Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

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.

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!

Shopping Downtown – on Princess Street in Kingston

I love shopping downtown. Especially at this time of year. What a cliché really. But how can you not be nostalgic at this time of year?

I suppose I am getting a bit cynical in my old age, like when I hear the Christmas song lyric about “children listening to hear sleigh bells in the snow,” which sounds pretty awesome until you realize that if you lived in a time and place where people got around in sleighs in the winter, you probably wouldn’t have any time to celebrate Christmas because you’d be spending all day feeding animals and cutting firewood to try and not to starve and freeze to death, and trying to avoid getting polio and TB and based on the mortality rate, well, you’d be dead by now anyway. But other that, ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

I don’t really ‘shop’ anymore, but Michelle and I do spend a bit of time on Princess Street in downtown Kingston. We’ll get a few photos of our grandson developed (Hey Cam, 1983 called and wants it’s ‘non-digital actually printed color photos that you can put in album’ back!). We’ll visit “Tara Healthfoods” and hope they have some of those Montreal style wood oven baked bagels that aren’t necessarily healthy but are awesome anyway.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA   www.downtownkingston.ca

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA www.downtownkingston.ca

Forty-five years ago I actually did ‘shop’ on Princess Street. I was just a kid. I had a Globe and Mail paper route which was a morning paper. So I’d be up early (in the dark in winter) ride my bike to the mailboxes (or pull a sled), load up 40 or 50 papers and deliver them. The subdivision was really spread out so it seemed to take a long time. The Globe actually published on Christmas Day, so after we opened our presents I went out and delivered papers. It wasn’t until later in life when I started reading enjoying the Globe myself that I realized how much people must have liked getting it, because I got lots of $5 and $10 tips, which in the 1960s to a 10-year-old seemed like an awful lot of money. Apparently I wasn’t charging enough for home delivery. If I’d have known then what I know now…

One year I came up with the perfect gift idea for my mother. She had a few souvenir spoons, like the kind you’d get when you went to Niagara Falls. So I realized that she ‘needed’ a souvenir spoon holder. I trudged up and down Princess Street in pursuit of this, the most perfect Christmas gift, EVER! I found one and I purchased it with my own money, that I earned, getting up at the crack of dawn to deliver papers. So it seemed like a pretty big deal. Since Mom would have driven me downtown I’m not sure how I hid it to get it home, but she seemed to like it. It looks tacky as hell to me now, but hey, I was 10.

There is something very special about strolling on Princess Street with its Christmas lights and decorations, in cold weather, and if we’re lucky, with snow flurries. It really harkens back to another time. A time when “main street” was the life of a town or city. Where merchants lived in your community, served in government, or local service organizations, and gave back to the community where they earned their money.

Most North American cities have had the life sucked out of their downtowns. There has been a giant sucking sound as big box stores vacuumed shoppers to the outskirts to buy stuff made in other countries. I get it, it’s how capitalism works, but it’s doesn’t mean I have to think it’s necessarily getting any better.

Princess Street in Kingston though is an anomaly. It has a vibrant downtown for a number of reasons. I think it has a lot of people who think like I do and like patronizing stores where they know the owner. Kingston is a popular tourist destination so the downtown gets very busy in the summer with tourists. And Queen’s University, with it’s 22,000 students, is within walking distance of downtown, and since most students don’t have cars, they walk to where they can shop.

It’s interesting to watch the metamorphosis Princess Street continues to experience. The Zellers and Woolworths where I shopped as a kid have been replaced by dollar stores. The higher end and more fashion centered retailers like American Apparel, H&M and the Gap have moved further north on the street, closer to the University.

When we moved back to the Kingston area almost 20 years ago I had been listening to a band called “Weeping Tile” on CFNY in Toronto. I knew it was a local Kingston band and couldn’t find the record anywhere because the record label had just gone under. So a record store called “The House of Sounds” got Sarah Harmer to drop some CDs into the store so I could buy them. It’s hard not to have a connection to Princess Street.

I just read a book called “Trash” written by a woman who grew up in Kingston around the same time I did and she talks about going to a smoke shop on Princess Street so her grandfather could buy tobacco and she could buy comic books. I bought comic books at that store! And I saved them, later in life hoping that someday they’d be my retirement fund. Then eBay came along and it turns out lots of people saved their comic books, so apparently none of us are going to retire on what they’re worth today. I still have them for sale if you’re interested!

The holidays remind of us connections with people and places. Princess Street reminds me of my mother. I remember her dropping me off at the Stafford Music Center once a week for my trumpet lessons. I can’t smell cigarettes today without thinking of Stafford Music Center, because apparently musicians like to smoke. And I stopped playing trumpet as soon as my parents let me, another career door slammed shut.

The times I shopped on Princess Street as a kid were full of happiness and promise. My parents kept me warm and fed so I never thought about money. Life was just about possibilities. Heck, no one had even heard about carbon back then, or AIDS, and no one I talked to ever mentioned the threat of nuclear annihilation, so it was pretty blissful.

My daughter, son-in-law and grandson moved back to Kingston. When he’s older I look forward to taking my grandson shopping on Princess Street. As is required of old people, I’ll regale him with stories of what it was like when I was his age. How I used to get up at 5 am and deliver papers in weather so cold it froze my eyelashes together (true story) and then had to get home and eat Red River Cereal (which was really just what we’d call birdseed today) and then walk 2 miles to get the bus … uphill … in both directions. And like all smart grandchildren he’ll roll his eyes and give me that “Grandpa, you’re full of crap” look. I can hardly wait!

I hope you have a lovely downtown street to shop on and you can enjoy the same warm feelings about the holidays that I enjoy every year. Happy Solstice!

xmasgreeting2016

 

 

They Shot a Movie Once…

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

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

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

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

movie-set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only love prevails.

walking

 

If I’m Livin’ The Dream, Why Does It Feel Like a Nightmare?

The other day Michelle told me over breakfast about a Facebook post she’d seen. It was one of those canned generic things that people like to repost. It was a photo of a cabin in the woods. I paraphrase but it said something along the lines of  …”Livin’ off the grid … no electricity bills … growing your own food … sounds pretty good to me.”

And we started laughing. Not in a nasty way (I could have used ‘pejorative’ but frankly I overuse that darn word), just a kind of ‘ah yes, the dream vs reality’ view of the world.

This started a number of years ago when we had a friend over and we had just toured the garden during a drought (yes, another one) and he looked around at the garden that did indeed look petty awesome from all of our hard work and said, “You guys are livin’ the dream.”

So anytime anything goes wrong this has become our mantra, said in a very sarcastic tone, of course …” We’re just livin’ the dream!”  On the day that Michelle was describing this Facebook post about how great livin’ off-grid and growing your own food is, we had just had a storm with tornado warnings roll through. We’d experienced an unbelievable lightning storm which had trashed our wind turbine … yes, again! It was at breakfast too…prior to us heading out to the garden for our 237th consecutive day of 100°F heat and no rain dustbowl drought conditions (okay I exaggerated just a bit here, but not that much.)

Which brings me to the point of the blog …yes I do have a point. Michelle and I are ‘focus grouping’ the title of our next book, and by default, by reading this blog, you’re in the focus group. Thanks!

So this is the title for our new book … “If I’m Livin’ the Dream, How Comes It Feels Like a Nightmare?” subtitled something like “Dispatches and observations on two decades spent living off-the-grid, growing our own food, living far from the maddening crowd” … or something along these lines.

So what do you think? Am I correct that it has “BEST-SELLER” written all over it? And film rights with a big pay-day. With Ryan Reynolds playing me … or Ryan Gosling … doesn’t matter, they’re both Canadian eh.

I know what you’re thinking, that it sounds like a pretty negative title. I agree. It’s more to attract attention and bring a huge payday for us … so we can buy some hummers, bling, a private jet … you get my drift. Most of the time our life here has been awesome. But I can’t tell you the number of times I feel like just flopping on the couch in November and vegging in front of the TV and I realize we’ve had some cloudy days, so I have to go out and check the batteries to see how low they are and decide if I should run the generator or not. And then if I do have to run it how I have to get up and check it constantly. I don’t HAVE to check it constantly, but I do, because that’s just how I am.

Turns out there’s more to living this ‘low carbon’ lifestyle than meets the eye.

If anything I think it may be a bit refreshing for people to get some of that perspective. Yes, I have NO Electricity Bills! But I have spent way, WAY more on my solar and wind system in the last 20 years than anyone reading this blog has spent on their electricity bills. FACT: Generating and transmitting electricity is really complicated and expensive. It is in fact not a right, but a privilege, and when you spread all those generation and infrastructure costs across a whole society, your electricity bills are outrageously inexpensive for the value of the electricity you receive and how it improves the quality of your life. If you doubt this, take a second and think about the last extended power outage you had. No lights. No fridge or freezer. Or stove. Or washing machine. Or internet. Or NETFLIX! Yup, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

We published “Little House Off the Grid” more than 5 years ago, so by the time this new book is ready there will have been a reasonable hiatus for us to revisit what it’s like to live the way we do. Things change. Circumstances change. Life happens. Time to revisit the whole little adventure we’re on here in the woods.

So what do you think? Sound like something you’d want to read?

Better yet, what do you think of the title? Too negative? Too misleading if we end up writing that it’s awesome more than not? Such an awesome title that it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (thank you Dave Eggers for the best book title ever to slip in).

Please let us know. Feel free to post below or send me an email at cam mather…with no space… at gmail.com. (Hopefully the evil internet robots won’t figure that out.)

Thanks in advance!

Down the Wishing Well and My Coffee Can Solar Tracker

Several years ago, in the month of May, I was talking to one of our off-grid blog readers in California who has become a friend. We were discussing the California drought and she said “Oh we won’t see rain now until probably November.”

May to November without rain. That was my worst nightmare. And in the words of Alice Cooper, this summer at our house it’s been “Welcome to my nightmare.”

I will admit that I wrote this in the middle of August and we were getting the tail end of the rain that caused all the flooding in Louisiana. For us the rain was glorious. Too little, too late, but I welcomed it. (And since then we’ve had a few showers, never amounting to more than 3 or 4 mms. My garden still resembles a giant sandbox.)

Part of my “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” in the mess that was our summer running a CSA in the worst drought for 100 years, is my newfound knowledge of our wells. Mostly the ‘dug’ well near the barn foundation which provides the bulk of the water for irrigation.

The well was ‘dug’ by hand, in 1936. We know this because the builder put his name and date in the concrete and we know his son Ken, a former resident of this wonderful place, who is in his ‘80s ’90s now (see comment below from Ken’s son Lynn!).  The well is about 15 feet deep and how they managed to dig such a deep hole by hand, and then build forms and mix everything up by hand and add a foot of concrete all around boggles my mind.

When we arrived here almost 20 years ago the last vestiges of the shed that was built over the well had just fallen over. I used one of the walls as a cover for a few years, then built a better fitting one about 10 years ago (with scrounged wood of course). It was just spruce and softwood and had started to rot a lot, but like so many of the odd jobs around here I just kept telling myself, “I’ll fix it next year.” Human inertia is a powerful thing.

I use a 12V DC pump, which I just hook up to an 80 Watt 12V solar panel, to pump from this well. I used to move the panel around a frame I made, but it was cumbersome, so this year I built a tracker. I call it my “Coffee Can Solar Tracker”. I just put a cedar post in the ground, and bolted the solar panel to a coffee can that sits on top. It has worked marvellously all summer. Very low tech. No software has failed on it or had to be updated.

Version 2

Version 2

The pump is rated to only suck water from 8 feet below. This is fine early on during most summers, because the water level is high. But over most summers it gets pretty low and the pump basically loses prime constantly. This year with the drought this started happening earlier than ever before.

So I ripped the cover off the well. Then I built a frame, put the pump on the frame, and lowered the frame into the well. This way the pump is now closer to the water level so it doesn’t have to ‘pull’ the water as much. These pumps are great at pushing water once it has reached the pump, just not so good at pulling it up to the pump.

Version 2

It still loses prime sometimes and my trick to get it going is just take the intake pipe and ram it into the water a few times and off it goes. Once the pump was down the well though this technique wasn’t available. So I put an aluminum ladder down the well and so I have to regularly climb down the ladder to prime the pump.

I don’t think I’m claustrophobic, but there is something about being deep down in a well. I think it’s because of all those televised news events where a child falls down a well and has to be rescued.

As the water has gotten lower it’s allowed me to solve the great mystery of what is at the bottom of the well. There is some water-logged wood, and like all things immersed in water, they are pretty creepy. I, of course have been straining to see something shiny … something of a precious metal nature … because I’m pretty sure that’s where people used to put their valuables 80 years ago … down the well. Just makes sense, right?

Version 2

Since we moved here almost 20 years ago, I’ve wondered what was at the bottom of this well. Thanks to our awesome drought, I am now intimately knowledgeable on the well and all its workings. Just another reason the lack of rain has been so awesome. (Please note there is a lot of sarcasm in this blog).

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2

Thanks D. C. for your recent contribution to the TIP JAR. It is very much appreciated!

My Epiphany in the Pond

A few weeks ago Michelle posted the mid-season update that we sent to our CSA members. It was pretty bleak. We’ve been experiencing an historic drought.

First they said it was as bad as the one we had in 1959… the year I was born. Then they said it was the worst … like … ever … worse than the one in 1888…the year our house was built. It’s like, come on, is it really my fault? And who was measuring droughts in 1888?

We’d had basically no rain for 8 weeks here. Since that blog post we have had 5 mm (less than ¼”) one day, 24 mm (almost an inch) a few days later and then another 10 mm (less than ½”) last Sunday. All of Eastern Ontario is experiencing it although most places have had more rain than us. Everywhere you look as you drive around the corn crop is brown, the soybean fields have withered … and around here many trees are brown and dying, especially if they are growing in thin soil. Bleak bleak bleak.

I have been trying to put into practice my new mantra, which I learned from Tina Fey’s awesome movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” It’s a military expression … “Embrace the suck, move the ‘heck’ forward” (heck replaces that bad ‘f’ word you might use in combat that offends so many people).

It’s easy to have these mantras, but when you spend the day becoming more and more exhausted, watching your plants wither in the brutal heat, and become more and more parched because it doesn’t matter how much you water, you can’t replace a wonderful rainfall by Mother Nature … well, it’s easy to give in to the laziness of despair.

I have started to take some positives from it though. I knew this day was coming, this epic drought, and I meant to prepare better, but I didn’t. There is an inertia to human existence, and one tends not to be as proactive as one should be. It seemed as though during each previous drought, just as the wells were bottoming out, we got enough rain for me to say “Well, we dodged that bullet.”

So this time the first thing I did was borrow my neighbor’s gas-powered water pump. Then I started to learn about them and bought myself a Honda 2” pump, and Princess Auto 1” pump. Then it took 47 trips to 26 different retailers to get all the bits and pieces and hoses and fittings I needed to get them set up the way I wanted them.

I have the main 2” pump in a pond we call “The Hockey Pond,” because we are, well, Canadian, so it’s our natural tendency to refer to any body of water large enough to freeze as being related to hockey. It’s a long way from the house. It was created by beavers and their ingenuity continues to amaze me. It’s in a natural low spot surrounded by rocky hills. Just two dams and voilå … a great pond. It’s a pretty awesome spot. I try to remind myself of every time I make the trip there to run the pump.

thepond

 

When I was using Sandy’s pump I had put it a spot that looked like it had enough water, but with the ongoing drought the pond receded. So with my new pump I decided to get it to a spot where I hope to get a few more weeks out of it. Once I had the spot picked out and had dragged some beaver-felled logs over to it, I wanted to dig it out a bit to make a spot so I could put a big flat rock under the foot valve, and still have it covered in sufficient water.

So it basically meant being in the mud up to my knees while I dug with a shovel. I don’t own hip waders, so I took down an old pair of rubber boots that leak. I didn’t want to work in sandals because it would be hard to stomp on the shovel with them. Water leaks into the boots, and yes, creepy crawlies can get in but I figure it’s harder for the leeches and things to get to me this way. And so far, so good. The fact that it was brutally hot actually made it quite enjoyable.

When I was in high school in the 1970’s I belonged to an outdoor group called Intrepids and one day we were in groups hiking cross country to learn how to use a compass. We kept arriving ponds that weren’t on the map. By the end of the day we just waded through them up to our necks rather than walk around. This project takes me back to those great days.

I have a small posse of frogs that observe my every move.

lotsoffrogs

Correction, I have a huge posse of frogs watching. This pond is swarming with them. It is so absolutely fantastic to be in a place with so much life.

Plus, I have danger around every corner. With the drought, humans have more contact with wildlife … like bears…so I’m assuming sooner or later I’ll have to go swimming to avoid one. And of course, being a fan of movies, as I dig through the lily pads and mud I know it’s just a matter of time before some huge anaconda emerges and wraps itself around my legs, requiring a lot of struggling and hitting it with the shovel to escape. So many anacondas here.

My security backup of course is Jasper the Wonder Dog. Many people see him and think he could easily win “Best in Show”. This would require months of training and grooming. Sometimes I try and keep Jasper on the sidelines, but the few times I’ve been down there digging in the mud, I imagine that he says, “Forget that, I’m going for it!” at which points he immerses himself in the pond/swamp water and proceeds to spend the next half hour vigorously chasing frogs or anything else that moves. This would include bubbles he has made, hence his face being basically black here, because, with the drought, where he’s playing it’s just mud. Oh what fun he has.

Jaspercatchingfrogs

Jasperinthepond

I’m not good at reading pet emotions, but I can tell when Jasper frolics in ponds, he is joyful. I try and learn from him everyday. He’ll be a very smelly dog for many days to come, but really, who cares? It’s hot, and he’s having a blast. I’ll take him down to the lake in a few days to let him swim in fresh water. I will try and be more joyful like my dog.

So I’ll be trying out the new pump and the 124 different pipes and adapters tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Here are a couple of photos of the woods I have to walk through to get to the hockey pond.

walktopond

walktopond2

I know, pretty tough eh? This is where I work. I wish we weren’t in this drought, but it’s forcing me to spend time in the magical woods that we’re surrounded by.

I’m not a big fan of that “A bad day at the golf course is better than a good day at the office” bumper sticker, but when I think of my life in suburbia, and look around where I spend my days right now, I realize how pathetic whining about the drought is. Because really, in the words of David Lee Roth …” This must be just like living in paradise…” and his next line is “…and I don’t want to go home…” But I AM home.

I am “moving the ‘heck’ forward”.  Now just a little rain more please.

*******

Thanks to NB for his recent generous donation. We appreciate not only your ongoing support but your friendship as well!

 

 

Flexed Arm Hangs

Michelle’s Note: We got 6 mm of rain on Saturday, the day after we posted Cam’s blog about our 8-week-long drought, and another 24 mm on Tuesday. Apparently Cam should have asked our readers for help a lot sooner! Thanks for the rain dances / the prayers / the positive thoughts that you sent our way. They worked!


And now for Cam’s blog post ….

The big news in Canada is that Gord Downie, the lead singer of “The Tragically Hip” has terminal brain cancer. Gord is from Kingston, which is where I grew up and live near now, and I’ve always loved their music so it’s a bit of a bummer. But as they say on the Zero Hedge website “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” For some people, their timeline is just a little more defined than others.

They never got very big in the U.S., but ‘The Hip’ have been filling (hockey) arenas across Canada for decades. I saw them at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto once and then in Hamilton …  back during my concert-attending days. I’ve even written about them here on this blog once or twice. (Check out this post for example.)

Downie has always written great songs about Canadian stuff. “50 Mission Cap” is about a hockey player named Bill Barilko who disappeared on a fishing trip after scoring the goal that won the Toronto Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup in 1951. That was back when the Toronto Maple Leafs actually won.

They also have another song called “Wheat Kings “about David Milgaard who was wrongly imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

Their song “Three Pistols” is about the Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson who went missing on Canoe Lake which is where we used to start our canoe trips into Algonquin Park. Another song called “Bobcaygeon” is about a town in cottage country where I used to sell radio advertising for the station I worked for in Peterborough.

“38 Years Old” talks about the 1973 prison break from Millhaven Penitentiary, near where I live. It happened because there had been a riot at “KP” or Kingston Penitentiary, and inmates were moved in before it was ready … so obviously they found a way to get out.

I’m about the same age as Downie so a lot of his lyrics talk about stuff from my youth. In “Fireworks” he talks about watching the Canada/Russia hockey series on a black and white TV at school.  You see, hockey is so important to Canada that it was part of the core curriculum when I grew up. Later in the song he says “Next to your comrades in the National Fitness Program…” This was one of those fitness tests from when I was a kid. You had to do sit-ups and stuff. “Comrades” is a great word because it sounds very socialistic … you can just see the old black and white movies of skinny kids doing jumping jacks and stuff …for the good of the country … of the mother country.

The next lyric is “… caught in a perpetual flexed arm hang …” The flexed arm hang meant doing a chin-up, usually on the pipe that held up the basket ball net, and seeing how long you could hang there in the upper chin-up position. The longer you hung on, the more points you got. I know I only got the “Bronze” crest, which I’m pretty sure was one of the first ‘participation’ type awards ever. In other words, ‘Hey kid, you’re weak and useless, but you showed up, so here, sew this Bronze crest on your jean jacket (or don’t unless you want to get picked on!) The great thing was that the Bronze Crest was basically the same color as the Gold crest, you couldn’t really tell which is was. Bonus for me. Downer for kids who got gold.

I was never a strong kid so I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do the flexed arm hang, or maybe the gym teacher, Mr. Pool,  gave me a boost to get me into the chin-up stance, whereby I immediately began my descent to just hanging by my arms. “Get down Mather!” “Sorry Mr. Pool.” Some of my friends like Teddy King could have hung there all day long. Sigh …

Not being able to do the flexed arm hang always bothered me. And once I was able to do a chin-up… later in life… not sure when that was… I vowed I would always be able to do a chin-up… until they put me in the ground. No really. It’s a little commitment I’ve made to myself. As I kid when I bought a package of gum there were advertisements in the gum package about not being the 98-pound weakling getting sand kicked in your face by the big strong guy at the beach. So from then on it was like “Never again.”

When I stop being able to do chin-ups I have asked my family to put me on an ice flow and push me off into the sunset … never to be seen again. This is the Canadian way. You can look it up.

Just to prove that I can finally do the flexed arm hang, I got Michelle to take this photo as proof. And no, she didn’t just knock a chair out of the way. I put this old wagon axle up in the horse barn expressly for the purpose of doing chin-ups years ago.

I debated posting this photo. It reeks of vanity. But how else can I prove that I’m not just full of crap because it’s pretty easy to say “oh yea, I can bench press 450 kgs, but I don’t have my equipment here right now so I can’t show you.”

IMG_0079

No chin-up-ee… it’s the ice flow for you. “Take that Mr. Pool! How do you like me now!”

And with that you must ask yourself, how did a blog about songs from The Tragically Hip turn into Cam doing a ‘flexed arm hang?” If you follow the blog, this shouldn’t surprise you. If you just follow the blog for folksy homesteading off-grid info… well…the horse barn has an old wagon axle in it… how cool is that! Oh, and off-gridders got picked on as kids like everyone else.

And if you’ve ever had one of those experiences when you were young that you always looked back and wished you could change, well, this was mine. Thanks for listening.


Michelle’s Follow-Up: And yes, we’ll be watching (on TV) along with the rest of Canada on Saturday night when The Tragically Hip performs their last concert, in Kingston!

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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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