My Own Private Cognitive Behavioral Psychology

I’m reading Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Undoing Project,” to which you reply “Well that’s a surprise! (since I’ve blogged about every one of his other books.) Yes, that’s true, but he just seems to pick great topics. “The Big Short,” which they bizarrely made into a movie, was a great exposé of the 2008 meltdown. “Boomerang” followed that up on how other countries dealt with insolvent banks. “Flash Boys,” which was about high frequency trading even resulted in Lewis being interviewed for a “60 Minutes” episode. His book “Moneyball” was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and I just love the movie version of his book “The Blind Side”.

So “The Undoing Project,” you could say, dovetails a bit from “Moneyball” in terms of how sports teams were trying to use new techniques using computers and stats to build winning teams. Using raw data got away from so many of the subjective decisions that sports scouts make that often end in disappointment.

This latest book looks at two psychologists who set behavior or cognitive psychology on its side starting in the 1960s. One of the things I do remember a lot of from my one illustrious year in “Commerce” at Queen’s University in 1982 apart from “Film Studies 101” was “Psychology 101.” Apparently I was in the wrong course. Now when I see the moon on the horizon as it comes up and it looks “hhuugggeeeee” I realize it’s the “moon illusion” and is because you have a point of reference with the horizon. Or how when you’re on a train and it stops it feels like it’s going backwards even though it’s stationary, called “the motion parallax.” Who says I wasted a year!

The two psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman studied how ‘heuristics” influence our decisions. According to Wikipedia “In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others.” I am the king of shortcuts!

The book has lots of those cool examples of how people make decisions. If I ask you “are there more words in the English language that start with a “K” (or R or some other consonants) rather than have a “K” as the third character” what would you say?

Most people say more words “start with K” but it’s wrong. The problem is you can readily remember words that start with K, so you assume that holds throughout the language. My brilliant wife said “Well, there’s ‘ask’, “awkward’…” and listed several other words I would never have thought of, which is when I was reminded how I ‘married up’ when I linked up with Michelle.

There is a fancy name for this which I don’t recall. I’m being honest here rather than plowing back through the book to pretend how smart I am that I remember such things.

If you read people a list of 39 names, if you have 20 male names like “Joe Blank, John Smith”, and 19 female names like “Lana Turner, and Hillary Clinton..” and then ask people if there were more male or female names in the list, they will say more female names because they recognized some and their minds dwelled on them. It works the same if there are 19 recognizable male names.  Again, there is a cool intelligent sounding name for this, which I don’t recall. I am not destined for a career in cognitive psychology.

It’s always fun to read a book like this, at a time of human history like this, because I think it’s important to think about how and why you perceive things the way you do. I know it had me thinking critically about things.

One example was Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album which was a “huuggeeely” successful 1973 album. There is a ‘thing’… ‘an urban legend’…’a fact’…???  that if you start this album at exactly the same time you start the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” you’ll find that all the songs link up with the movie, like Pink Floyd wrote the album as a sound track. When we lived in the city and didn’t heat with wood or have 3 acres of gardens I sat down one Sunday afternoon to test the theory. It was quite amazing how closely so many of the lyrics did link up. I remember the line “The lunatic is in the grass” just as the scarecrow falls off the pole and rolls around crazily on the ground. Like how really, how could there be so many coincidences?

So it kind of looked to me like this may be true, until a couple of months ago when we had TV for a bit and I saw a PBS documentary on Pink Floyd putting that album together and it had interviews with the band members and producers and it just never felt like at any point they were trying to sync it to Wizard of Oz. They seem to be having enough of a challenge just getting cool sounds of synthesizers and stuff. So after that I was thinking, well, apparently I had that one wrong.

I’d seen another PBS documentary where in 1964 Lyndon Johnson says something like “If we enact the Civil Rights Act the democrats will never get votes in the south again.” The South had been historically democrat but went republican after that for many years. Then I just read “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance who grows up near Appalachia and he has some many other explanations for why some states that you would think would be Democrat aren’t, including religion, an independent streak, fear of big government, etc.

The take away for me is that it is increasingly difficult to figure a lot of this stuff out and growing more so. It seemed on election night a lot of the Trump team were pretty surprised with the results and they were in the trenches. There is no shortage of articles everywhere right now trying to analyze where this general anger and frustration is coming from and I, like many other people, try and read them and digest new perspectives. Everywhere I look these days I see things that make no sense. The current highs of stock markets. The Toronto Real Estate bubble where the average detached home is now over $1 million dollars, and in January house prices went up 22% over last year. Really? Who’s buying them? Who’s got that kind of money? Am I the only one that sees how badly this bubble is going to burst?

“The Undoing Project” at least gave me a few more mental tools on how my mind works to process difficult questions. Michelle will suggest I should just stop paying attention, read fiction and “become comfortably numb.” Well, that’s not gonna happen. And some days right now it kinda seems like reality is starting to look more and more like fiction.

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If you are inspired to read one of Michael Lewis’ books, please consider using the links to Amazon below. We receive a small commission from Amazon for any sales that result from one of our readers using our Amazon links. (The links will take you to amazon.com. Once there you can then switch to the Amazon store for your country.) Thanks!

Other Michael Lewis Books

Deepwater Horizon

Okay, you have to see an awesome movie that’s available to rent now.

It’s called “Deepwater Horizon” and it’s about the blowout of the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 2010 that caused a lot of oil to pour into the Gulf. It was such a depressing time to watch the news that year.

It’s an awesome movie just from a build up of tension and stuff blowin’ up perspective. But holy cow, what a reminder of where we’re at in terms of energy!

First off, you could call this the “The Peak Oil” movie. What? But Cam, there’s tons of oil out there, and it’s purdy darn cheap right now, so I was pretty sure that whole ‘peak oil’ thing has been debunked.

I believe that would be an incorrect assumption. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which all the OECD developed economies use for energy data, says we hit Peak Oil for ‘conventional’ oil in 2005. Conventional oil is one of those wells you drill that gushes oil. We don’t get those anymore. The Energy Return on Energy Investment (EROEI) on those original wells were 100 to 150 to one, in other words, for every unit of energy you put into getting the stuff out, you got 100 units as a reward.

Fracking uses massive amounts of energy to get at shale oil, so it has a very low EROEI. The tar sands are pretty low too. Let’s face it, at a certain point it’s just not going to be worth it. And when I watched “Deepwater Horizon” that’s all I could think of. This really expensive rig costs $1.5 million/day to drill down 3 miles to the ocean floor and then a mile after that to get at the stuff. It’s really hard, uses tons of energy to run the rig and fly the staff out and make the equipment, etc.

So, one can only assume from an examination of what we have to go through to exploit the last hours of ancient sunlight trapped and liquidified at high heat and pressure, that it would kind of indicate we’ve found all the easy stuff. If we’re workin’ this hard to get at the stuff, there can’t be much/any easy stuff left. You could write your doctoral thesis on how this movie supports Joseph Taintners’ theory that as societies start having energy issues, they add layers of complexity. The technology on this drilling platform is mind blowing!

My next observation is just a ‘was it just me who noticed’ this?” But it seemed kind of pertinent to this disconnect that some of us have between the big picture and little picture. And, let me preface it with the fact that I own a pickup truck.

I’m thinking that the director put it in for a reason, or maybe it’s just me. The crew all arrives at a helicopter airport to get transported out to the rig, so the camera flies over the parking lot. And it’s all pickup trucks. I couldn’t spot a single car. Now, maybe there was a car dealer next door and this was a storage spot for pickups, but I’m pretty sure it was the crew’s parking lot.

They are oil workers and it’s America. I get it, so they can drive any vehicle they want. But what I learned in publishing a book about electric cars is that ultimately, fuel efficiency comes down to weight. Doesn’t matter how efficient the engine is, if you’re hauling around a big load, you will burn more fuel. The point here is not ‘can they afford to drive a pickup?’ Of course they can. The question is ‘do you need a pickup truck to drive “X” hours, probably by yourself, to your job, where your vehicle will sit for 3 weeks while you’re on the drilling rig. My assumption is that they don’t have home building contracting jobs on the side that they need a pickup for because their work and shifts wouldn’t allow it. So logically, since they know how hard it is to get at this oil, they should be using it sparingly. All you need to commute to your job is a Chevy Aveo, or Ford Fiesta (35 mpg combined) versus a Toyota Tundra pickup truck (15 mpg combined). http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/best-worst.shtml

But Cam, don’t you own a pickup truck? Yes I do? And do you just drive it around? Absolutely not! I can’t afford to. I drive it to haul horse manure or firewood. Otherwise it sits in my driveway and I take the Civic. In fact, I now have to drive 30 minutes to get my chicken feed, and so I have to negotiate my way into the loading bay between pickup trucks where the other drivers can’t often see me since the vehicles they are driving are so big. But sorry, it doesn’t make any sense to take the truck for three 26 kg (57 lb.) bags of feed. Although the Civic rides awfully low, it’s still about the weight of one adult.

I’m not preaching here. I’m just sayin’, we’re in the twilight days of the oil age. If we all use what’s left more wisely, it’ll make the transition away from it less traumatic. I can dream, can’t I? I think the coolest thing for one of these workers would be to arrive at work with an electric car! The movie makes it out like there’s a lot of good-natured jawing and ribbing that goes on with the crew on an oil rig. So, they’re gonna get ribbed about something. Might as well be that Chevy “Bolt” station wagon you own that gets the equivalent of 119 mpg… 8 TIMES better than their pickup!

I remember seeing a documentary (PBS) at the time that interviewed a wife of the one of the crew members who dies in this disaster. He came home from a shift quite agitated and proceeded to make a will which he never had before. He sensed something was up about this well. The cost in human lives to our relentless search for energy is really put out there in this movie.

It’s a pretty awesome movie, even if you don’t spend the whole time analyzing it from a ‘peak oil’ perspective. I probably would have enjoyed it just as much as if I hadn’t, but those days have past. My mind doesn’t work that way anymore. But I supposed if I had to offer a one-line review for “Deepwater Horizon,” it would be “Stuff blows up real good!”

My next movie review will be for a romantic movie where I will share my feelings and analyze the most emotional parts of the plot. NOT! When’s the car chase? And when does Jason Bourne arrive?

The Fabulous, Actual and “For Real” Off The Grid Weekend at Sunflower Farm

So, I’ve noticed a term that’s becoming really, really over used in our world today, and that’s “off the grid.” I hear it in movies and on TV and read it everywhere. Come on, enough!

I suppose it’s a good thing because it makes what we’ve been doing for 20 years seem hip and cool, but at a certain point, as an ‘off-grid’ purist, well, it’s getting overused and misused, a lot.

So often in movies and TV right now it seems to be kind of a generic term for anyone who’s trying to be a little less ‘out there.’ It more often refers to people who are trying not to have an online presence, as opposed to someone who lives without power lines to their home. Of course, I can’t remember any specifics right this minute, but I can see “The Dude” character played by Jeff Bridges in 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” saying he lives off the grid, mostly to avoid his past. I finally watched this movie, which people have been raving about for years, when it came out on Netflix and it’s pretty good. But really, Jeff’s apartment in L.A. has electricity … that’s not “off the grid!”

Do I sound petty and bitter? Well of course. Living off the grid can be a royal pain, so people usurping the term devalues it. I paid my dues. I want the kind of respect and admiration I’m due. (What a blowhard like me deserves!)

Now that Michelle and I are offering people the opportunity to stay at Sunflower Farm, you too can experience what it’s like, to live … and I emphasize ‘authentically’… off the grid.

What does that mean? Well, first you can dispel the image that we live in a yurt with dirt floors … not that there’s anything wrong with yurts or dirt floors. Will you have to use an outhouse? Do I have an outhouse? Yes. Do you have to use it? No. In fact, you can stand in the bathroom and flush the toilet repeatedly. I’d rather you not and I’ll explain why, but hey, if that convinces you this ‘off-grid’ thing is for real, then bring it on. I would rather you do that in July than December though and I’ll elaborate when you’re here.

Can you bring your curling iron? Yes, of course. Can you use it? Yes. Can you bring a window air conditioner? Yes. Can you use it? Well, if we can find a window it will fit in, sure. But I’ll think you’ll find the guesthouse cools off very nicely at night during the summer. There’s lots of windows to get a great airflow and nights cool off much better in the woods than in the city, because cities are big concrete heat sinks. So yes, if you have a regular appliance that plugs into on a 110V wall outlet, you can bring it. How long you run it, or how much ‘energy’ it uses … we can discuss that. Mostly we think we’ve got everything you’ll need.

Sunflower Farm was featured on the cover of Mother Earth News October/November 2014 issue and we had lots of enquiries after that with people interested in learning more. Read the article here;

 

Some people just have a general interest in being off-grid, others are interested because they’d like to do it themselves and want details of the reality of the process.

Now you have the opportunity to come and check it out for yourself. Stay overnight or for a few nights and get a feel for our reality. It’s pretty normal but you will come to understand its limitations, or how we approach our reality versus someone living on the grid.

We have a spring workshop planned and lots of people have attended those, but technically I could kind of cheat on those i.e.. I could run the generator for days before and since that workshop is during the day and we usually have some sun and wind and don’t need too many lights on, our place might just ‘go dark’ as soon as everyone leaves at night. Those big honking batteries I showed might have been empty and Michelle and I just sit around at night and read books by candlelight! Ha ha, that isn’t going to happen. There’s too much great stuff on Netflix and YouTube to watch! And we love lights.

Regardless, if you want explore this concept of living off the grid, book a stay at Sunflower Farm and come and live the dream … at least for a day or two.

Visit sunflowerfarm.ca for all the details and while you are there check out our other awesome theme retreat experience packages!

 

 

The Net-Zero-Carbon House … almost

Years ago, Michelle and I did a ‘green’ show in a big city and a person perusing our books informed us she had gone “completely solar” in a somewhat, dismissive, ‘that was soooo easy’ sort of way. I was intrigued. We’d been off-grid for a decade and were still a long way from being completely free of fossil fuels. After several probing questions, I was able to qualify that what she meant was that all of the calculators in her home were now solar powered … and I’m pretty sure that even back then it was hard to buy a calculator that wasn’t.

I just made the mistake of reading a great book by Andrew Nikiforuk called “Slick Water, Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry.” It’s about the challenges of living in a place like Alberta that has a huge industry fracking to get at natural gas. (http://andrewnikiforuk.com/)

It reminded me that we must have hit ‘peak fossil fuel energy’ for companies to be putting so much effort (and energy) into forcing out things like shale oil and natural gas. It also reminded me that the choices we make, in our purchasing decisions and how we choose to live, impacts other people. The book follows one woman’s challenges with the results of fracking around her rural home, and the lawsuit she eventually launched to try and draw attention to the impact of resource extraction.

As I read a bit more each day and went further and further down the rabbit hole of modern day energy production I was getting more and more critical of what I was up to in my own home. In July we just breeze by being completely “solar,” and I mean more than just using solar-powered calculators. I mean everything from cooking to hot water, and this is a big deal. We are very proud of it. It feels great.

In November and December, it’s much more of a challenge. As I remind people in my workshops, in the northern U.S. and Canada (according to Natural Resources Canada) 60% of your home’s energy requirements are for heat, then 20% is for heating water, and the remaining 20% is for all your other electrical needs … washing machines, toasters, TVs, computers, electronic toast butters … all the essentials.

We’ve got the heat covered by heating with wood which is carbon neutral and which I’ve blogged about … on and on … ad nauesum. The real challenge right now is hot water. We have a Solar Domestic Hot Water (SDHW) heating system which we invested $5,000 in. But it is pretty ineffective when the sun is only up for about 2 ½ hours a day and barely clears the tree line because it’s so low and basically gives us zero hot water. So, we improvise and use our marvelous woodstoves for hot water. I say woodstove (s) plural because we one in the house and one in the guesthouse.

Every second day or so I heat up 4 or 5 stock pots of well water on the woodstove for our bath. Michelle has the first bath because she can stand it scalding, and then a while later when the water is humanly tolerable I use the same water. Then we leave that bath water in to heat the bathroom in the cast iron tub, because the bathroom is on the north side of the house and a long way from the woodstove. In the morning I use the bath water to flush the toilet. Sure, it’s “Little House on the Prairie-ish” but I love it. It just feels right. We are in complete control of all the inputs, including the massive amount of energy required to heat a bath full of water. When you live in a typical house and just pay energy bills and turn on taps and get hot water out of them, you never really have a handle on the enormous energy required to make that possible. And you never think if you heat with a fossil fuel, what the impact is on someone who lives near the well where that propane or natural gas came from. I strongly recommend you read “Slick Water” to give you some perspective.

The challenge is that we use hot water for other stuff. Like dishes. I only do them with a kettle of hot water heated on the woodstove. And shaving. I only shave with a kettle heated on the woodstove … first sink full to shave, second sink full to rinse the soap off. Hand washing … well, our bathroom is so far from the hot water tank that we’re used to washing with cold water by the time it gets to the bathroom taps, so I just wash them really well occasionally with hot water … from the woodstove.

So … heat … check … net-zero-carbon. Hot water … check … net-zero-carbon.

Cooking … ZZZZZT (loud gameshow buzzer sound when you get the answer wrong). We have a propane cookstove. A woodburning cookstove is in the plans, but right now in the kitchen there is a beautiful, monstrous piece-of-art propane stove reeking havoc on some poor fellow human who moved to their piece of paradise not realizing they were near a coal-bed-methane deposit.

So breakfast preparation starts an hour prior to eating. Kettle for coffee goes on the woodstove. Hashbrowns and eggs are cooked in cast iron pans heated on the woodstove. Bread is toasted in a cast iron pan on the hottest part of the woodstove. This is my favorite way to eat toast because it’s less dried out than using the electric toaster. I do so love toast. Michelle makes the most awesome bread to toast!

After breakfast, dishes are washed in woodstove-heated hot water. Water for the chickens is warmed up using water heated on the woodstove. Ugly sweet potatoes and potatoes that I’ve had in the root cellar go into a stockpot on the woodstove, boiled until mashable, then served warm and mashed to the chickens. They love these and devour them, especially on a cold day.

There are some days when it feels like I spend the whole day trying to live a typical North American lifestyle in terms of what we accomplish, while doing it pumping no carbon into the atmosphere, so feeling like I am living on the prairie a hundred years ago … but with internet and Netflix.

So if your response to reading this is “Well, see, you can’t realistically live without fossil fuels so why even think about the impact of their extraction” I would suggest that’s simply not the case. Most of our readers live plugged into the electricity grid and could be heating their home, which uses 60% of energy needs, with a ground-source geothermal heat pump. This provides some hot water as well. If you live in a state or province where electricity is generated with coal, you could purchase zero-carbon energy through an intermediary in Canada like “Bullfrog Power.”

Yes, you will pay a premium for these options, but it’s not usually a large premium. If you like and respect your neighbors like I do, you could never imagine doing anything that might impact them, such as digging up your yard if it was going to affect their water supply. If you start thinking on a bigger picture basis about your purchasing decisions, making these changes is much easier. And with a geothermal system your spouse won’t roll their eyes at you as you come up with new and more complex ways to use less or zero fossil fuels. It can be a fun game, until it’s not. Then you’ll need to clean the bathroom or something to get back in their good books, and no one wants to go down that road, least of all me.

(p.s. We do fall down as we do use a bit of propane and I still own and drive a car … but I’m working on it)

An Iconic Photograph

 

So, here’s my dream photo. I took it on January 14th.

This is the time of year when companies start trying to appeal to those vivid images we keep in our heads, the ones that make us do things, like book trips south, and buy mutual funds so we can end up on the golf course. It’s not bad enough that we are bombarded, beginning at Halloween (well now it starts just after Labor Day) with images of the stuff we need to buy for Christmas. And now, car companies hit us with lots of ads for treating ourselves with a new vehicle under the tree.

These images are tough to fight against.

So, I have been using this little theme (or “meme” I think I could call it.) It’s a quote from our neighbor who was having a bad day when I helped him to get his trucks unstuck (read about it here.) In the middle of it all he looked at me and said, “I just want to build a cabin on that hill and sit by the woodstove.” And he will do it, because he has the hill, and the property and he’s built his own houses before. You know, just like you and I. Last winter he was skidding pine logs out of the bush using those big draft horses of his. I’m pretty there’s no cheaper way to be mortgage-free than to have the skills to build your own home, from materials on your property. What a concept.

So right now, during our cold winter, or when I come in from shoveling snow, or hauling a load of wood in, my line is “I just want to build a cabin and sit by the woodstove.” It is a wonderful idea, but hard to achieve. Modern woodstoves are extremely efficient, but at some point, you still must drag a load of wood into the cabin. And you have to cut that wood, and split it and dry and get it to the cabin. But we can always dream.

So, on January 14th I took this shot.

Where should we start? With my shoes? These are running shoes that I used to run in. That was a long time ago, but they are like slippers now, and I really need to wear shoes since our floors are pretty cold. I’m holding my latest favorite “rooster” coffee mug and on top of the woodstove the Melitta (thrift shop) coffee pot has my next ½ cup of coffee keeping warm in it. I drink one and a half cups of coffee in the morning and it is a delightful decadence.

Then there’s “Jasper the Wonder Dog” who would be perfectly happy to be outside herding sheep, all day. But since we don’t have sheep, and the chickens are in a secure enclosure, well, he’s kind of in winter mode and laying around more than he would prefer. But he stays healthy and slim, so I’m not going to nag him to get more exercise. That’s not MY job.

Check out that woodstove! Oh, the heat and warmth and light from a woodstove. Could there be anything more beautiful at this time of year? Well, according to those tourism ads, yes, it would be sitting on the beach … until the tsunami wave arrives, or someone mugs you for your phone, or the airport calls (the place where you spent most of your first day of your holiday) to tell you they never found your luggage, or wait, is that a bit of a gas pain or is it Montezuma’s revenge about to hit me again like the last time I had one of those drinks? Yup, I’ll take my woodstove anytime. Tell me every one of your southern holidays from flights to accommodations has been perfect and I’ll tell you I think you’re ‘exaggerating’. Maybe you should have got that new shot before you went, the needle for the new thing you don’t want to get. Or you could stay home.

On top of the woodstove is this morning’s bathwater in the stock pots. In January when I took this there still wasn’t much sunlight to make much of difference with our solar domestic hot water production, so we supplement it with zero-carbon woodstove heat. Could we use propane? Absolutely? Might it negatively impact someone near where it was taken from the ground? Potentially. So, I take the slow, zero-carbon, Little House on the Prairie technique and make my hot water the old-fashioned way… I’ll earn it.

I should probably have been more careful and made sure the LED Xmas lights weren’t in the photo, but it was January 14 and yes, we still had Xmas lights in the living room. Is that pathetic? Absolutely. When we come down at 6 a.m. it is still dark for almost an hour and a half and these things use so little power and are just so darn pretty and festive-looking that they’re the last Xmas thing to come down. Every other Xmas decoration was tucked away.

I’ve got my cabin in the woods and I CAN sit by the fireplace all day if I want. I rarely do spend too much time there, but when I do, it’s absolutely magical. When I jump out that sky diving plane after getting ‘the diagnosis’ and decide I’m not going to pull the cord to the parachute, and start looking through those photos in my brain … playing LEGO when I was 5, learning to water ski at 9, learning to windsurf, kissing Michelle for the first time, watching my daughters grow up, seeing my grandkids become part of the family, dropping big heavy scary trees for firewood that always remind you of how precious life is, I think this might be the last memory my brain will fixate on. Then the orange glow of the fire can turn into a white one. Perfect!

Wonky Websites and the Sunflower Farm Family Expands!

Sorry if the blogs have been a bit wonky lately. There are a variety of factors at work.

The first was our move to a new host. I’m pretty sure most of us have had the experience that anything technology-related is fraught with potential ‘challenges’. When you realize the complexity of the internet today sometimes I’m amazed that anything works at all.

We’re paying a new host where our website actually resides on the web. We switched to GoDaddy which Michelle has been using for years. I was very excited about this because Danica Patrick is my favorite NASCAR driver. Well, she’s the only driver I know, but I’m a huge fan, even though I don’t watch too much car racing.

We use WordPress to create our website, and over the last few weeks our website keeps getting hacked. Sorry if you’ve gone to read blogs and they were bizarre. Well, they are always bizarre, but in this case the hackers left their mark and wrote crazy notes or left bizarre graphics. Really? You people don’t have anything better to do with your time? Now we’ll have to pay for anti-hacking protection. Sigh…

The good news though, is that we didn’t really notice this for a bit because we’ve been distracted with becoming grandparents … again! We are now twice as old!

“Sophee” was born to our youngest daughter at the end of January and we consider ourselves to be doubly and infinitely blessed. Mom and baby and Dad are doing great and we are thrilled. We drove through the Greater Toronto Area (aka GTA, aka The Deathstar) to see her the morning she was born. I stayed overnight and Michelle stayed there for 10 days while I came home and manned the fort … or fed the chickens as it were. With wood heat and pets and chickens to feed, our place is not well set up for lengthy times away, especially at this time of the year. We have propane heat backup but I hate using it for so many reasons (which I will cover in an upcoming blog.)

That was the longest period of time that Michelle and I have been apart since we were married, 34 years ago. I know, it sounds pathetic, but we’re not the types to take separate vacations … or vacations at all for that matter.

It’s kinda awesome when Michelle is away for a few reasons

  1. I get the La-Z-boy chair! We should have two but can’t fit another in our living room because apparently in 1888 farmers weren’t spending much time in front of the idiot box so they didn’t consider that when they built the place.
  2. I get to eat pizza every night! First I bought one on the way home from visiting Sophee, then when it ran out I made one, from scratch, dough and all. It turns out that it was a stupid idea because now Michelle knows I’m not the helpless ‘pizza-dough-challenged’ individual who pleads with her every Friday night to make pizza.
  3. I get to watch all those movies like “Black Hawk Down” that she doesn’t want to watch. The pets often find new places to sleep when all the stuff is blowin’ up because I don’t hold back on the volume.

It is quite bizarre though to be here alone since our little piece of paradise has been a shared experience for almost 20 years. Yes there are ‘2 cats in the yard’, Jasper the Wonder Dog and chickens who love me … especially when I’m delivering warm mashed potatoes to them, but it’s not quite the same. Our family uses “WhatsApp” to communicate and there were regular updates on Sophee’s progress, but it was still weird to be alone.

While I was home alone I got to help out with our grandson, who now lives closer, so we were doing the whole grandparent thing full bore. It is a privilege and we really do feel blessed to have healthy grandchildren who we can spend time with. It very much puts what’s important back in to focus.

It’s such an exciting time for us and also a huge distraction from what’s going on in the real world out there, so it’s a really great way to avoid focusing on some of that negative stuff. This is hard for me.

Our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had campaigned on electoral reform which meant changing our “first past the post” system which saw his government form a majority with 39.5% of the popular vote. This means that more that 60% of the people who voted didn’t vote for the government we got. It’s kind of similar to when presidents lose the popular vote but win more electoral districts.

Anyway, the Liberals had campaigned on this when they were in third place, then they got elected with 39.5% of the vote and said “Well, we think everyone is pretty happy with the old system so even though we had this committee talk to experts and Canadians and even though the committee said we need a system of proportional representation, well, we’re going to break our promise.” It was a deceitful, dishonest, cynical thing to do and because I heard the Liberal candidate in every All Candidates Meetings say, “If you elect Justin Trudeau to be our Prime Minister this will be the last election with first past the post.” I found it pretty infuriating. So as Nathan Cullen, who was on the electoral reform committee said, “he lied.” But apparently they think they can get away with it, so they did it anyway. And you wonder why some people don’t bother to vote.

Sorry, but I took this one kind of personally because it would have helped the Green Party.

On a happier note, my grandson has this great coffee making toy set and he makes great coffee and he pours in the coffee, then the sugar, then the cream, and says “Thank you” constantly which is hilariously cute. I could do it all day.

So I shall stay focused on my family. Michelle and I will try and figure out how to keep the blogs from getting hacked hourly. And the world will continue to unfold the way it will whether I’m paying attention or not.

Thanks for listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Climatic Stress Disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I won’t do it again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plague Comes to Sunflower Farm

“I don’t get sick.”

Ever know one of those people who says this?

Or “I don’t watch TV.”

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

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

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

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

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

Turns out my immune system is not so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

My Prime Earning Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So stay tuned. Fun stuff to come!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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