The Ultimate Chicken Sunroom

My latest project combines two of my interests. The first is to see things ‘repurposed’ that were otherwise not being used or were destined for the landfill. The second is that I like to see that my family members are comfortable and well looked after. All of our pets … dog, cats and chickens … are part of the family. As we approach another Canadian winter I was not looking forward to the chickens’ daytime activities.

Last year the polar vortex, which I believe was caused by the warming arctic screwing up the jet stream, dumped a pile of snow on us … all winter. It seemed like we got a new dumping every other day. The chickens do not like snow. Eventually they’ll go out in it, but some days they insist on staying inside the coop. Their little coop was great for sleeping, but its only source of light was the door, so it was pretty dark. And if the wind and blowing snow was coming from the wrong direction I was hesitant to leave the door open and let all of that blowing snow inside.

This year we re-purposed an old ice fishing hut into a new coop. There is a large door that allows us to get in to clean and gather the eggs. But during the winter I wanted to be able to keep the big door closed so I put a small trap ‘chicken’ door just big enough for the ladies to get in and out. So the coop has two doors. Do you know why a chicken coop has two doors? Because if it had 4 doors it would be a sedan. Awkward groan. Yes, that was an exceptionally funny joke.

I also put a window in it so that on the cold but sunny cold days the ladies will have lots of light and hopefully the sun will help to warm up the coop as well.

Last January my amazing neighbor Alyce was selling a farm. She was the source of our new coop which I blogged about here. At some point I had helped her and Ken to put up electric fencing around the property and so I knew there was a pickup truck cap out in the middle of a field. It was probably about 25 years old and it was one of those things you know is just going to rot or be dragged to a dump. So I asked Alyce if I could have it.

It took me about an hour last winter to dig it out and free it. Then I tried to drag it on a big plastic snowmobile sled, but I couldn’t balance it on my own. Plus, with so much snow, walking was really hard. So I convinced Alyce and her niece Amelia to help me to drag it. It was a real ordeal but the 3 of us managed to get it to the driveway where I could throw it on the back of the truck. It was my intention to turn it into a chicken sunroom eventually.

This fall I got a load of square bales from my neighbor Heidi. After the CSA was over I was taking the cap off the back of my pickup truck and I was about to unload it on to some pallets when I suddenly thought of a way to make use of it during the winter. So I took it over to the coop and unloaded it onto hay bales. Then I put the second cap next to it. And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty darn impressed with this sunroom set up!

chicken sun rooms

The salvaged truck cap didn’t have a back window, but I fabricated one out of scrap lumber and a chunk of scrap plastic from an old greenhouse. It ain’t pretty, as none of my projects are, but it’s functional.

pickup truck cap

Chickens love dirt. They love to scratch in the dirt. They love to peck at the dirt. They dust bathe in the dirt. They just love dirt. I can’t imagine what it’s like for chickens in large barns kept in metal cages where they never get to do what is in their DNA … scratching in the dirt.

sunny warm and no wind

Last winter they didn’t get to see any dirt for months. This year, they’re going to have dirt all winter! And as you can see by the photo the sunrooms are really bright! And best of all they break the wind, which is so helpful to keep them warm. And the warmer they are and the more sunlight they get the happier they’ll be. I must admit, this means we get more eggs to sell. But I feel much better when I know my chickens get to enjoy themselves every day. In the sun, digging in the dirt.

pickup truck cap

If I were a chicken I’d want a big bright coop. Our chickens have that.

I’d want the straw to be cleaned regularly. Our chickens have that.

I’d want a varied diet that includes warm oatmeal and ripe bananas for breakfast. Yup, they get that too.

I’d want room to roam. Our chickens have that.

And I’d want a sunny, cozy place to scratch in the dirt. Done. Done. Done.

Life at Sunflower Farm is pretty darn great, even for the chickens.

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Thank you to everyone who took advantage of our recent book sale. Today is the last day of the sale so please email me for a shipping quote. See this blog for more details.

First Skate of the Season and Ken’s Best Sunflower Farm Quotes … Ever

I’m writing this on Wednesday December 10, 2014. Hopefully Michelle will post it shortly afterwards. I note the date because regular readers will probably say “I’m pretty sure I read this post this time last year … and the year before …”

You’re probably correct, but I’m not going back to check the archive. Frankly it doesn’t matter to me, because I just enjoyed my first skate of the season and it’s a pretty big deal to me.

I love skating on our pond. It’s one of the many things that make living here awesome. We’ve been corresponding with a lot of readers lately who say “Oh, I just dream of living like you do.” Many seem to work at jobs they’re not overly enamored with. So let me state, just to make you feel better, that I have no plan on how I’m ever going to retire. I’m going to have to keep working until I drop dead in the potato patch. And really, not a bad way to go I think. Better than wasting away in some institution.

camskatewindtower

That being said, since we moved here 15 years ago, when I was 40, I’ve had a pond to skate on, and I love skating on my pond. I am overjoyed when I skate on my pond. Just going round and round and round and zoning out and smiling like a mad man. It helps that the pond is right under the wind turbine. “I” put that up! I did that! And it powers my home, especially at this time of year when the solar panels do much less of the “heavy lifting.” I can see both of my solar arrays from the pond too. “I put them up! I did that! OK, I did all that with the help of my neighbor Ken. He’s awesome too!

I’m not sure where this love of skating came from but ‘the force is strong in this one.” I spent part of my childhood in a house along the St. Lawrence River, which drains the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean. So I grew up skating on outside ice. There were the rare times when the ice would freeze thick enough to skate on without any snow on top. You could cross country skate. If you wound up and slapped a puck as hard as you could it would take you 10 minutes to catch up to it.

After we moved away from that house we spent many Christmases at my parents’ cottage on a lake and I always shoveled a rink. So when we moved here having my own rink really was a dream come true. When I skate on my rink I do not think about my lack of retirement funds, or just how long it will be before we’re burning the furniture to stay warm. I just think how lucky I am to have this little bit of frozen water beside my cozy little house off the grid that I can skate on … whenever I want … for as long as I want … in whatever direction I want.

bigrink

I do think about the monetary value of this rink. What do you figure it costs to build a hockey arena today? Half a million dollars? A million? So the way I figure it, as I skate around, I’m worth a million bucks! Take that evil mutual fund companies that run ads trying to scare me about the terror of retiring without sufficient funds … in the stock market … which always goes up in value … forever … right?

I particularly like skating at dusk. There is nothing like the feeling of zipping around on a pond where I can see our cozy little house all toasty warm-looking, lit by the batteries charged by the sun and the wind, heated with wood that absorbed carbon dioxide as it was growing. It’s simply magical.

Pond skating is a very Canadian (and northern American) thing to do. There is a great song by Tom Cochrane called ‘Big League’ with the line “Sometimes at night I can hear the ice crack, it sounds like thunder and rips through my back…” Our pond cracks and makes horrific sounds when we skate on it. Joyful fright.

jasperthehockeydog

In our book “Little House Off The Grid” I talk about our neighbor Ken who has been so instrumental in the evolution of our home to one that runs so smoothly. One night before we had completely moved here I came up during an ice storm to test a generator. It was winter and I was dressed in arctic survival gear, constantly in fear of running the truck off the road and freezing within minutes. Ken stopped in on his way home from work. Despite the freezing ice pellets that were being blown around, Ken was dressed in leather shoes with a leather jacket that was undone showing a cotton shirt and tie underneath. He skated across the frozen lawn and said, “Well at least there’s no black flies!” BEST… LINE… EVER!

When we moved here I had a backhoe come in and dig out the spot where water had sat the previous spring. It was a natural indentation so I thought if I scooped out some soil/sand, we might have a shot at a pond, and therefore a rink.

Then a few years later Ken was over one day with his ATV and offered to clear the rink after a big snow. He couldn’t get much traction so his brother-in-law Cyril stood on the back of the ATV. Still not go. So I got on. There we were, 3 people on a one-person ATV, 27,000 lbs on newly formed ice with a great weight of snow on it as well. I was lucky that I was perched precariously on the very back of the machine so I could jump off the moment it all went crashing through the ice. I was wishing I’d put a rope near the pond so I could pull Ken and Cyril out. And how were we going to fish the ATV out once it plunged to the bottom? Ken, as always, is never fazed by any of this. He gets a kick out my constant state of panic.

As we were plowing the rink Ken turned to Cyril and said, “Cam made this!” referring to the pond. I would never take credit for the work of nature or some Supreme Being or life force, but I have to say it was the SECOND BEST LINE EVER. “Cam made this!” And that’s why I love Ken like a brother. And why skating on my rink is a joyful, joyful, joyful thing to do.

NOTE: Thanks to everyone who bought books recently. We really appreciate it. We have extended the sale on our books for one more week. Here’s the post with all of the details. There are rock bottom prices on our books, including “Little House of the Grid” which Cam referred to a few times in this post.

Everyone Loves a Parade

I love the village near where I live. It’s 14 km (8-1/2 miles) away but I still feel deeply associated with it. Our mailbox is there and it’s where we go to purchase all sorts of necessities like food! I belong to a group that meets regularly to promote economic and other activities. Michelle and I also belong to the GrassRoots Growers, which organizes educational events around food production and gardening.

There are two parades a year in our village, one on Canada Day and one on the first Sunday in December with a Christmas theme. For many years I have participated in these parades. I’ve dressed up as Super Solar Man, a solar-powered Christmas tree and even as some blueberries! Parades are a weird concept, but they can be pretty awesome. They seem to be one of those events that help to define a place. They help build community. And they can be a lot of fun.

Last year Michelle used a big cardboard box and cut out and painted and decorated it to look like a Christmas tree. I wore it in the parade. We walk with The GrassRoots Growers. We carry a lot of fun signs to promote their mission along a seasonal theme like “Bok Choy to the world,” “Hoe Hoe Hoe” and “I Be-Leaf in Santa.” And we give out locally grown apples to the children along the parade route. I would protest but there is already lots of candy being given out by everyone else that I guess it’s okay to have one healthy thing.

Michelle put a lot of work into the tree so I could not bear to throw it out last year and so it ended up in the horse barn. Bad idea. It just kicked around and got in the way all summer long. So I decided to dust it off for this year’s parade before dismantling and recycling it. On the morning of the parade I was having one of those, “Ahhhh, I really don’t feel like going into town” kind of days. I just wanted to hang out and split firewood. But Michelle had promised to bring the signs and our wagon so off we went.

As we walked around as the parade was being assembled we had a chance to see the other floats and people involved. It’s fun to see so many of our village friends gathered in one place at the same time. My friend Don was pulling some of his vintage snowmobiles that were all decked out. There were line dancers. The school always enters a float with kids, as do the churches. As I walked past the pick-up truck carrying all of the freshly elected township councilors I was kidding them that I wish I’d won the election so that I could be on the “cool kids” float. We have a local Gaeltacht group that promotes the Irish language, culture and traditions and they had a great float in the parade this year. They often have events that include Irish dancing which gives our town so much character, especially since it was settled by Irish immigrants a century and a half ago.

One of our local farmers was in the parade driving his awesome truck from about 1930. He drives it in every parade although it rarely makes it to the end. I chatted with him about how we had started a pool placing bets on how far he’d make it in this parade. I’d bet a kilometer and a half (about a mile for our American readers). Eighty years ago when the truck was built, clutches were not what they are today and there is a big hill in the latter half of the parade. Sure enough, this year the H&H Farm truck ended up following behind Santa because he just couldn’t get that truck moving slowly up the hill.

This year was a big deal for our village because we had a band! I know, it sounds obvious that you’d have a band, but at this time of the year there is lots of competition for bands to attend all of the various parades and we are a pretty small village, albeit with an awesome parade. So the parade committee this year decided to spend some money and get a band. And you know what? It was worth it. A parade is so much better with a marching band. This year’s band was a pipe band and as I walked by and they were warming up their bagpipes I was thinking about how I’ve always wished that I learned to play the bagpipes. It means you get to walk in parades. And be part of a group. A group of bagpipe players. And parade marchers. When I suggest things like this to Michelle she reminds me that I do belong to many groups and I already do march in the parade! Yes, I know. But I still wish I were in a bagpipe band. What does a set of bagpipes cost anyway? I’ve got some time this winter.

My Christmas tree costume had a wardrobe malfunction, or should I say the whole thing was a malfunction. It was poorly thought out, having a tree at the front and the back. It meant I couldn’t take very long steps. It was more like shufflin’. I carried a bag of pine boughs and whenever I saw someone I knew I’d stop and drop some and say, “You can tell I’m a real tree, look, I’m shedding!” They were laughing with me … right?

 

Photo by Hannah McDonald

Photo by Hannah McDonald

Parades are fun. What’s the most fun is figuring out whether the people are pointing and laughing because they recognize you, or they just figured out what you were trying to do, or they were just plain pointing and laughing. And if my rather tired, wardrobe-malfunctioning Christmas tree thing makes people laugh, well, then it was worth it!

 

Photo by Hans Honegger

Photo by Hans Honegger

I drove my truck into town so that I could bring our wagon to carry the apples that we were giving out and I parked it near the ball diamond. The people parked beside me were from the next town over and they had this amazing horse and buggy. The buggy was a “doctors buggy” because it only held one person. Can you imagine a doctor racing to someone’s house in a horse and buggy? Their horse had been given to them after a championship career of racing, and had obviously come to a great home for its retirement. You meet the greatest people and learn the coolest stuff at your local parade.

All day long the village hosts a craft fair of local artisans, from honey to jewelry and everything in between. I wish I could win a lottery so I could buy something from everyone. It’s amazing stuff and the people put so much work into their crafts. It is always a good excuse the support the local churches and school with their baked goods. I can’t help them out enough!

This year’s parade was particularly good. It gets better each year, but I think that’s just because I get to know more people and have more people to talk to. With retailers starting to bombard us with Christmas messages before Halloween now, I find my holiday fatigue sets in earlier and earlier. Michelle and I have both had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. But then I strung our LED X-mas lights all over the house, which helped to make the house brighter. And then we participated in the parade and suddenly I feel festive! Not in the “time to go out and buy crap” way, but in the “we should invite some guests over” way and the “I can hardly wait ‘til our daughters and sons-in-law come home for a visit.” And maybe, just maybe, if I’m a good boy there’ll be a set of bagpipes under the tree! Although that is one thing I have yet to find at a thrift shop.

Photo by Hans Honegger

Photo by Hans Honegger

Thanks to Hannah McDonald and Hans Honegger for providing these photos!

When the World (or Your Computer) Goes Dark

I bought my first computer in 1984. Well actually Michelle bought our first computer then because she was teaching and I was selling computers and couldn’t afford one. It was a Macintosh. That was 30 years ago. How did that happen? It seems like yesterday.

After 30 years, I’m sick of computers. I just want to grow food and cut firewood. I do not want to be involved with computers. I will still have to use them, but like going to the dentist, that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My laptop is probably 9 years old. A while ago the track pad stopped working. I turned the laptop over and realized that the battery had gone all wonky and so I removed it and the track pad started working again. Then it started getting really slow and then I started seeing the “rainbow death spiral” or “beach ball of death” as I have since learned it’s called. It’s a little spinning multicolored disc that appears when your computer is working away. It’s means your computer is trying to do something but it is often a prelude of bigger problems to come. It’s a warning. It’s a shot across your bow in terms of backing up your hard drive.

I use Time Machine and backup to an external hard rive. I also burn DVDs periodically of my essential materials. I met an Apple Tech at my daughter’s wedding last summer and he commented that people are notorious for not backing up. And smart people too. He had a PhD student lose his thesis when his hard drive crashed. He hadn’t put it on a flash drive. He hadn’t copied it to an external hard drive (that would have cost him $50.) He hadn’t emailed it to himself in GMail so there was another copy. He hadn’t stored it on the cloud. Nope, just the one copy and it was gone … forever!

So when the day arrived when I tried to turn my computer on it and it didn’t start I was ready. I was sad, and I wish it hadn’t happened but I dealt with it.

Along with computers I’m sick of buying electronics… cameras, cell phones, music equipment … which all seems to die or become obsolete way too quickly. They build it cheaply because it will become obsolete quickly but the reality is that you end up with boxes of the stuff. So I wasn’t rushing out to buy a new computer, of any kind. We seem to have way too many old laptops lying around here.

Desktop computer

We bought our first laptop a few months after moving off the grid in 1998. At the time I was using a big, honking desktop Macintosh with about a 147” mega-desktop publishing monitor using a cathode ray terminal. Obviously I am just kidding about the size and the technology of my old desktop but the reality is that I could actually watch our off-grid battery voltage drop whenever that computer was turned on. It was that inefficient. So we bought our black laptop that still starts up and works fine today, albeit a wee bit slowly.

The next laptop we bought was a PowerBook G4. I am actually composing this blog on it. We probably bought it some time around 2003. It still works fine. I can even check my Gmail account with it. Oh it warns me the browser is no longer supported and evil things will happen to me, but so far no trolls have jumped out from the screen and absconded with my lucky charms. Michelle used this computer for years when we got our first Mac Book Pro with the 17” screen, which was pretty big for laptops at the time. Eventually I needed more horsepower so we upgraded to a new Mac Book Pro and Michelle got the old one.

A year or two ago the hard drive on Michelle’s old Mac Book died so we replaced it with a new model. Then my Mac Book started acting wonky and died. Well it sort of died. Most of the time it won’t start, but sometimes it will. At one point I was having a good run of 2 or 3 days with it working so I printed a bunch of our gardening DVDs knowing what a hassle it would be to get software working with a new computer on our printer that prints CDs. And then it lasted for a few more days.

laptop compputer

Which brings me to the concept of human inertia. This is where people get ensconced in a belief system, like that the electricity will always be on, or the water will always flow out of the taps, and there is nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. You can even experience an ice storm that knocks out power for a week, but once it comes back on, well, who wants to buy a generator anyway? We’ll probably never have another ice storm. I, of course, believe that all of these systems are large and complex and interconnected and not very resilient and prone to cascading failure, but that’s just me.

I can’t fault other people for being lulled into a sense of security. After about the 4th day of my dead computer coming back to life, I was using it to write a blog. I tend to write the title and first line, and then save it. Which I did. Then I blasted through the blog, a great blog. It was the one about my sew-on crest collection and why I should be the lead singer for Journey. I’m just so-so about some of my blog posts but this one was a great one. I laughed out loud. It was heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

When I was done I started proofing it. I tend to write and type quickly, which in many instances means that much of what I write is incoherent. Michelle finally read the riot act and said she wasn’t going to edit my blogs anymore until I went through them once. It was a good idea because there are many instances when I read stuff and even I can’t figure out what I was trying to say. And as I proofed the blog, it happened. The screen went blank. The power just stopped flowing and everything in RAM was gone. First I screamed, then I just wanted to cry because I had one of those sinking feelings that I hadn’t saved since I wrote the title. Sure, typing “cloverleaf S” is pretty instinctive, but I just wasn’t sure. For the first few days of the resurrection I was copying my files to a flash drive every 10 minutes or so, but after 4 days, well, it seemed to be working well again and that just seemed like a lot of effort.

And I waited while it rebooted, with dread. I had dread, not the computer. I don’t think computers feel dread. In fact if the computer could feel or think anything it would have been more along the lines of, “It serves you right you moron, because really, you knew I was about to go. I didn’t start most of the time, why would you possibly think it wouldn’t happen again?” But it did happen again and it reminds me that I must be patient on those many occasions when I ask someone how long they were without power during the 1998 ice storm. Inevitably the answer is something horrendous like 3 weeks or more, and then I ask what they’ve done to prepare for the next one and their answer is “nothing.” I understand.

This inertia is a tough nut to crack. Habits are hard to break. I understand. I’m the worst offender.

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A few reminders;

See our recent post here about our book sale. There is still time to order!

Many of you will be shopping online in the next little while. If you are going to shop at Amazon anyway, please consider accessing the amazon site through one of our links above. We receive a very small commission on anything purchased using those links.

When you are on amazon, please consider leaving a review for one of our books. Many people base their buying decisions on those reviews. Thanks!

Reach Out and Touch Someone

 – The Unexpected Consequences of Blogging -

Thank you for reading this blog.

Thank you for commenting. Our blog readers are really awesome. Our blog is read by really cool people, and I don’t say that to swell your head, but why not? Michelle and I continue to be amazed by the wonderful people we have “met” through this blog.

I like to pretend that I’m a misanthropic, hermit-type curmudgeon, which is partially true, but I still like to have some human contact. Michelle and I are involved with several groups in our nearby village which we think help make it such a great place to live. I have spent a great deal of time interacting with humans in the last two elections in which I’ve participated, and I interact with the fabulous people who support us through our CSA during the growing season.

It would easy for me to rant about how people spend too much time at their keyboards and not enough time actually interacting with humans face to face. But that isn’t the case with us. The comments and feedback we get from the blog are awesome. We get feedback from people all over the world. As soon as she posts a blog Michelle uses Google Analytics to see how many people read the blog and where they are located. This isn’t intrusive or detailed, it doesn’t give us a specific internet address, just a general location. It just tells us that someone in “New York City” or “Melbourne” is reading the blog. On a recent blog post day Michelle excitedly said, “Someone in Tel Aviv was just reading the blog!” I think that’s just the coolest thing. That’s exciting!

The comments we get are often inspirational for us and often that inspiration comes at a time when we really need it. Probably the most common motivator for us is the “you’re doing what we’ve always dreamed of doing” feedback. I can rant about bugs eating our garden, the work involved with heating with wood, the hassle of a lightning strike taking out our power system, but somehow these challenges can become irrelevant, because we’re where we want to be, doing what we want to do. We chose this life and it’s fantastic. I’m up early to let the chickens out of their coop, and now I’m out at dark to lock them up when they’ve put themselves to bed, and there isn’t a time outside when I don’t notice how quiet and amazing this place is. There isn’t a day that I’m not enthralled as I turn my solar panels to track the sun with the concept that we generate all of our own energy. There’s not a day that the wind turbine is spinning that I don’t look up at this historic engineering feat that I pulled off all by myself (with help from neighbors) and think, “I DID THAT!” If I accomplish nothing else in my life at least I put that big honking’ power producing hunk of steel 100 feet up in the air that powers my water pump and my fridge and my TV and internet (and consequently Netflix!)

I read James Kunstler’s blog on Mondays and I think he’s a panic. I’m just in awe of some of the stuff he writes. I always think to myself, “Man I wish I could string words together like that!”

And then, one of our readers will let us know that something we’ve written has spoken to them in the same way. We recently got a package in the mail. WE LOVE PACKAGES IN THE MAIL! We love real mail to begin with, but a package from unknown sources is just wondrous. Now that we’re winding down the publishing business we don’t get packages of returned books any more, which is really nice. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender on the package, but when we saw where it was from we had an inkling of who might have sent it. We have corresponded with some readers from near where it was mailed. So with their permission, here’s a photo of what they sent to us:

wallhanging

It is beautiful and original and has a great quote on it. We picked up the mail after an evening meeting of the Grassroots Growers so we got home late. Michelle read the letter that came with this gift and she realized it was a quote from our book, “Little House Off The Grid.” To which I said, “WHAT?” … “I WROTE THAT?” … “COME ON… NO WAY!” So she quickly glanced through the book and couldn’t find it. I finally used the search function on the PDF and low and behold, there it was! I couldn’t even remember writing it!

There are a number of quotes that motivate me. As we plod along pushing the Green Party platform up a huge incline I just keep saying, “I will not give in to the lazy of despair.” Gandhi helps us with “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

We recently read Elizabeth May’s (leader of the Green Party of Canada) new book “Who We Are,” and she writes that she “wants a life, not a job.” I can relate to that.

I am emphatically not comparing myself to these individuals. I am extremely touched that something I wrote inspired someone else to the point that they took the time to reach out to us like they did. And invest so much time in creating this beautiful wall hanging.

We’ve hung it up in the kitchen… my favorite room! We eat great food there, much of which we grew. We share meals with our daughters and their husbands and their families there. It is a special place. People have been eating meals in my kitchen for the last 120 years! There are many stories there. There is a rogue’s gallery of black and white photos of my family and Michelle’s family. Many generations back. Time marches forward. New history is made. New connections to other lives are made. Our soil is planted. We harvest what grows. Much pizza is eaten! Life at Sunflower Farm is pretty awesome!

Thanks for sharing in it. (And special thanks to C.A. for the lovely wall hanging!)

We’re Having a Sale!

(Sale ends Friday, December 19, 2014)

Yee ha! We’re having a massive blow out sale at Sunflower Farm! That’s right, huge savings! Massive discounts! We want you to buy, buy, buy! We’re clearing out inventory and here’s your chance to save! I’m not being sarcastic, honestly! Do you think all of the Black Friday hype is getting to me?

We are in the process of winding down our publishing business Aztext Press. The book industry has just changed so radically since we started a decade ago that we can’t figure out how to make any money at it. In order to minimize the cost of each book you need to print a big print run, but our titles don’t exactly appeal to the “mass market” and so they aren’t suitable for huge print runs. And short runs using “Print on demand” technology (i.e. digital printing or ‘photocopying’ the book) make the books so expensive that again, it’s hardly worth selling them.

Some of our titles will still be available as eBooks but that still represents a small percentage of the market and I’ve read some articles lately that suggest that this segment of the industry is stalling. I guess everyone who was going to get a tablet or reader did and now they do buy eBooks but those who like printed books are still the larger segment of the market.

It’s bad enough that booksellers (especially the big ones) demand a huge discount (at least 50% off the retail price) but the really frustrating thing for book publishers is that bookstores and retailers can return your books if they don’t sell. It’s the only business I know of that does this and it’s dumb. A retailer can order a pallet of books, then ship them back. And there is no time constraint. In every other industry if products don’t sell, retailers discount them, but not books. It’s perfect for bookstores and brutal for publishers. If publishers had been smart they would have simply refused to take returns, but no one wanted to be the first to risk it, so the returns juggernaut rolls on.

Our bestselling title “The Renewable Energy Handbook” is essentially out of print but we recently managed to get a case of them back from our distributor. This was the first book we published and it was our best seller because it’s a brilliant book. It’s the book Michelle and I wish we’d had when we moved off the grid. Our friend Bill Kemp did a great job of making all the elements of renewable energy make sense without making things too complicated. If you are thinking about ever installing any renewable energy equipment on your house, this is the book to have. Or if you want to make your home more energy efficient and reduce the costs and energy required to operate it, it’s also an excellent resource. It simply makes more sense to save energy rather than try and generate it, so the first place to start is reducing your energy requirements. Or if you just want to look cool, you really need this on your bookshelf.

REH front Cover

The retail price on this book is $29.95 but since this is the 2nd edition (there was a 3rd edition, also out of print) we’ll sell it to you for $10.00. And yes, this blog post is a crass invitation for you to spend money but we still need to earn an income. As George Bailey says about money to his guardian angel Clarence in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Well, it comes in real handy down here, bud!”

In fact we are selling all of our titles (see the list below) at bargain basement prices right now. Email Michelle with a list of the titles you’d like and your address and she’ll quote you a price for shipping. (The Buy Now buttons on our home page do not reflect these sale prices – these are only for our loyal readers! Email m.d.mather at gmail dot com with your list and your address.) Please note that we ship from Canada and so even though we will only charge you for shipping at our cost, it may seem high to our American readers.

Shop now! Limited Time Offer! They make excellent gifts! They’ll look great on your bookshelf! They’ll increase your status among friends and family. They’ll clear up your restless leg syndrome. They’ll have you on the edge of your seat! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry … Okay, enough, I’ll shut up now.

Available titles;

The Renewable Energy Handbook by Bill Kemp (2nd edition) – Sale price $10.00

Biodiesel Basics and Beyond by William Kemp – Sale price $5.00

The Zero-Carbon Car by William Kemp – Sale price $5.00

$mart Power by William Kemp – Sale price $5.00

Little House Off the Grid by Michelle & Cam Mather – Sale price $10.00

The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook by Cam Mather – Sale price $10.00

 

For descriptions of any of these books go to http://www.aztext.com/books.html

book covers on sale

 

We Broke the Weather

If you’re reading this from the sunny south you’re probably thinking it’s an over reaction to the recent brutal cold and then record highs we have been experiencing here in Eastern Ontario. Oh, no wait, since on November 19th, 50 states had temperatures below zero. I assume that included Florida. Oh, and Hawaii.

But the cold and snow we experienced earlier this month is not normal. I don’t care how many people try and tell me “Well we had a winter like this in 1938” or “Our winters always used to be like this.” I don’t believe them.

What I think is this. We broke the weather. And even though government-sponsored groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say climate change effects will start to be felt in 2050 or later, it’s just not true. It’s happening now.

The biggest mistake we made was to call it “Global Warming.” While the planet overall is warming, it doesn’t mean that every day everywhere will be warmer. NOAA reports that globally, (in other words the global average) in October was the hottest ever. It set a record.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/20/warmest-october-on-record_n_6192502.html

It’s the 5th month in 2014 we’ve set a record which means 2014 is shaping up to a record breaker. I never thought I’d appreciate some of that heat. But the reality of climate change is that the weather will get weirder and more extreme. We’re just coming out on the cold end of the stick. When you look at those colored maps of the current temperatures you’ve got Alaska and Greenland all red and warm colored because they are warmer than normal, then you’ve got that big blue bulge sweeping down through the middle of North America.

Earlier in November Super Typhoon Nuri moved into the Bering Straight over Alaska.

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/monster-storm-to-pound-bering/36927708

It was the most powerful storm ever recorded in this area in recorded history. Sounds kind of like Hurricane Sandy. Or the storm that caused $6 billion damage in Calgary in 2013. Or the storm that hit Toronto in August of 2013 and dumped a month’s worth of rain in an hour and caused close to a billion dollars in damage. This list just keeps getting longer and longer.

So this storm in Alaska might have influenced our weather. Or maybe it’s that the Arctic is warming 3 times faster than the south and that is causing the jet stream to meander like it never used to. And when it meanders it likes to stay put for a while rather than just moving on like it used to. Whether this meandering jet stream is caused by the reduced temperature differential between the Arctic and the Equator has yet to be proven.

But it just seems to be getting more pronounced and causing more discomfort, even for us comfortable North Americans.

I made the mistake one Sunday night of watching Leslie Stahl’s report on how bad the drought in California is. Good grief Cam, look away, watch the Simpson’s for heaven’s sake.

http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/eCJ1glZZrh6w0zsUPPHIYPhoKgK_k1D1/water-cardinal-se-n-mandy-patinkin/

Then I watched a NOVA show on the killer landslide from Oso in Washington.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/killer-landslide.html

In the 45 days leading up to the slide the area received twice as much rainfall as normal. The hill just got too saturated and gave way. This is what scientists have been telling us. A drought hammers one area. Another gets too much rain. Most major newscasts now feature an “Extreme Weather” segment, just about every day it seems.

And then there’s snow. We often don’t see snow here until close to Christmas. Last November we got a dumping on about the 24th, a month before I was expecting it. This year we had snow on the ground beginning on November 10th or so. This is just too bizarre. I still had work to do outside. Even I start thinking ‘what happened to global warming?” Oh right, it’s climate change.

Then there’s Buffalo. 6 feet of snow! Come on! That’s just not right. It won’t end! It truly is snowmageddon. No one, from individuals to governments can handle what’s happening.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/19/us/winter-weather/index.html

About 50% of the U.S. had snow on the ground. How’s the orange crop handling this?

Sorry to rant about the weather, but really, what else is there to rant about when by mid-November you’ve already experienced a lot of snow and a brutal cold wind blowing non-stop and you’re plowing through your softwood at a historic pace. I keep softwood at the front of my woodshed for the milder “swing” part of the heating season. The hardwood is at the back. I don’t usually need it until January. This year I needed it November 15th!

Climate change is happening. It’s happening much faster than climate scientists have publicly stated because they like to be conservative. We need to get with the program and deal with it.

The good news is that there are some good things happening! But that’ll have to wait until another day …

The Downward Road of Dumpster Diving

If the trend line to homelessness starts with ‘dumpster diving’ I was on the downward road 30 years ago. Luckily I have avoided it, for which I am infinitely grateful.

My dumpster diving started when our daughters were young. One of my customers owned a print shop and I regularly delivered artwork to him. He was in an industrial mall and the unit next to him was an office supply place (before the retail behemoths moved in). They had the best dumpster EVER! In those days office furniture and file cabinets came with tons of lumber around them protecting them during shipping. So any time I was there I would check out that dumpster looking for wood. I would toss it out of the dumpster, knock it down as much as possible to fit it into our Toyota Tercel, and then drive home with much of extending out of the back end of the car. It was so awesome!

I built lots of stuff out of the salvaged lumber. This is a playhouse I built for my daughters.

playhousesmallfile

Oh sure, I could have bought one of those big pink plastic ones, but this was not only free, I made it! Do you know how many times I just stood staring at that beautiful but poorly constructed monstrosity? It was filled with a variety of playhouse-sized furniture and things  salvaged from other peoples’ garbage. The beauty of living in suburbia, especially in a city full of wealthy people, is the great stuff that people just throw out. And we were in our ‘pay-off-the-mortgage’ and ‘get the hell out of dodge’ mode, so there was no budget for a plastic playhouse.

I built lots of shelves and all sorts of other ‘practical’ items, all incredibly ugly, all works of art. There are many still in use 25 years later like this one.

homemadeshelves

My dumpster diving took a hiatus when we moved to the country because it just wasn’t practical. But after planting my high-bush blueberry patch I began to get coffee grounds. I would call the coffee shop before I left on my drive to the city and ask if they would save me their coffee grounds that day. Sometimes it was pay dirt, sometimes not so much. And I always had to stand in line waiting to get to be served. Often when I asked, “Do you have any coffee grounds you want to get rid of?” I was met with one of those “Oh help me, a crazy man is at the counter” kind of looks. Unless the staff member had been there long enough to have had other gardeners ask for their grounds, these encounters were probably traumatizing for staff. Little did they know that coffee grounds make your soil very acidic and that many berry plants, especially blueberries, thrive in acidic soil.

Recently though, my patience for standing in line has deteriorated and my awareness of where their garbage bins are kept has increased. So often the employees are busy and I feel guilty asking them for grounds and I don’t get many. So now it’s official, I just walk up to those garbage bins and start rummaging. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. I believe the coffee chain in fact should pay me since I save them having to pay for thousands, and I mean thousands, of pounds of waste going to a landfill. The last time we were there I struck pay dirt! There was a huge bag of coffee grounds but it was way at the bottom. So after some creative organizing (removing the garbage on top) out it came. The other bags then went back in. In a place like this the “garbage” is pretty sterile. Once I wrestled those bags of heavy coffee grounds to the trunk of the car I started craving coffee. I’m convinced I could run hot water through enough of those used grounds and get a reasonable cup out of it. But we haven’t quite got there yet.

On our next stop at other one of these coffee places on our way out of town I happened to grab not only grounds but also a bag of food. A whole bag of expensive, gourmet sandwiches and stuff. The best-before date was that day, so I guess that’s why they were thrown out. The chickens enjoyed the muffins and biscuits and Jasper the Wonder Dog, enjoyed some of the sandwiches. Michelle was paranoid about whether or not they had been kept refrigerated but it was a cool October night and none of the pets got sick from these treats.

Supposedly about 40% of food in North America is wasted. My recent dumpster diving haul convinced me of this. Why this coffee shop wouldn’t have found an institution to donate this sort of stuff to is beyond me. I’m sure there are regulations. I’m sure there is the perception that it’s demeaning to those who are in a situation where they need it.

I, on the other hand may ramp up my pursuit of such hidden treasure. I’m thinking maybe if I got a half decent suit from a thrift store and wore a tie while doing this people would mistake me for one of those rich people you hear about who live like they are penniless and then leave a ba-zillion dollars to a charity when they die. Now if I can just keep my inside voice from becoming my outside voice while plying the waters of garbage bin inspection, I may avoid people leaving coins near me. Although ….

 

 

The Happiest Chickens on the Planet Live Here at Sunflower Farm

As you probably know, I’m not one for hyperbole or over-the-top bragging and self-promotion, but I am comfortable with the claim that the happiest chickens on the planet live here at Sunflower Farm. Nope, no hyperbole there.

Adding to the decor of the front porch

Adding to the decor of the front porch

I say this because I’ve read a few articles recently how industrial agriculture raises chickens, and it ain’t pretty. I’m not faulting the farmers here, or the consumers of eggs for that matter. It’s just the way it is. In their quest to reduce costs and produce food as cheaply as possible, often times the welfare of farm animals suffers. Or perhaps I should phrase it that the spiritual and emotional side of animals may be over looked when we raise animals too close together.

Sitting pretty

Sitting pretty

There’s a good article in Harper’s Magazine (November 2014 issue) called “Cage Wars” that describes the appalling conditions of most chickens. (http://harpers.org/archive/2014/11/cage-wars/)

People need food and they like it cheap so economies of scale dictate that the most cost efficient way to it is to pack them in tightly.

The chickens here at Sunflower Farm, have room to roam. We started with 4 laying chickens and are up to 26 right now. My attitude is that 24 chickens are as much work as 4, so the more eggs we produce and sell to our friends, hopefully there are fewer chickens out there living in cramped quarters. I spend just as much time getting up and letting the ladies out, and bringing them food, and herding them back into the pen after they’ve free ranged and cleaning up the coop and pen whether I have 4 or 24.

Spread out

Spread out

Our vegan readers will question why we have chickens at all, but as I’ve blogged about in the past, the biggest mistake I made when we moved here was to not buy a tractor while I had the money. So I do a lot of manual labor and a big plate of eggs and potatoes for breakfast is my fuel. I’ve replaced diesel fuel with happy chicken animal protein. The chickens don’t seem to mind and as a bonus we get great manure for the gardens that provide produce to for our CSA.

When we first got chickens Michelle started following other chicken blogs and discovered which foods they like. So our ladies get a bowl of warm large flake oatmeal and sliced bananas first thing in the morning. They devour this. Our local grocery store sells their over-ripe bananas at a reduced price and low and behold these are the ones our ladies like. Easier to digest!

As the day goes on they get a steady stream of treats. They love rice, which I imagine they think of as insect eggs. They go ga-ga over rice. They get cooked potato peels. Right now they are getting the ugly sweet potatoes that we cook and mash up for them. They devour sweet potatoes. They often get pasta if we have leftovers. I imagine that they think the spaghetti is a worm and they love it. During the growing season they get all of the trimmings from our harvests of lettuce, etc. As we’ve been cleaning out the garden this fall, they have enjoyed all sorts of leftover lettuce, spinach and almost anything else. It turns out that they love broccoli leaves. They don’t like cauliflower leaves, just broccoli. So every time we harvest some broccoli we pull the plants for the chickens and it sets off a feeding frenzy in the pen.

Fighting over broccoli plants - Note the one on top of the coop!

Fighting over broccoli plants

They have a very large pen with lots of room to roam. After they’re done laying around 11 am we open the gates to they can free range. They love grass and clover and bugs and will happily spend hours scratching and digging everywhere. Later in the day we herd them all back in and they tend to sleep or dust bathe and generally take it easy for the afternoon. They put themselves to bed around dusk and seem pretty happy in their coop. It’s warm and cozy but they all seem to have enough room.

Tucked in at bed time

Tucked in at bed time

Posing near sunflowers

Posing near sunflowers

We heard a kafuffle outside one morning this summer and discovered a red fox on the other side of the pen watching the ladies. Jasper the Wonder Dog tore after the fox. I thought the fox was a goner because Jasper is a very fast border collie but by the time he had chased it through the corn patch and across the back garden, the fox was out in front and looking back at Jasper, with a look that said, “is that all you’ve got?” Jasper didn’t stand a chance. Foxes are very fast.

The pen is large enough that I cannot enclose the top, and I also often change the boundaries. One recent morning there was commotion and when I went out to check a large bird was flying away. It might have been a hawk or some other bird of prey (I didn’t have my glasses on). The ladies were freaked out and spent most of the day cowering under their coop and gawking at the lilac bushes where I presume the hawk had come from. We did a head count and luckily everyone was present and accounted for.

Hiding from the hawk

Hiding from the hawk

Short of installing a TV in the coop with Chicken Netflix, which would consist of endless loops of grasshoppers jumping and grubs being dug up out of the soil, I’m not sure what else we could to enrich our chickens’ experience here at Sunflower Farm. They would enjoy the “grub TV” since they spend many hours following me around wherever I’m digging and uncovering unseemly insects. And it’s quite a panic watching a few of them chase a grasshopper across the lawn. It reminds me of being a kid when someone brought one of those really bouncy “super balls” to school and threw it at the pavement and we all ran around trying to figure out where it would come down.

I love the eggs we get from the ladies. I love buying straw to line their coop. I love selling their eggs knowing I’m displacing eggs from chickens not being allowed to live up to their potential the way our ladies do. For a city boy from the suburbs I think I’ve come pretty far!

Sitting on some hay

Sitting on some hay

 

From time to time I like to remind our readers of two important boxes on the righthand side of the page. There is a donation box for anyone who would like to show their appreciation for this blog. There is also a link to amazon. If you plan to purchase anything from amazon, please consider using our link to enter their site. We earn a very small commission on your purchases if you do so! Thanks!!!

 

 

A Wedding!

Guest Post by Michelle Mather

Saturday was a Red Letter day for us, as our daughter Nicole was married. It was a wonderful, low-key event and we were so pleased that they chose their own way to celebrate their union. First, a very simple but lovely ceremony at City Hall was witnessed by a small group of immediate family and close friends. The officiant could not have done a better job of saying all of the things you would want to be said in a wedding ceremony. It was short and sweet and to the point!

Afterwards we all headed to one of Nicole and Will’s favourite restaurants. After a few short toasts and one longer speech the delicious food began to arrive from the kitchen. It was family-style, meaning large dishes were served and we all helped ourselves. What an appropriate way to celebrate the union of our two families, by sharing food from the same dishes.

Will’s mom had been asked to propose a toast but she went a step further and re-wrote a very special children’s book that had been published the same year that Nicole & Will had been born (1986). The book is “I’ll Love You Forever” by Canadian author Robert Munsch. If you don’t know about this book be sure to find a copy and read it to a child you love. Both Nicole and Will have fond memories of this book being read to them, and it holds a special place in my heart because I actually got to hear Robert Munsch tell this story long before the book had even been published.

Once we had all enjoyed way too much food and toasted the happy couple with ample glasses of wine, we headed to the newlywed’s favourite pub where we met up with more friends and family members.

Cam and I are thrilled to welcome our new son-in-law Will to our family. Will is wonderful young man and as an added bonus he is very politically minded and he and Cam can converse for hours on the subject! Cam joked in his toast that not only did he gain a son-in-law but also a campaign manager for the next time he decides to run for the Green Party!

Nicole and Will met when they were in high school.  Since Cam and I also met in high school and Cam’s parents met in high school, they are carrying on that family tradition!

thenewlyweds

Photo by the wonderful Kam Mudhar of Flashing Lights Photo Design (flphotodesign.com)

~ TIP JAR ~
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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their 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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