Let’s Try This Again – Running For the Green Party That Is

I have decided do to that whole “trifecta” thing and run for the Green Party in the upcoming federal election in Canada. I enjoyed running provincially and liked running for municipal council so I don’t think I’d be politically complete unless I took a shot federally.

https://www.greenparty.ca/en

The timing is good. We have an unpopular Prime Minister who is obsessed with selling tar sands oil to anyone who’ll buy it and who kind of went “all in” on having the Canadian economy a Petro state. That was working great when oil was $100+ /barrel, but now with oil around $50/barrel … not so much.

The Green Party of Canada’s leader Elizabeth May is very popular and without question the most intelligent, articulate leader of any party in the country. She’s a lawyer and someone who is passionate about both the environment and democracy, both of which the major parties seem anxious to ignore and degrade. Now that she has been in Parliament a while she has radically increased the profile of the party and won accolades like “Parliamentarian of the Year” as voted by her peers, as well as a number of other credits, so Canadians are starting to become well aware of an option to the “business as usual ‘blah blah blah” of the traditional parties.

In our rural riding the boundaries have just switched. We were in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington and we are now in Hastings-Lennox & Addington, a riding with the same geographical territory of, well, about Europe. It would take the better part of two days to drive from corner to corner and yes I exaggerate but it does pose unique challenges in terms of getting the message out.

Michelle and I, along with another devoted Green Party supporter, established an EDA or “Electoral District Association,” a fancy name for a riding or constituency association. As with all things political because of the abuse of the system over the years there seems to be an enormous amount of paperwork and hoops to jump through. When I sit back and look at it, running in an election is the easy part of the whole process. But I guess it’s the price we pay to live in, well, what did Bruce Cockburn call it… “… and they call it democracy.” Our current Prime Minister won a majority with about 38% of the popular vote. Gee, this ‘first past the post’ parliamentary democracy really works!

I’m extremely excited that we have just had a rock star join the team. Or at least she’s a rock star in my world. Claire Martin is a meteorologist with the CBC (radio and TV network here in Canada.) Claire used to work in Toronto doing the local and national weather and now she works in British Columbia. She has a high profile and brings with her a unique perspective on climate change.

Climate scientists tell us that no single weather event can be linked directly to climate change, or at least they used to. But now I’m not so sure. A warmer climate holds more moisture; more moisture leads to more extreme events. A warmer ocean intensifies hurricanes. Two summers ago Calgary received 3 month’s worth of rain in two days. The jet stream is no longer as fluid as before so now it gets blocked and stays put and does damage when it doesn’t move. Our last two winters have been brutal here in Eastern Canada. We went almost 40 days without a single day above zero this February. Yes, we have always experienced cold spells, but usually we get warm spells that give us a few days’ reprieve from the frigid temperatures. The blocked jet stream this year didn’t allow that.

Now meteorologists don’t want to talk about this on a weather forecast. But it’s interesting that one of Canada’s best-known meteorologists has decided to run for the Green Party. It tells me that something’s up and we need to take some drastic action.

I’m totally pumped about the campaign. The Green Party has an awesome platform, a two hundred-page policy book that makes recommendations on how to improve every part of government policy. But it has two things that speak to me.

First off, it calls for a balanced budget. We have a provincial Liberal government that seems hell bent on bankrupting the province with its spending. We have a conservative, or a “Conservative” federal government that was handed a budget SURPLUS and has been in deficit ever since. That always seems strange that the political party of “small government” can’t help but spend like a drunken sailor. I run a balanced budget personally and the Green Party will do it when it forms the government this year. I wouldn’t run otherwise.

The second policy is a “fee and dividend” to deal with climate change. This was a concept to price carbon that I first learned about in NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen’s book “Storms of My Grandchildren.” You simply charge for all carbon as it leaves the ground … coal, natural gas, oil … put that money into a trust account, and cut every family a check for their share of it once a quarter. No government meddling. No guys in suits in trying to get a cut. No government betting on technology. The price of fossil fuels will go up and you let the market respond. People can take their cheque and fly to Europe, or they can upgrade their insulation, put a solar domestic hot water heater on their roof, or buy a more fuel-efficient car. It’s brilliant.

So I am totally pumped about the election, due in October, unless our cynical prime minister sees an advantage and calls it early. Doesn’t matter. I’m ready. I’m going to win this thing and spend 4 years in Ottawa shaking things up! We’re going to paint that town green.

For our Canadian readers here’s where you can find your local candidate or least the ridings where we’ve selected one.

https://www.greenparty.ca/en/candidates

 

 

Stop the High Tech Roller Coaster – I’m Getting Off!

My Dad has a friend who is a techno-luddite. Well, Luddite infers that she is anti-technology. It’s more that she just can’t be bothered with having a computer, or a cell phone, or anything like that. Can you imagine? You’re reading this, so you probably can’t.

I must admit though I am finding myself increasingly envious of people who have made this choice. It’s starting to look like it might be the best one. And this is the case on so many levels.

I’m plowing through a batch of my dad’s old “Economist” magazines. They are heavy going and I find myself skipping to the later pages which just have book reviews and cool scientific stuff. But the July 14, 2014 issue has a big section on cyber security. And it’s terrifying. Do you know how much energy some people on the planet put into hacking into the computers of the world? And do you know by extension how much energy and money companies and governments spend to prevent their systems from being hacked? The mind boggles.

What I find most mind-boggling is that so much of our critical infrastructure, like the electricity grid, now seems to be connected to the internet, which allows people to hack into it from outside. I’m sure those who control the grid work very hard to protect it from this happening but really, who thought it was a good idea to hook up the support systems of modern life to a computer network that allows people to create havoc from a computer keyboard on the other side of the world?

And of course, now there is the ‘internet of things’ as the appliances and things we buy like fridges, cars and furnaces, are all getting hooked up to the internet, so we can, you know, control our fridge while we’re at work I guess. There hasn’t been a confirmed case of anyone hacking into a car and crashing it, but can that be far off? Even Dick Cheney had to have special capabilities built into his pacemaker so someone couldn’t hack into it, since he was one step from the most powerful office on the planet.

The December 13, 2014 “Economist” has a review of a book called “Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon.” Stuxnet was the program designed to disable Iranian nuclear centrifuges. The mind boggles.

I’m re-reading a great book that was given to me by a friend from Chicago called “Immoderate Greatness, Why Civilizations Fail” by William Ophuls. It’s a great book because it’s small, which means he writes concisely to get his point across. He notes, “As civilizations encounter emerging limits, they will of course make every effort to innovate their way around them.” In our case we do this by adding layers of complexity, and by thinking that printing money can mask reality.

It’s similar to the theory of Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies” which is that as societies begin to run into natural limitations, such as food or energy, or droughts or other events that make growth impossible, they add layers upon layers of complexity thinking that these are solutions. We have clearly run into the natural carrying capacity of the planet. We probably reached it 5 to 10 decades ago. And now that we’ve used up the easy to find ancient stored sunlight in fossil fuels, and now that planet is starting to tell us 7 billion is way too many people to be using up the resources on the planet, we seem to be following in all the footsteps of advanced societies that have collapsed in the past.

Which brings one back around to the James Kunstler mantra, that we have to simplify our lives and economies. We have to get smaller. We have to get more local.

I am able to live a typical advanced civilization lifestyle off the grid because of the technology in my solar panels and inverters. I am able to plug into the matrix from my laptop using a modem sending my digital bits to a satellite in space and then back into the internet on earth, in milliseconds. I marvel at the wonder of it all daily.

But I am increasingly moving to earning an income growing food on a very low-tech, non-complex level. I do not own a tractor. I do no use fossil fuel derived chemicals and fertilizers. I would miss the internet and satellite TV, but I think I could get by pretty well without all these things. We have a whack of fiction on our bookshelves that I have yet to get through.

The challenge though is that the system does everything it can to try and prevent you from unplugging from the techno-matrix. It becomes increasingly difficult to obtain information from organizations unless you have internet access. When I tried to open a new bank account recently you get a sense they pretty much don’t want to ever see you, they just want to you to do everything online. You know, where you access your account through the internet, along with all those other people who might be trying to access your account too. If you want an account where they update a passbook each time you make a transaction, they charge you an additional monthly amount. Sorry, but I like those passbooks. They provide what accountants call an “audit trail” so when their systems fail I ‘ve got a record of how much of my money they have.

Then again, if their systems fail on a big enough scale, how much ‘virtual’ money you have sitting in a ‘virtual’ pixel based whack of silicon and metal will be pretty much useless. Then it just comes down to what’s in your root cellar. No hacker has yet infiltrated my root cellar. Last fall’s potatoes and onions are still doing exceptionally well. I can relax.

 

That Maple Syrup Country Cliché

When we lived in suburbia there was a weekly paper that basically just repeated the same stories over and over again every year. The paper was essentially a flyer holder posing as a newspaper and clearly, people in suburbia wanted the flyers because shopping is what they ‘do.’ The cover photo in the first week of September would show kids on their way to school …then at the end of October it would show kids dressed up for Halloween … then in December kids getting ready for Christmas. This went on, month after dreary month, year after year until I got to the point where I could predict what would be on the cover of the newspaper each week week. It was shiny Happyland. Maybe most people would say, ‘isn’t that amazing to live in a such a superficial time that this is all there is to report about?” None of that dark stuff. None of that stuff that was really going on in the world, like violence and depression and poverty. Nope … just kids at the Easter egg hunt! Now who would have predicted that would be on the cover of the paper during the week before Easter? Nope, not me!

Clearly I was not properly programmed to live in the pre-programmed Stepford family sort of mold that was suburbia and I wanted to get out to the chaos and trauma of trying to figure out how to live in the bush, off the grid.

So I have always been sensitive to ensure that this blog never gets into a predictable rut so that readers start saying, oh it must be ‘fill in the blank time’ so Cam will be blogging about ‘fill in the blank.’

Well, I have blogged about maple syrup before and today, I am blogging about it again, so it’s probably time you do what I did, escape the bland repetition that is suburbia (or my blog) and find yourself a cabin to homestead on, with no internet so you’re not exposed to my endless ramblings about maple syrup and other mundane trivialities.

But here’s the problem. We get new readers all the time and I know that some of our readers tell us that they work at jobs that don’t inspire them and they like to actually hear what they might be doing if they lived their dream. We readily remind them that this dream will include a precipitous drop in their income, but I digress.

Our neighbors Don and Deb Garrett have a small, commercial scale sugar shack and they make maple syrup. We use it a lot, so it’s kind of a big deal during the spring when they’re making it. I know what you’re saying, “Really Cam, is that what I have to look forward to when I move to the country? Maple syrup? No fancy ethnic restaurants or all night art installations where I can stay up all night trying to figure out the relevance of the artist’s use of 12 million plastic water bottles to depict … well … I don’t know what, what is that?”

To which I say, yup! Here at Sunflower Farm maple syrup time is kind of a big deal. I love maple syrup. I love pancakes and waffles and crepes and Michelle uses it when she makes my granola and I like it on veggie sausages and when we come home with our case of 12 bottles to last the year I’m sure it’s with the same glee others get when they bring home a case of some fancy wine. Only my bottled treasure is made just up the road, by my neighbors … and it’s sweeeettttt! Not alcoholic… so it won’t be bad for my liver… although at the pace I consume it along with the high fructose corn syrup in my Dr. Pepper, I’m sure I’m days away from being diabetic. But really, do you want to live longer or do you just want it to seem longer?

I grew up on the fake maple syrup, which I loved growing up, but Michelle was raised on the good stuff. I never understood this since her dad was a steel worker and obviously they didn’t have buckets of money to waste on real maple syrup. (Michelle’s note: Apparently my family had good taste!) It took me a while to start to prefer it, but I’m at a point now where I am loath to order pancakes or French Toast in restaurants if they don’t have real maple syrup for me to use.

And so recently Michelle made her yearly trek to D&Ds for what she tells everyone, and I mean everyone, including the courier that dropped a package off that day, for her “maple-scented sauna.” Our other neighbor Sandy also has some maple trees so they tap them all and combine the sap and boil it all together. That’s Sandy loading the firebox.

Sandy loading the firebox

Sandy at the evaporator

I have learned to leave my glasses in the car when I visit the sugar shack because when you walk in from the cool spring air they fog up to the point of being useless. The heat warms you to the bone. The smell is divine. And the humidity feels amazing after a long dry winter. And yes, I’m sure I’m exaggerating a lot of this because the evaporator is sending the water that has been boiled off in the form of steam up the chimney, but it still feels awfully good for the skin.

Then we break up into the gender stereotypes that shouldn’t exist, but we do. I ask questions about the sugar content of the sap and what that valve does and why is that liquid bubbling but that liquid isn’t. Michelle and Deb discuss new and exciting ways to use maple syrup. Eventually I ate one of the 4 maple tarts that Michelle had made the night before to finish up last year’s syrup. I received infinite abuse since Michelle had taken them for Don and Deb and Sandy to enjoy. But by my math there of 3 of them and 4 tarts, so I was just ensuring that there would be no conflict later about who gets the 4th tart. A battle over a maple tart could turn into one of those famous family stories of resentment and ill feelings henceforth known as the “4th Tart Debacle.”

Deb offers maple syrup ‘shots’ in little paper cups. Michelle loves these and gladly accepts a second one, but I don’t indulge in them. I do not enjoy drinking maple syrup straight up; it has to be enhancing something else. Michelle on the other hand, who uses next to no syrup on her pancakes, can pound back these shots like a cowboy at a bar drinking bourbon after a year on a cattle drive. Nope, no exaggeration in this blog.

After we return from our field trips to the sugar shack I have a weird public school driven desire to make a construction paper picture to send to Don and Deb to thank them for the tour of their fine operation. But splitting my own firewood for next year gets in the way.

And now our pantry is stocked with a year’s worth of maple syrup. And each time I put it on pancakes I know it was made locally, and came from maple trees, so it has to be good for me. If the pancake isn’t swimming in a pool of syrup, then you’re not doing it right.

Cam’s Small Business Speed Networking Event

We had a totally awesome night in Tamworth last week.

Michelle and I organized a Speed Networking Event.

We have been involved with the local community group TECDC for a decade now and it continues to do great stuff in Tamworth. One of the things we’ve attempted to do over the years is to attract a large employer to town. This is really tough for a small town because there can be issues with municipally supplied water and sewers. We almost had a medical marijuana facility locate here but there wasn’t the correct electricity hookup they required, so that didn’t happen.

I’ve noticed that people come and go on the committee and take up this cause as their children become teenagers who wanted part-time jobs. The only real option is to work in Kingston or Napanee, ½ – 1 hour away. By the time you factor in the cost of getting them there in a vehicle, and then picking them up, one wonders how much further ahead they are working a part-time shift at minimum wage. Eventually these people stop coming to meetings but it’s something that has gnawed away at me.

Fifty or 70 years ago farmers would be crying for help during haying season and at other times of the year. Kids would hang out at the 4 corners and it would be ‘first come, first served’ in terms of which farmers got help. But as kids’ interest in physical labor declined and we plugged them into the electronic matrix, farmers just gave up on paying for strong backs and put the money into round bailers and diesel fuel, and do it all themselves. Ya, ya, I know it’s progress so I shut up about it. But I spent a week doing square bales when I was about 10 at Helen and Jim Harvey’s farm in Kingston and it was the absolute hottest, most exhausting, terrifying (sitting on top of a wagon with 10 rows of squares bales as it swayed over groundhog holes on the way back to the barn) and most awesome-est work I’ve ever done. Crap, I’m now officially an old man. And yes, I walked 5 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both directions.

Over the years though we have noticed that there are a number of small businesses in town that have grown to the point where they actually have employees. Don Stinson started off as a one-man show making beautiful wooden bowls and has grown to the point where he needs extra help (http://stinsonstudios.ca/). The grocery store has a number of employees.

So I finally had an epiphany that some big corporate entity isn’t going to come along and help us out, we need to help ourselves. We need to nurture the existing small businesses to the point where they need employees! So we need to network more. But if you’ve ever been to a business networking event you know when you walk in there are all these little groups standing around chatting, business people that already know each other and it’s about as easy to infiltrate one as moving from the audio/visual club clique to the jock clique at high school. It rarely happens. Not that I ever tried. At every high school I was at.

We could have had everyone stand up in front of the group and introduce their service … “Hi, I’m Cam and I pump septic tanks. I’m number one in the number two business” but not everyone is comfortable with that.

So I came up with the speed-dating model. Each business person cycles through a line up of other business people and you get a set amount of time to introduce your business, then the bell rings and the other business person introduces their product or service. It’s one-on-one. You get to meet everyone and it’s not intimidating.

Michelle put together a list of about 70 businesses in our community of 700 people, which is pretty amazing when you think of it.

So we had more than 20 business people come out to our “Speed Networking Event” last week and it was awesome!

Everyone was given a color and told where to sit. I gave each person 60 seconds to make their “elevator pitch” which is a horrible business cliché about what you’d say to a potential customer you meet in the elevator when you only have a short period of time to sell them on your business. It’s a horrible cliché but it’s also kinda cool because it forces you to distill your business to its barebones essence. This is what I do, this is how it can help you.

So for the 20 people that came, they left with 19 potential new A) customers and B) suppliers. And best of all, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. And no one had to stand up in front of the group and make a speech. Except me!

networking

I kept harping on how important it is that we all make a commitment to default to a local option before we assume there was someone more qualified in the cities south of us. And I suggested that the next time their neighbor with small kids is raving about how cheap stuff is at the big box store, that they may want to remind them that our grocery store has a number of young part-time workers, and that at some point their kids may want that option, but for that to happen … THEY HAVE TO SHOP AT THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE SO THEY’RE STILL IN BUSINESS! Of course yelling and saying it sarcastically as I just did would probably not accomplish the goal and that they should put their own personal spin on it. Fewer ALL CAPS.

There was one SNAFU as we worked through the networking because we didn’t end up with a number of participants divisible by 4, so with an odd number of people my absolutely brilliant patented, registered trademarked copyrighted formula for how it all should work kinda took a hit. I kicked myself that I didn’t anticipate it, but it will be perfect the next time. Luckily it was after an hour and by that time everyone was so relaxed it didn’t matter. And the people that knew me were happy to mock me, publicly. And I’m down with that.

The challenge with an event like this is that in speed dating you have all the women we’ll say sit around the outside and all the men sit around the inside and only one group moves because the men aren’t interested in meeting the other men, or vice versa. I guess. Most of the time. But in our case we had to create a system that allowed everyone to meet everyone else.

Yes it’s rocket science and yes I am available to travel to your community and put on the same totally awesome event for a hefty consulting fee and outrageously high franchise fee to use my totally awesome and unique “Cam’s Speed Networking Event” system. Call today. Operators are standing by. And if you order within the next 30 minutes, we’ll actually provide you with an extra one, so you get TWO for the price of ONE!

Hey Cam, been watching too many of those TV commercials for amazing new plastic thing-a-majigs that you can’t live without? Ya think?

Tamworth sign

 

Paying It Forward

Have you ever had one of those ‘twilight zone’ days where a lot of weird stuff happens, all on the same day?

Late in February I drove down to Napanee to run a bunch of errands. I went to the bank, picked up the printed copies of the community calendar that Michelle produces, and a bunch of other stuff. It was in the middle of our record 40 days of way below average temperatures. Part way to Napanee I noticed a guy standing at the side of the road so I slowed down, and then he kind of flagged me down. It was in an open area and the wind chill would have made it feel like -30°C so I was surprised to see a pedestrian out.

He came over to my car and asked if he could borrow my cell phone to call his farm, but of course, there was no signal. (We live in a weird “Bermuda Triangle-type of place where cell phones often don’t work.) His pick-up was stuck in a snowdrift, which had been created by the wicked wind that was blowing so hard. So I offered him a ride and he said, “Sure, take me over to that farm and I’ll see if I can call from there.” On the way he commented that quite a few people had passed him by without stopping. I said, “Well I felt obligated to stop for you because a couple of years ago I was pulling a trailer with a load of old hay and the tire went flat, and Jack Smith helped me. He spent ½ an hour dragging the trailer over to his compressor so I could pump up the tire and it was pretty awesome of him to help me.”

At which point he said “I’m Jack Smith!” Oops! Awkward! Yikes, what kind of country faux pas had I committed? To be honest, as he stood at the window of my car I couldn’t see his face, and when he got in to the car he was wearing one of those awesome winter hats with flaps you pull down over your ears that also cover up most of your face. (He sure needed that hat in those weather conditions!) In other words he was hard to recognize.

He was only 10 minutes from his farm so I wasn’t thinking in terms of it being him, and well, I don’t go out of my way to look other men in the face. Which I guess isn’t really a good habit but I promise that I would have noticed if he had been carrying an axe or something.

Once I figured it out that it was Jack I offered to drive him back to his farm. During the drive he made some comment about my political career, and it impressed me that he remembered me. Just after he had helped me with my flat trailer tire, I had taken Michelle to see his farm because his son had a large flock of the neatest heritage breeds of chickens I’d ever seen.

Note to self; look a man in the eye the next time I give someone a ride. It would be sexist to suggest that this probably wouldn’t have occurred if the person needing help had been a female, but that’s another blog.

After completing some of my errands in Napanee I was driving downtown to the bank and the car seemed to be handling strangely. I assumed that there was ice around the tires because there was a lot of snow on the road after the dumping we’d had the night before. As I drove further it got worse so I finally decided to pull over and clean them off. As I got out of my car a woman crossing the road in front of me was looking at the front tires and said, “It’s the other side.” I wasn’t sure what she meant until I got around to the other side of my car and noticed that I had a flat.

I’ve driving for 40 years and I’ve never had a flat tire. Why couldn’t it have happened on a nice warm summer day, as opposed to on a frigid day with a wicked wind chill? My first step was to clear the snow away from the tire so that I had room work. I got the spare tire out of the trunk and then panicked when I couldn’t find the jack! I use a jack all the time for various trailers and things and I was kicking myself for being so stupid as to take it out of the car and not put it back. But I always use the ones I keep in the truck. With more poking I found it, tucked under a plastic lip at the back of the indentation in the trunk.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from “A Christmas Story” where the 1940’s father gets a flat and then sets his watch to time himself on how long it takes him to change the tire, kind of like those NASCAR guys that change 4 tires in 12 seconds, but slower.

And yes, I was slower but I got it changed eventually. I drove on the spare to my local mechanic and he put a plug in it for $16 and it seems as good as new.

So this is a good thing. Now I know I can change a tire on the Civic. Or at least next time I’ll be faster and hopefully there’ll be less ice and snow. And when I stop to help someone in need I’ll check for axes, and whether or not I recognize them. I don’t need to try and create any other awkward moments in my life. I’m doing just fine in that department.

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The Small Pleasures and Infinite Miracles of (Modern Day) Country Living

Living off the electricity grid gives you get a unique perspective on things. Energy. Independence. Luxuries. Miracles.

Even after 17 years of living this way I find I’m still amazed at the wonder of the everyday and mundane things that make our lives so easy. I never appreciated them in the city. They were just there. But once I was involved in their creation I got a unique perspective, kind of like when you were a kid and you learned some amazing new mind blowing snippet of knowledge.

Michelle and I have come to have an attitude of gratitude in our lives. I’ve talked about it in my books, but one of things most associated with ‘happiness’ in people is gratitude. I am grateful to have been born where, and when I was, and I’m grateful for the infinite wonders modern life provides. And I won’t even go to smart phones and the interweb. Nope. Because you are much less likely to enjoy such technology if you don’t first have a toilet the flushes.

So here, represented pictorially are some of the things that I marvel at daily. (Or if I were Oprah … or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I would sing them to the tune of “My Favorite Things.”)

water faucet

Running water. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get water flowing out of a tap? You drill a well, put down a pump, it pushes the water up into a pressure tank, the water then flows through pipes throughout your house, and it comes out of that tap, under pressure, whenever you turn on the tap. The wonders never cease! I’m not just making this up, I marvel every time I turn that miraculous tap on. Wherever you live, every time you turn on a tap you should a say little thank you for the miracle that is running water. (Particularly if it is clean running water!)

 

light switchsmall

Electricity. I produce all of my own electricity from the sun and wind. Seventeen years ago solar panels were very expensive and Michelle and I spent a lot of money to purchase the various components of the system that powers our home so very efficiently. And every day I walk out to the battery room and see the glowing lights and hear the hum of inverters and I am awe struck with the wonder of it all. Making electricity is hard. And it’s expensive. “Grid Dwellers” as we call them, really have no concept of what’s involved, so they spend a lot of their own energy complaining about their electricity bills. If you don’t like your bill, cut the cord and try generating the electricity yourself. You’ll quickly find yourself telling utility workers that you see on the street how grateful you are for this amazing service they provide. A light switch or electrical outlet with an appliance plugged is a truly miraculous thing.

 

firewoodsmall

Firewood. This piece of wood came from a tree that grew on our property. It used photosynthesis to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and released oxygen back and it sequestered that carbon in its woody mass. And when I burn this wood it releases only the carbon it absorbed, so it is carbon neutral. But best of all, it will fill our home with wonderful, convective, bone warming radiant joyful heat that makes our northern winters bearable. By March I’m getting tired of stoking our woodstove, but I never lose the wonder at this incredible way to heat our home that our species has been using since we starting walking on two feet.

hot watersmall

 

Hot running water. No, it’s not the water one again, it’s hot water! Getting water out of a tap is hard enough, making it hot is ridiculously hard. Now if you have a natural gas pipe coming to your house it seems easy enough. But when you try and make it yourself, and you try and make it in an atmosphere-sparing carbon neutral way, it’s just a monumental challenge. Our solar domestic hot water heater is a thing of beauty and every time I wash my hands in hot water I am grateful to live in such a wondrous time.

 

hashbrownssmall

Hash Brown Potatoes. These are potatoes that I grew, that I stored in our root cellar last fall, being cooked on a woodstove powered by wood I cut. They will give me the energy I need to cut more firewood for next winter. And they are insanely tasty. Seems pretty much like a cool closed loop to me.

 

scrambled eggs small

Scrambled Eggs. These are that scrambled eggs produced by our happy chickens. We feed them and give them warm water and treats all winter and they convert grains to amazing animal protein that will also power me to take on the day. And the eggs taste awesome. And the manure and straw I clean out of their coop is just the perfect supplement for our sandy soils. Oh how I love my chickens. And yes, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. (And no, they are not green eggs. I like to add some chopped spinach to my scrambled eggs.)

 

orange

Oranges. And yes, we do have some luxuries in our life. I’m 55 and when I was a kid, getting a huge navel orange in my stocking at Christmas was a big deal, because we didn’t eat much fruit in the winter. Apparently there weren’t as many diesel trucks bringing this stuff to the north back then. So when I eat an orange I am in awe to live in a time when such unbelievable luxuries are available to us every day. I live like a king.

Life can be a very wondrous thing. I am truly grateful.

Paving the Woods

One of the nice things about living in the country is that there are unique days that happen only a few times a year. I guess this is also true in the city, like when flowering trees are in full bloom and smell so great, but I seem to be more aware of these special days here.

I always enjoy full moons when it seems like we have streetlights and I can walk in the woods at night. But one of my favorite times usually comes in March.

We had a lot of snow in February, a lot. It was to the point where it was up way past my knees so anytime I walked into the woods to cut firewood I basically had to plow a path as I went. It was exhausting. Even Jasper the Wonder Dog didn’t attempt it much and used a crazy leaping method to make any progress.

Last week we had some warm days so the volume of the snow was reduced greatly and as it melted it kind of settled from light and fluffy to a more compact and denser type of snow. Then a couple of nights ago it got down to 10°C below zero so the snow froze back up. And eureka, we now basically have snow as hard as concrete to walk on. It’s like the whole forest has been paved with concrete.

jasper walking on snowsmall

I absolutely love walking our property when the snow is like this. Not that I don’t love it without snow. But this is simply way easier going because the surface I’m walking on is smooth. I can cover lots of ground and it happens during a cold spell with clear skies at night and brilliant sunshine the next day, so it just feels fantastic to be out walking. It’s cold but the sun just has that feeling that spring will be here soon.

I love it but it’s like Jasper has been injected with steroids and he just runs incessantly. It’s like he has a winter’s worth of sleeping by the woodstove to get out of his system, and he is going to do it all today … on this walk!

jasper running

The only danger with this snow is if I fall through, which only happened to me once yesterday under some hemlock where the shade had made the snow really weak. Which concerns me about Jasper because he just runs full out and I figure if one of his legs goes through I’ll be dragging him back to the house and setting his broken leg myself. But he seems to have a good sense of the strength of the snow, or he just has that ultimate “No Fear” philosophy and nothing is going to stop him from sprinting, everywhere.

It’s a wondrous thing being the temporary custodian of 150 acres of forest. It takes a long time to walk it. We have a number of ponds and a couple of these really cool rock outcrops that you can climb up and look down at the world from above. It’s even more wondrous after the soft, deep snow has kept you close to the house for a couple of months and now you can explore the whole property, effortlessly.

I found an oak tree I had never seen before. It is massive. I’m thinking it’s probably at least 150 years old. It seemed to be growing on top of a rocky ledge and so I am amazed that it hasn’t been blown over in a big windstorm. Our house was built in 1888 so this tree was well established by that time. Just think of the wonders that tree has seen. Fossil fueled powered vehicles. The telephone. Home computers. The internet. Oh wait, that tree hasn’t seen any of that. All it’s seen is the other trees growing about it. And the squirrels, and owls. And foxes and deer that wander our property. I wonder if it’s noticed the gradually warming taking place.

We had a massive gypsy moth infestation 20 years ago which killed many oaks. But this one survived. It must be pretty resilient.

* * * * * * *

Don’t forget that our new book The Sensible Prepper is now available! Click here for details. (Please remember that if you plan on ordering it from amazon, use the links on our page! Thanks!)

The Wisdom of Words … for Babies

I continue to plow through a year’s worth of my Dad’s old “Economist” magazines, skipping the stuff at the front that is all about derivatives, fiscal management, quantitative easing, blah blah blah and reading the later stuff which is full of book reviews, science stuff … you know, the ‘fun’ stuff.

The February 22, 2014 issue has an article about The American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago. There was a review of the theory suggested by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University that last year’s (2014) polar vortex was indeed caused by the weakening of the jet stream, a result of the arctic warming 3 times as fast as the equator. This reduced the temperature differential that in the past had kept the jet stream less wavy and  our winters more moderate, broken up with periods of warmer weather. As writers in The Economist often do, they suggested that her theory needed to be proven in subsequent years. Well, this year we experienced “Polar Vortex II” in which February 2015 was the coldest one EVER in my part of the world, so take that skeptical Economist, Jennifer nailed it!

On a more enjoyable note there was also an article about research which shows that the more parents talk to their babies, the quicker the baby will develop vocabulary and ‘the better their intelligence develops.” It’s very cool and relates to how many words the child hears. And it is specific that the words have to be spoken to the child. For instance, having your baby sit between you and your spouse while you discuss Steven Hawkings “A Brief History of Time” and debate black holes doesn’t count.

I loved this article and it convinces me of why I have brilliant daughters. Their mother. I met Michelle in a high school classroom. I had gone to work on my Calculus homework after lunch because I was abysmal at the subject. My friend Linda brought Michelle to the classroom to hang out, and it was clear that Michelle didn’t need any additional work because she was smart. Michelle has proven this to me daily since 1975, including when we took a Calculus course together at Trent University in Peterborough. She got an “A” and I got a “D” because it didn’t seem to matter how well she explained stuff to me, my brain synapses just couldn’t fire properly to absorb it.

Which brings me back to our child rearing. It would be easy for me to say that I practiced this model of parental behavior by talking to my daughters when they were babies and toddlers. People who know me know would suggest that I am somewhat mildly verbose and would infer that this would have been the case. Obviously if I was changing a diaper, I would have chatted incessantly to my baby daughter. I’m pretty sure I did.

The problem is that our daughters were born in the first wave of video recording in which individuals filmed other individuals, as opposed to the second wave in which authorities film everyone else, often using drones. And so we are able to sit down and watch endless hours of our daughters as babies and toddlers and it is very clear who gets the credit for my daughters’ incredible intelligence. Alas, it is not I.

I did the bulk of the filming and in each case it is Michelle talking to our babies. Michelle changing a diaper while talking lovingly to our baby. Michelle sitting with our baby while reading them a book. Michelle feeding them while expanding their vocabulary. Michelle sitting at the dining room table as they got older working with them on math and printing and all sorts of other skills.

The bulk of the filming of me in my parental capacity was done on Saturday mornings when Michelle went out and I unplugged from our electronic publishing business and spent the morning with the girls. And intellectually, well, it’s not pretty. A typical Saturday morning play day, as filmed by me with the camera on the tripod is seeing how far the girls could leap from the couch to the cushions spread across the floor to break their fall. Or it may show a dance session with the girls getting an aerobic workout to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”. There is a great deal of fort building. Fort building in the bedroom under the bunk beds. Fort building in the living room with the IKEA couch cushions and a vast array of blankets stripped from every bed in the house. Fort building downstairs in the playroom of my office. Then there was the autumn ritual of building a pile using about 100 bags of leaves scrounged from the neighborhood, and the obligatory jumping on to the leaf bags from the back deck. And who knew that my oldest could push my youngest that high in a jolly jumper meant for solitary activity. Was that even safe?

Yup, it’s all there in low-resolution 8 mm living color. The reason that my oldest works at a educational institution and my youngest is working on her Masters degree in Applied Archeology is probably not due to my encouragement of their mini-mosh pit dancing to Robert Palmer’s “Might as well face it you’re addicted to love,” but in fact to Michelle’s sweet, adoring, never patronizing, talking with our daughters to help them develop vocabulary.

My daughters are exceptionally smart. They also have exceptional taste in music. I am constantly amazed by what great taste they have in music. I did that! Now that’s a real legacy!

Our eldest daughter has informed us that there will be a new addition to the family this summer and I, who still feels very much like a teenager myself, will become a grandparent. I’m going to have start practicising my proper grand child talk. No Tony Soprano potty mouth for this young one.  There will be lots of adult chat directed to the grandchild. And just the right mix of fort building. I’m going to focus on the fort building part.

P.S. My reading of The Economist is proof of the concept of “confirmation bias.” Years ago I would only have sought out the articles on climate change. Suddenly, the article on talking to babies was just as interesting!

nicole-reading

Katie Archeologist

You Know That Guy, That Guy Who Snowblows His Lawn

Alas I have become THAT GUY. You know the one. Or perhaps you don’t. But there are people (mostly men) who snow blow their lawn. I am that man. I am not proud of this distinction. But it’s important for the planet. Let me rationalize …. er, explain.

We run a CSA which means we expect a lot from our soil. We grow quite intensively and do not add any commercial fertilizer, so we really have to work on supplementing it. I do some green manuring, but my preference is the real stuff … horse manure!

Right now our neighbor Alyce keeps her horses in the barn at night, which means there is a lot of manure when she cleans the stalls, and right now she is dumping it in a trailer for me. This is totally awesome. The challenge is getting this marvelous stuff into the garden.

For many years I spent most of the winter getting my rear-wheel drive Ford Ranger unstuck. It didn’t matter how much fresh wood I loaded in the bed of the pickup, with the weight of a trailer full of manure it was useless.

Now I have a 4-wheel drive Ranger which is totally awesome and every time I use it I ask myself why I waited a decade to get a 4×4. Now I can blast through snow and use the truck to make paths, but as I attempt to turn corners and move around, a trailer can still get bogged down. So it helps to have the snow a reasonable depth. And so after a recent snowstorm I used my snowblower to clear a path into the garden to allow access for the truck and trailer full of manure to enhance the soil, the healthy, organic soil. Hence, the okay-itude of me snow blowing the lawn to get the trailer there.

We’d had a good snow the previous night, 8” – 10”. I drove the truck into the paddock to get at some poplar I had cut, just to add some weight to the back. This was on top of about 4” of snow with a thick icy crust. I have to say, even with 4-wheel drive I “got’r stuck pretty good.” With a little bit of shoveling out the deepest ruts I got it moving and high tailed it out of there, but it would have been better if I’d cleared out the track first, with a blower.

For the first 14 years here we lived without a snow blower. We shoveled and paid people to plow us out, and we’re lucky enough to have a neighbor like Ken who would plow us out when he could. Then one day three or four winters ago we got a royal dumping of snow. And the guy who regularly plowed us out broke his plow. Then Ken broke his plow the same day. So we were stuck. We had nowhere to go, but after a few days with a snow-filled driveway I decided this probably wasn’t the best idea. I tried to hack a path out, but with my old 2-wheel drive Ranger, it was a useless.

There were no emergencies, no ‘lack of coffee cream’ crisis which required a trip to town, but being able to get out of our driveway seemed like a good idea.

I looked at buying a plow blade to put on the truck once I got the 4×4, but they are pretty expensive and I think probably pretty hard on a vehicle. So we waited until a spring sale (you know, when you don’t NEED the snow blower so it’s a bit cheaper) and bought a YardWorks Canadian Tire Brand snowblower. And there you have it. The Green Party just called and they want their membership back, because good environmentalists don’t own snowblowers. I get it. But it’s for an organic garden. And we live off the grid, so that’s okay, right?

We paid a little over a thousand bucks for this machine and about 6 times a year I walk into the house looking like a yeti (abominable snowman) after snow blowing us out and say the same thing every time. “Tell me again why we waited so long to buy a snowblower?” And as with all of our major purchases it came right out of my retirement fund which is almost completely depleted now, and as always I rationalized it by saying that if I didn’t get the snowblower I’d die a premature death and not need the retirement fund anyway. Now I will live to retirement age, and well, I’ll have to go and work at Canadian Tire, which would in fact not be such a bad thing and when I needed to get to work, I would be on-time because I could snowblow out the driveway without having to wait for someone to plow me out.

And that turns out to be the crux of the issue. Dependence on someone else. Independence. When you live off-grid and don’t rely on others for your electricity, or heat, or water, and a lot of other things, you can get pretty impatient about waiting for someone else to bail you out. I’m not saying that belonging to a community of people you rely on is a bad thing, but I think the more independent we each are, the more resilient our community. I love the quote from the new head of FEMA a while back … “Who do you think the first responder to a disaster is going to be? It’s your neighbor.” And if your neighbor is stuck in their driveway and they can’t get out because they don’t have a snowblower, or chainsaw to remove the tree blocking the driveway, or they have to stay home to babysit their generator to keep their pipes from freezing, well, they’re not much good to anyone. Get yourself independent, then be the first responder.

This is a theme from my book “The Sensible Prepper” which we were finally able to publish (Go here for more details and to order a copy!) And yes, you’re correct, I managed to turn the decadence of “Cam owning a snowblower” into “To be a super-hero first responder neighbor you NEED a snowblower”, but did you expect anything less? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to snowblow because there’s a spot over by the chicken coop and I bet that if I clean it up the chickens would probably get out and wander around a bit on sunny days …

cam snowblows the lawnsml

I Love Lucy … and Haywire

I recently saw an awesome movie called “Lucy.” Scarlett Johansson plays a starring role in it. It’s so great I decided to buy it. So I asked Tim at the video store if I could buy his copy when he’s done renting it. “Lucy” is like a Jason Bourne movie with Scarlett kicking people’s asses …well kicking men’s asses … men who deserve to have their asses kicked.

It is so refreshing to see a Hollywood movie with a strong female lead. Hollywood is a dead zone in which the men are the heroes, with men rescuing women, women dependent on a strong man blah blah blah. I guess when producers are investing in a movie, they want to follow a winning formula, even though I’m assuming that half of their potential market is women, and surely they’re pretty tired of the formula too.

I didn’t like the premise of “The Hunger Games” in which teens fight each other to the death, but it was awesome to see Jennifer Lawrence (Spoiler alter) as the ultimate winner, outsmarting all those guys.

And my absolute favorite movie, EVER (well, today, anyway) is called “Haywire.” I’ve bought a (used) copy and forced just about everyone who comes to my house to watch it. Again it’s a Jason Bourne sort of movie, but with a woman kicking everyone’s butt. I starting watching this movie and didn’t know much about the lead actress Gina Carano. I wondered why I hadn’t seen her in any other movies. Well, it’s because she’d never been in anything before. It turns out that the director Steven Soderbergh had seen her fight. She’s a Mixed Marshall Arts (MMA) fighter. And she’s awesome … and terrifying. There’s a scene where she takes on Michael Fasssbender (Spoiler Alert) who is trying to kill her, and they just tear up this hotel room and well, Michael gets what he deserves.

Okay, so let’s hear it. But Cam, these are violent movies. Women should rise above this violence and use cooperation and their superior intelligence to avoid these situations. I’m with you. This is not the normal female response, but it’s just so nice to see such powerful, resourceful women. It’s so nice to see violent men getting back as good as they give. And yes, I do not advocate violence, but it’s a movie. And in a movie you have to suspend disbelief and just go with it and while I love Downton Abbey and all those romantic comedies that Michelle forces me to watch (and I have to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks to stay awake for), I do love action movies and I especially love them when women participate in the action, and initiate the action and just don’t look on forlornly, hoping that a man saves them.

My daughter introduced me to the Bechdel Test, which is a litmus test to assess the presence of women in movies. One of the questions that it asks is does the movie have two women who talk to each other about something other than a man? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test Wikipedia suggests that half of all contemporary films fail the test, which seems low to me, at least with the movies I watch. So I’m now starting my own gender bias assessment of movies before I invest any of my time watching them. I’m not even going to watch them if they’d got a man on the cover … which seems to describe more than half of the movies out there.

I’m hoping that producers and writers and directors will start to get this. I’m assuming that women want to watch movies about … well … women, or at least ones in which women play relevant roles. I was talking to my exceptional daughters about how NBC was showing Saturday Night Live from the 70’s and 80’s at 10 pm on Saturday (which I actually able to stay awake for!) and I couldn’t believe how few skits had women from the cast in them. Jane Curtin hosted the news for a while, but most of the female cast members played really small roles in the shows. Then you had Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the late 90’s and they got more airtime, but I watched a fairly recent one and it was the same old thing, the majority of the skits were men. My youngest said, “Yea, I don’t even watch SNL because nothing they do interests me.” Are you hearing this Lorne Michaels? Get with the program? Enough of the whole ‘let’s focus just on the men’ thing.

How many women subscribed to Netflix to watch “Orange is the New Black”? Lots! Time to catch up Hollywood. Make more movies like “Lucy” and “Haywire.” Enough of the guy stuff. Now I’ll go quietly read some Jane Austen and try and find my happy place. Thanks for listening.

 

~ 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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