing a backup system as well. And I talk about how do deal with food production and storage.

We also added a section on the basic emergency preparedness that governments throughout the developed world are now starting to suggest their citizens undertake. The systems that support us have been so dependable and robust for so long we’ve just come to accept that they will always be as reliable and a whole series of circumstances from budget-challenged governments to extreme weather are working to undermine that great record. No one is to blame, you should just make sure you’re ready if and when it happens.

That’s all. No camo required. No guns and ammo, although I do discuss security issues. Here are the details and a table of contents. http://www.cammather.com/books-dvds/sensible-prepper

We really struggled with the title for this book. Some people have never heard of “prepping.” Thanks to National Geographic’s “Extreme Prepping” show others just assume this involves installing a concrete bunker in your backyard and spending weekends learning knife fighting. Sorry, no such fun in our book. But the reality of putting some extra canned goods aside with a way to cook them in your apartment in a blackout is prepping, so we just decided to call it what it is. In the old days this is just what people did. Today, we have to make a conscious decision to make ourselves more independent. And this is a good thing. It’s not radical or extreme, it’s just smart.

The past 17 years of our lives have been a constant upheaval for Michelle and me. We left a comfortable suburban life to move off-grid when the technology was still in its infancy and there was no good information on how to do it. We gave up a stable source of income to publish books about renewable energy and sustainable living and saw that evaporate with the economic collapse in 2008. We have scrambled to replace that income and have adapted to a new reality of drastically reduced income running a CSA, while loving it. It can feel like crap while it’s happening, but when you sort the mess out it feels amazing. The more you plan for an alternative future and realize that change is the norm, the easier it is to deal with it, should it begin to affect you. We are very proud of this book and we hope our readers will learn from our experiences.

The publishing industry has completely been reinvented since we entered it a decade ago. As you may recall from previous blogs, we were reluctant (and hard-pressed financially) to print a large quantity of this book and then have to warehouse them. With this book we are using a print on demand process whereby we print small quantities of books as you order them.

You can also order our book through Amazon.com by clicking here.

 

Michelle and I have a supply here at Sunflower Farm and would be happy if you ordered them from us directly. Since we can’t compete with Amazon on price and shipping what we’d like to do is that if you order the book from us at $19.95, we’ll include a copy of “Little House Off The Grid” for an extra $5.00. We’d be happy to sign the books if you’d like. Shipping will be a flat rate of $15.00. Visit here to order your copy http://www.cammather.com/books-dvds/sensible-prepper

And here’s the challenge I make to you. I am confident that at some point, if you follow a few of the suggestions I make in the book, you’re going to be grateful you did. Even it’s the time you’ve got a minivan full of kids when you pull up to the gas pump with the tank on empty and realize you left your purse/wallet in the hockey change room. You’re going to reach under your seat and pull our some cash and say, “Man did that avert a huge day-ruining mess! Great idea Cam!” That would be my main hope. Should there be something more extreme than a forgotten wallet in your future that you’d taken steps in advance to deal with, well, then, my work here has been successful!

Happy reading.

Maya the Wise Chicken

We have a matriarchal chicken coop, which isn’t surprising since they are “layers” and obviously all females. When we had just 4 chickens we named them and could tell them apart, but now with 26 of them now it’s a little harder.

Recently though I have named one of them “Maya” in honour of Maya Angelou. She is one of our senior citizen hens. She no longer lays eggs but she still has a place in the pecking order of our flock.

(I’ve never actually read any of Maya Angelou’s books but she seemed like an amazing woman whenever I saw her on Oprah. I remember her talking about toxic people speaking negatively in her house She would just tell them to get out and take their negativity with them She said that negativity just hangs around the walls and sticks to the furniture so she wanted nothing to do with it.)

Most farming operations that have layers are profit driven. Therefore when a chicken stops laying she is “dispatched.” So a large operation would send the older chickens to be rendered into fats and turned into pet food, for example. On a small farm they may just end up in the soup pot. When Michelle asked the hatchery how long our layers could be expected to live she was told that the recommend “replacing” them every year. Hmmm….

Since we eat a plant-based diet (and have done so for 25 years) the soup not is not an option, although we certainly aren’t averse to ending the suffering of an ailing hen when and if necessary.

chickensonramp

These ladies work very hard their whole lives producing wonderful eggs for us, so it seems disrespectful to end their lives just because they stop laying. Michelle looks at this from an ethical perspective, which I agree with. From a profit standpoint they do continue to consume feed but they consume much less than when they were laying.

My attitude is that if they are still eating feed they are producing manure, which is beneficial to our gardens so they are welcome to stay.

One of our “ladies” has slowed down considerably in recent weeks. And yet she continues to hang in during this bitterly cold Canadian winter. I call her Maya. She seems to possess wisdom to rise above the flock that the other ladies lack. When I clean the coop twice a week I have to chase all of the chickens out of the coop or else it is just too chaotic to clean. Maya is generally hunkered down in the deep straw and so when I want to clean I pick her up and tuck her into one of the cozy nesting boxes out of the way of my rake and shovel. She seems quite content to just sit and watch the activity.

She has a bare patch on her back that the other ladies sometimes peck, so yes, she is “hen pecked.” Anytime I spot this behaviour I let it be known that it is unacceptable. Maya seems to accept this treatment and not let it bother her, which is another reason that I consider her the “wise one.” She doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

Today after I finished cleaning the coop most of the other hens were outside in the sunroom (read about that here.) Maya had chosen to go outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun. I had a pot full of warm rice, which is a treat that the ladies love I sometimes think that they mistake the rice for insect larvae. They attack it with such enthusiasm! So before I dispensed the rice and experienced the resulting bedlam, I picked Maya up and took her into the now clean coop and gave her a spoonful of rice to eat unencumbered.

The savages outside went after the rice like a pride of lions after a fresh kill. Meanwhile Maya enjoyed her fine dining in peace, by herself, inside the coop.

chickensinwheelbarrow

I’m not sure what quality of life a senior chicken has but all of the ladies at Sunflower Farm live a pretty fine life. And the older ladies who have worked so hard providing us with wonderful brown eggs get to live out their golden years in the comfort and with the respect that they deserve.

chickensonstraw

One cold winter morning I expect to find that Maya has passed on during the night. Obviously the ground is frozen solid so I won’t be able to dig a grave for her and I will also want to make sure that Jasper the Wonder Dog doesn’t have the opportunity to develop a taste for fresh chicken.

So I will hike into the woods and bury her in the snow. A fox or a coyote may eventually find her and I think she’d be okay with that. Seems like kind of a natural process. Heck, I’d do the same thing if I could except there seems to be a lot of restrictions about disposing of human remains these days.

I Hate Buying Stuff

I recently bought myself a new pair of winter boots.

That in itself is not blogworthy. I agree. Booorrriiinnngggg.

It has taken me 2 years to purchase these boots and frankly, it depressed me.

I bought my last pair 18 to 20 years ago before we moved here. They were a fairly good hiking boot. I wore them when I went to town so they didn’t get used all that often.

About 5 years ago they started showing signs of wear. At one point the rubber heel part of the sole came unglued on a boot. I got out the epoxy and really put the glue to it, which bought me another season. Then the other one went, and so more epoxy.

Finally last year, well into the winter of 2013/14 I decided I needed a new pair. There’s only so much epoxy can do. So I had my strategy. I decided to wait until the Boxing Day sales. Unlike the U.S. where retailers go crazy before Christmas … at a time where everyone HAS to buy stuff, Canadian retailers used to wait until the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, to have their big sales … when people don’t WANT to buy stuff. It just makes way more sense.

Last winter we had that polar vortex that brought day after day of cold and snow and so Michelle and I weren’t able to get to the city for the sales and when I finally got to the shops I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. $100 for new boots. Yuck. That sounds better than $169.95 without the sale, but it still seemed like a lot of money for a bunch of oil products formed into things you wear on your feet. So one thing lead to another and the new boots never got bought … and out came the epoxy again.

This winter the epoxy strategy was no longer working. The boots were springing holes where no epoxy could reach, and I’ve tried sewing up the leather on these things, but without an industrial sewing machine, I just ended up jabbing needles very deep into my hands. The leather was separating from the rubber so there wasn’t much support. Having my socks get soaked every time I went out in snow just wasn’t much fun. All of my big winter work boots have holes, but I put plastic bags over the liners which at least buys me a few dry days, especially if it’s cold because the snow doesn’t leak in that fast.

And so recently I found myself at Mark’s Work Warehouse. There were sales. My first choice was a pair of $90 boots on sale for $60. They had kind of a ‘camouflage’ thing happening which wasn’t too bad, but I figured that since I use these as my “going to the city boots” the camouflage was a bit weird. Plus they didn’t seem that well made.

The pair I bought was $90, er … $89.99 (because when I see $89.99 I don’t just round up?) They were regularly priced at $120, sorry, $119.99. They seem well made. They are brown and non-descript. They are fairly high so will provide some ankle support, important for old people like me. Heck, this may be the last pair of hiking/winter boots I ever have to buy.

new boots

As a bonus since Canadian Tire owns Mark’s Work Warehouse and I used my Canadian Tire credit card, the cashier said I’m going to get points! Yee ha, further rewarded for my consumption! The cashier couldn’t actually show me these points on my receipt; she said they’d show up on my statement. Michelle said she doesn’t remember them ever showing up on a statement. I’ll just hope they magically appear cause that’s why I buy stuff, to get points.

Yet somehow I’m left feeling empty about the whole buying new stuff experience. I used to find it joyful. Then I just tolerated it. Now I hate it. How long before this thing I’ve bought ends up in a landfill? What was it made of? What did the factory smell like where it was made? Would I work in a factory that smelled like that?

My boots were made in Cambodia. I don’t know much about Cambodia. I believe they were secretly bombed during the Vietnam War, but I’m not sure why. I believe the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot killed more than a million of its citizens. The humanity.

But now they make winter boots for Canadians. How much of the $90 that I paid for these boots went to the people who made them? I’m sure they probably prefer working in a boot factory to trying to avoid being targeted by their government, but frankly I’m skeptical about it.

So many questions. So many ethical dilemmas.

I’ve been saving my old tires when I get new ones on the car. And I have some bike inner tubes that are fairly flexible. And I’ve got some hunks of leather I salvaged from somewhere. If I cut the sole out of a car tire, then wired the leather and bike inner tube rubber on to the outside, then drilled holes for the laces … I could do this. Sure they’d be ugly. Sure they’d leak. Sure they’d look like something from a Hollywood wardrobe department for a post-apocalyptic movie, but that would be cool. But if it meant I never had to go into a retail store and spend $100 I don’t want to spend I’m thinking it might be worth it.

Note to self: Search You Tube for videos for how to make boots out of scrap materials.

Second note to self: Come up with catchy post-apocalyptic name for these boots made from scrap, “Mad Max Mudboots!” Get them into the hands of some trendy kids, start a buzz on social media about how cool they are … hashtag#bootssocoolyouwanttoeatsoylentgreen … build a huge factory mass producing them, retire rich.

Third note to self: Just go and cut some firewood and shut your darn brain off for an hour.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime – and It Involves Blueberries!

We know that a lot of people who read our blog are urban dwellers who long for a life in the country. They tell us that all the time. And every time we hear from someone who envies our lifestyle, we are rejuvenated because we remember how much we wanted to get out of the city and how lucky we are to live where we do.

So here’s your chance. Our friends John and Denice are selling their blueberry patch. John has turned 65 and while he is in great shape and going strong he’s decided it’s time to pass the patch along to the next ‘caretaker.’

It’s an amazing place. The property has 2 acres of mature blueberry plants and 4 acres for expansion. I blogged about John’s passion for his blueberries a few years ago here. John planted the bushes about 25 years ago and I’m in awe of the foresight and patience he had to invest in such a long-term payoff. Most of us today are looking for a fast return. A quick payback. When John planted these blueberry bushes there was no quick buck. It was just years of nurturing and tending.

The property is located at the edge of the village of “Tweed,” north of Belleville Ontario. It overlooks Stoco Lake and has an amazing osprey nest on top of a huge pole that John and Denice erected for the ospreys. The osprey family that lives there are extremely ‘chatty’ during blueberry picking season. What an awesome sound. Ospreys eat fish, so it’s a perfect location for them to camp out. I keep telling John he needs to put one of those remote video cameras in the nest and live-stream it on-line. People love that stuff!

The cool thing about John and Denice’s operation is that it’s ready to go and will produce a reasonable income from day one. Well, from year one. It won’t produce an income until the summer, but it will produce an income for 6 or 8 weeks that is excellent. Michelle and I spend about $400/yr picking blueberries for our CSA members during the picking season. We go every week while it’s open. It’s about a half hour drive for us. Lots of our members go to the patch themselves for a big picking, but the nice thing about the CSA is that we supply our members with fresh blueberries for as long as the season lasts without them having to make the drive themselves. Fresh, local, low-carbon, blueberries. Sometime read a grocery story flyer and see where their blueberries come from. Usually they are from Chile or Mexico this time of year. During the summer they often come all the way from B.C.

The amazing thing about blueberries is that not only are they unbelievably good for you and full of anti-oxidants, they freeze amazingly well. We just put them right into our freezer containers without washing or individually freezing them on cookie sheets. Just pop them right into the containers and they come out individually when we need them all winter. Blueberry pancakes. Blueberry crepes. Blueberry muffins. Blueberries in smoothies. Hey Michelle, might you be in one of those “baking with blueberry moods” today? Or should I just say, “Michelle, will you please bake me a blueberry pie?” There, was that more honest?

John and Denice have built up a large and loyal customer base that comes to pick blueberries every summer. It’s a summer tradition, taking the family to pick at Wilson’s. I believe this is called a “Turn Key” operation because it’s ready to go, but it’s not a franchise. It’s a unique, totally awesome one-of-a-kind place and I think it’s a pretty great opportunity for someone who wants to escape the city but hasn’t figured out how to earn an income in the country. Or perhaps someone who can continue to earn some income working online but wants to get their hands in the soil. You become an instant farmer.

You don’t need to know anything about blueberries. John lives close by and will coach you the first year or as he says, “for as long as you both still like each other.” I think he’ll always have blueberries in his blood, but also about a hundred other projects he wants to work on.

Michelle has just set up their website here:

http://wilsonsorganicblueberries.com/

She has also set up a unique sales page that you can access here for more details:

http://wilsonsorganicblueberries.com/for-sale/

And she’s set up a Facebook page for them too. They’ve never needed one because they always sell out each years’ crop, but she convinced them that some people might prefer to get the daily picking report online.

https://www.facebook.com/wilsonsorganicblueberries

Check it out. Stop dreaming! Start growing and selling blueberries!

blueberries ours picked

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Craftsmanship

(With my apologies to Dave Eggers for using a variation on his greatest book title ever)

When I lived in suburbia I was very aware of the concept of people ‘killing time.’ This wasn’t just the obvious mall walking or traveling south in the winter upon one’s retirement, not that there is anything wrong with these choices which capitalism and democracy has allowed us (convinced us?) to pursue.

At that time we ran own business and I worked horrific hours. I had an office away from the house and when I could I would ride my bike back and forth. I remember seeing several men engaged in activities like moving patio stones from one side of their front yard one year, and then back again the next. It was like they were driven to accomplish actual concrete tasks but because the gift of ancient stored sunlight in fossil fuel had freed them of drudgery and allowed them to earn a good living and then retire, it was still in their basic DNA encoding to actually need to accomplish something.

You see it a lot on TV, sometimes on the news, one of those human-interest bits where they show the man who spent 10 years constructing a scale replica of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon as a backyard tree house. First I think, well, that’s kind of cool (if you’re a Star WARS fan) but then I would wonder what if he had devoted himself to another cause like saving the Amazonian rain forest, or lobbying for a price on carbon. Wouldn’t that be a better use of this time? What is this obsession he has with this mindless pursuit that causes him to waste his time on such a valueless pursuit?

And then it hit me. I am that man.

I offer you, as proof, Exhibit A, the new oak shelves.

oakshelves

 

There is a great deal that I am attempting to accomplish this winter, such as fixing a number of broken rototillers, getting “The Sensible Prepper” ready as an eBook or a Print on Demand hardcopy, finalizing the details of our greenhouse project for the spring, etc. There is just a long list of stuff to do.

rototillers

But in between my works on these tasks I may have taken the odd trip to Don’s scrap wood pile (henceforth referred to as “Cam’s Happy Place”) whereupon I came into possession of an extensive supply of beautiful oak hardwood floor scraps, planed on one side. In other words, one side is beautifully finished and looks just lovely.

And so I dragged these scraps back to the house and leaned them against the outside wall of the guesthouse, to get back to later in the winter, after my other projects were finished. But there they were, calling to me, like some inanimate object from a Twilight Zone episode, which eventually causes the madness of the protagonist.

woodagainstguesthouse

I’d hear them late at night as I was getting ready for bed … “Cam, come out and make something out of us… we’re just wasting away.” Or as I was shoveling snow around the guesthouse, “Cam, what are you waiting for, you need more shelves downstairs in the guesthouse … make us into shelves … you know you want to.”

I struggled to ignore the voices of the oak wood scrap pile. But the force was strong in this one. It would not stop the yammering. It would not leave me alone.

There is a great scene in The Godfather (Part II I think), where Michael Corleone is trying to make the business legitimate and he says “Just when I thought I was out, they puuulll me back in.” Tony Soprano’s consigliere “Sal” played by Steven Van Zandt often did his impersonation of this in The Sopranos. And now, I was trying to accomplish my winter tasks and yet that pile of oak scraps was trying to pull me back in.

I was busy organizing the downstairs of the guesthouse one day. We store our books and our CSA gardening materials there and they needed to be tidied up. But the voices wouldn’t stop … “Cam, you could put a new set of shelves over there, and take that wall unit upstairs and Michelle could store bedding on it. Michelle will appreciate this … Michelle would love this …”

I am a weak man. I am the king of rationalization. Every book you read about being happy has these little expressions like … “Live in the moment”… “Live your dream …” “Do what you’re passionate about …” Blah, blah, blah. The noise was constant, the voices wouldn’t stop, the rationalizations and the impulse to build shelves took over like a heroin’s addict need for the next hit.

Then one day we had brilliant sun, and the batteries were charged, and it was a perfect day to use the chop saw. And I was weak, and I cut that pile of oak scrap down to size and put it together with screws and it became a heartbreaking work of staggering craftsmanship. It is for sale for $975 but it weighs 1100 pounds because it’s oak, so you’d have to pick it up if you wanted it.

These shelves will last for 1,000 years. They will be around long after my grandchildren’s children leave this mortal plane. They are made of recycled wood that was going to be burned. They represent a truly environmentally responsible re-use of materials. And they represent my weakness of not being able to ignore the voices … the ‘build me’ voices … the ‘come on, distract yourself from what you need to do and do what you really ‘want’ do to’ voices.

And now every time I walk by them I touch them and marvel at their construction and their beauty and achieve what Buddhist monks mediate a whole life trying to achieve. I may never have enough stuff to fill those shelves, but that’s okay. They are my shrine to non-sensical human endeavor. I’ll figure how to build that greenhouse tomorrow.

sideviewoakshelves

THE Workshop you NEED to Attend!

I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken about some of my former illustrious and numerous careers, especially in sales. I sold advertising in my uncle’s used farm equipment paper, radio advertising in Peterborough, television advertising in Kingston, computers in Hamilton, desktop publishing systems in Toronto, and then my own business in Burlington & Tamworth for 25 years. So hold onto your seat, ‘cause this is gonna get ugly!’ Because I want to fill up our spring workshop early. We sold out our fall one and it helps us to get a spring strategy the sooner it’s booked. Soo… long inhale… here goes…

So, this is… THE BEST WORKSHOP…. EVER! No, it really is. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. This is a fact. You can look it up.

We call it “The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop” and that doesn’t even begin to explain how totally awesome it is.

It started many years ago as an offshoot of the renewable energy workshops I was giving at colleges. I focused on energy in the morning, then expanded on the independence theme in the afternoon to talk about food production and storage, transportation, water, alternative forms of monetary exchange … that sort of thing.

Eventually I began calling it “Thriving During Challenging Times” and one time at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton a few years back we had 75 people attend the workshop.

In those days it was all PowerPoints, and there were probably 300 photos in it, but I don’t always think that has the same impact. So we decided, hey, if we really want people to see how this is done, and know that you can really do this, then we need to have them come to the house to show them.

Now we’ve been offering it here for a number of years and every one gets progressively better. I appreciate the first people who came and we have used their feedback to continuously improve it. At the beginning I used some of my PowerPoint slides to set the stage for ‘why’ you may want to become more independent and resilient. I quickly noticed that people would start dozing off as early as 9:30 am during the PowerPoint presentation, and duh, they were here already, so obviously they got the “why” thing.

And now every time I present my workshop I further refine it so that people are just getting the essentials. You know how when you used to write essays in school the more you reread it, the more extraneous stuff you could take out and make it shorter? Well that’s what I’ve been able to do and so now there is less to absorb, just the essentials. I have lots more information if people want it, but I won’t put it out there if it just puts extra pressure on everyone’s brain synapses … because at 55 I now realize there’s only so much ‘stuff’ you can file up there. Now the daylong workshop consists of visiting various areas of our house while I explain the how’s and whys of our various systems and then allowing time for people to ask questions that are directly related to their own situation. I stay on message and answer quickly and if I think I haven’t got them what they want, I revisit it with them at lunch or during the breaks. ‘No one leaves with questions unanswered’ is my mantra.

You learn only the essential stuff and not some esoteric, theoretical concept you see on a screen, you see ‘IT.” You see what a kilowatt of photovoltaic panels looks like and what sort of lifestyle you can live depending on how many hours of sun you receive. You see what an acre and a half of cultivated gardens looks like and how much food it can produce. You see what’s involved with backyard chickens and what you need for a proper root cellar.

Michelle prepares wonderful food and people really seem to love sitting down for lunch at our dining room table and having a chance to talk to everyone else. I love meeting all these cool people. It’s a blast. It’s fantastic! I love these days! I’m totally pumped when they’re over!

This year our spring workshop will take place on Saturday, April 25. The cost for the whole day, which includes coffee breaks and lunch, is $120/per person. This includes two of our books, one of which will be “The Sensible Prepper,” hot off the press. We’re 2 ½ hours from Toronto, less than 2 hours from Ottawa, less than 6 hours from Boston and less than 11 hours from New York City. So there’s no excuse to miss it. Book a plane. Book a train. Fill up your gas tank. It’s an incredible value! The knowledge is priceless! Bring your parents … bring your adult children … bring your neighbor … tell your co-workers, tell your baseball team, let your homesteader wannabe group know about it, put it on your local bulletin board, post it on your Facebook page. It’s a really big deal! It’s that awesome!

Thanks for listening. If I have any blog readers left two days from now I’ll be shocked!

 For more information click here. To sign up for this workshop, email michelle at gmail dot com.

sunflower-farm-sign

That Whole Quantitative Easing Thing

I found another great book at a thrift shop called “The New Good Life” by John Robbins. He wrote a book that we read a few decades ago called “Diet for a New America” which got us thinking about the food we eat. He was heir to the Baskin Robbins’ ice cream empire and walked away from it all, lived in a cabin on the coast of B.C., grew his own food and lived on next to no money. Eventually he moved to California and wrote some books and earned a reasonable living promoting living a sustainable life.

He has two grand children with health challenges because they were born prematurely and he was concerned about having money put aside for their care. He was doing well with an investment adviser he trusted, so he took a mortgage on his house to increase the nest egg he was building.

In early January PBS’ “FRONTLINE” re-aired a broadcast about the ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff. And low and behold, I happened to watch the show on the same day that I read the section in John Robbins’ book where he talks about the call he got from his investment adviser that the reason they had been getting such good returns was because their money was invested, indirectly and through various layers of fog, with Bernie Madoff. So John was broke, had a mortgage, no source of income and wasn’t getting any younger.

Here’s the Frontline documentary which you can watch online.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/madoff/

This is a heart-wrenching story, for everyone who got scammed. There’s no way to not sound like a cold heartless monster when I say this, but I will anyway. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If the best you can do in a GIC is 2% and the best you might do in the market is 5 – 7%, and someone is offering you 12% or whatever it was, year after year, whether the market was up or down, run screaming.

Which leads me to the news that European Union central banker Mario Draghi has decided to start a massive round of quantitative easing of $86 billion a month. Quantitative easy is the fancy-schmancy word for money printing. The U.S. Federal reserve starting calling it this around 2008, thinking we wouldn’t know it was money printing. They printed oh, about $85 billion a month. Doesn’t it seem kind of strange that central bankers keep using an arbitrary, random amount that doesn’t seem to have any grounding in anything real? But then again, it’s just made up money, so really, who cares about the amount?

I took several economics courses at university, and never finished my degree, so I am not in line to take over control of the Bank of Canada. But here’s how I perceive the money supply. It should have some basis in reality. It should be linked somehow to the general productivity of the economy. Otherwise just throwing $85 billion a month out of a helicopter is going to be hugely inflationary. With interest rates at historic lows over the last 5 years one wonders what people did with all the extra money, being dropped from helicopters. In October 2007 the DOW was at 13,900. In February 2009, just as quantitative easy was starting it was at 7,000. The day I wrote this blog post it was at an all time high of 17,800.

Some would argue that this figure has little grounding in the actual performance of the U.S. economy. Don’t get me wrong, for all those people who have retirement plans based on this amount, it’s a good thing. But if it has been achieved artificially, well, then, one shouldn’t have much confidence in its long-term viability. In fact I’d have way more confidence in the stock market if it actually had some logical link to the state of the world economies after the economic collapse of 2008.

It somehow seems “too good to be true.” It’s funny, I just checked to make sure that you could watch that Frontline on-line and you can. And the first line is “It was too good to be true.” But nobody wanted to ask questions.” There was a ‘willful ignorance.’ ‘Where was the due diligence?’ ‘Where were the regulators?’

So today you have to ask yourself, is the state of the stock market a realistic representation of the true state of the economy, or is it the logical result of years of money printing, err … quantitative easing, where this magical money was created at a time of historic low interest rates where it had no place else to go. And if you think there’s a link, then you have to ask yourself, is it ‘too good to be true?”

If you do think that, then you should be taking proactive measures in your financial management and your personal resilience.

Michelle and I have been busy getting our latest book “The Sensible Prepper, Practical Tips for Emergency Preparedness and Building Resilience” ready for printing. We think it’s an important book that our readers may be interested in. We think there may never be a better time to take action than now, when things look pretty good.

It’s easy to say ‘well, that whole Bernie Madoff thing, that would never happen to me.’ Unless of course it was happening on a much grander scale, so grand it wasn’t apparent to everyone participating in it that in fact there was a lack of due diligence and there was a willful ignorance, and that the government means well, they just want the shiny happy endless economic growth train to keep rolling along forever. Even if the way they achieve this may be, well, not exactly an honest, hard-working way of doing it.

In the meantime, woo hoo, let’s all party like it’s 1999! Don’t worry, be happy! It’s allllll good! Until it’s not.

* * * * * * *

Michelle’s Note: Two book reviews in a row! Here is the amazon link for both of John Robbins’ books mentioned by Cam.

The Best Book Sale / Find / To Read … EVER!

Have you ever had one of those red letter, best days ever? One of those finished the marathon in record time, got a compliment from the boss, won at Bingo, and grew the biggest pumpkin ever kind-of-days? I get them all the time!

I have blogged previously about the many great books we have found at thrift shops. While any desire for a human-made creation is inherently bad for the planet, I make an exception for books. They are made from trees so they are in fact sequestering carbon, and well, since they’ve been around for centuries they have huge historic-anthropologic relevance. And I just like them. Michelle and I have discussions often about whether or not to add another bookshelf to the living room, where there is absolutely unquestionably no room for another one (there are 4 bookshelves already). As a male I obviously say “dam the torpedoes, let’s buy the darn thing and I’ll figure out a way to wedge it in somewhere!” Michelle, as she calmly sips her tea, suggests that it’s a moronic idea, that there is unquestionably no room for another bookshelf and that the discussion is over, because it’s not happening, case closed.

Over the last few months we have actually been on a book decluttering program, removing books deemed unessential, thereby freeing up space … or at least reducing the number of books that are rammed in horizontally in every nook and cranny of all bookshelves.

So I have a new determination to limit my acquisitions. The ‘Non-Fiction’ bookcase, which is mine, still has horizontal books even after the purge … so I have few options.

Last fall I saw an interview on the PBS Newshour with Mark Leibovich about his book “This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral – plus plenty of valet parking in America’s Gilded Capital.” It was a great interview and there was something very compelling about him. He seemed to have a pretty ironic sense of humor and was able to be very mocking of the people we elect to represent us. I always liked “The West Wing” and I love watching the “House of Cards” on Netflix so I could hardly wait to read this book.This Town book original

I asked Michelle if she could reserve it for me at the library. I know, getting a book out of a library. What an admission of defeat for a book lover. It wasn’t available because they hadn’t ordered it and it didn’t seem as though they planned to do so. So I put it on my “Would Like to Read” list and forgot all about it. As hard as it was, I had to get on with my life. It was only out in hardcover anyway, and we simply can’t afford to purchase hardcovers, especially new ones.

Late in November Michelle and were in Kingston on a Saturday to help my Dad with his Chromebook. This was the third day of the “Kingston Symphony Book Sale” fundraiser. We had been a few years ago and hadn’t been overly impressed. There were a lot of books and sure, we got a cardboard box and left with many books but they were just okay. The symphony is smart and they have this little bonus fundraiser where if you buy a ticket you can go on the first night of the sale, where presumably you get first shot at the best books, before the plebeians and huddled masses, like Michelle and me, arrive.

So since the sale had been on for several days, and we were going after lunch, on the very last day, we had set our expectations very low. This is good because I have a tendency to set mine too high and be constantly disappointed.

The sale was held in an old Alcan warehouse which was probably donated for the sale. Alcan is the former “Aluminum Company of Canada,” a company that made aluminum. They had a huge factory and research facility in Kingston, which they closed, because, well, North Americans don’t seem to make anything anymore. We just buy stuff. And here we were, just buying stuff, but that’s the topic of whole other blog.

I saw several people leaving the sale with cardboard boxes full of books, which is always a good sign. We got in and it seemed to be very well organized and they always have tons of people volunteering. Michelle went her way and I went mine and headed right for the “Political” book section. There seemed to be some good books and I started to get kind of excited. I was making a mental note of books I might go for later, since I didn’t want to have to carry them around for an hour while I browsed.

And then it hit me. There it was. It had this incandescent glow on the bookshelf to tell you it was new. It had that new look to it. And I pulled it off the shelf, and there it was … “This Town”! Fireworks went off! Handel’s Hallelujah chorus began to play (just to show you how symphony-literate I am), confetti fell from the ceiling, the Rockettes chorus lined danced by and I let out the loudest shriek as I fell crying to my knees clutching this most awesome find high above my head. Okay, I exaggerated that part a bit. But I really did have to contain myself. There it was, brand new, looked as though it hadn’t even been read, hard cover, a $27.95 book, for wait … where’s that sign with the prices … wait .. no really?… $2.00!!! Two bucks for a brand new hardcover book! A book I really, really wanted to read! And now I was going to get to own it! And my son-in-law who works in the political sphere would get to read after I was done.

This was just the point where one of the volunteers came around and announced “… and just in case you’re not aware since it’s the final afternoon of the sale … every book is half price.” As she revived me from the convulsing fit I had as I collapsed to the floor it was pretty hard to contain myself. Alright, alright, I just thanked her for the delightful news, but you get my drift. It was pretty cool.

So I was on a tear and kept finding other great books. Eventually I grabbed a box to fill. And then it happened. I found ANOTHER copy of “This Town!” For a buck! For my son-in-law! My son-in-law who is awesome and who would be at my house on Christmas and who I now had an actual real live gift for!

Which brings me to the point of this long, rambling blog which you’ve invested way too much time on already. Who can afford to buy a brand new $30 book (with tax) and give it away a couple of months later? I understand some people are space constrained, but really, how did our society get to a stage where some people have so much money? Do I need to discuss the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us? I doubt it. The people in Davos all seem to be hatching escape plans… http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2015/jan/23/nervous-super-rich-planning-escapes-davos-2015.

In the meantime, before the revolution starts, I am now the “Kingston Symphony Booksale’s” Biggest Fan Ever! At this rate I shall be torn between paying to get first dibs on the first night of the sale, or gambling and waiting but getting the books half price on the final day. Michelle and I left with a box of 16 hardcover books. Let’s say if you averaged their prices new at $20/book, that’s $320 worth of books, for $16. I’m still gleeful at the thought of it. Bad Cam. Bad environmentalist. I hope the green people don’t start picketing my house.

* * * * * * *

If you are intrigued by Cam’s enthusiasm and want to buy this book from amazon, here’s the link;

 

 

 

 

~ TIP JAR ~
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UPCOMING WORKSHOP
Our next workshop here at Sunflower Farm will take place on Saturday, April 25th. We call it The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop. Covers just about everything doesn't it? For more information and to register, go to http://www.cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm/april-25-2015
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 business, Aztext Press. 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 a sought after speaker for conferences and keynotes and has motivated thousands 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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