Posts Tagged ‘History’

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

 

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.

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

 

 

Stumping Around the Property

(A story from the early spring before CSA season began.)

Michelle and I are temporary caretakers of 150 acres and it is an amazing place. It is 140 acres of forest, 5 acres of ponds and about 5 cleared acres. I marvel at where I live. And I marvel even more at the farmers’ fields I see south of here as we drive to the city. They were once all forests like most of our property, and someone cleared them. And they weren’t cleared by bulldozers and backhoes. Nope, they were cleared by human sweat and horse power, the original horse power … horses. And probably oxen and anything else that a person could throw a bridle (or a yoke?) on to and get to pull.

As we’ve expanded the gardens for the CSA I have moved a few stumps. Last year I had a stump from a spruce tree that I had planted. The base of the tree was less than a foot wide, but the root was incredibly stubborn. I dug around it, and whacked it with an axe. What a great way to deal with anger issues by pounding roots with an axe.

One day I whacked it hard enough that I broke a blood vessel in my eye. It was terrifying to look at. I assumed I’d be dead by sundown. But it healed itself within a week.

And I learned a lesson from this. This is no way to remove a stump.

This past winter I cut down another spruce that was close enough to the house that it would have hit us if it fell in a big windstorm. And I’m getting more and more paranoid about climate-change-induced droughts and wild fires, so the less there is to burn near the house, the better.

My usual tactic is to leave a stump for a few years and then try and remove it. What I have discovered is that basically our stumps never rot. They have some magic sap or something that keeps them robust for decades.

So I started digging. And once I got enough of an area dug out, I chain-sawed the exposed part of the root. I used an old blade because every time you hit soil or sand it trashes the blade. And I dug, and I cut, and I tunneled under it, and finally I got it free.

stump1

 

stump2

This inspired me to tackle two more interconnected stumps in the garden that had been there for almost a decade, again, showing very little sign of ever rotting.  And I dug and cut, and dug, and tunneled and cut and finally I got them loose. They were brutes though so I planned to use a come-along to get them out, but I put a rope on the first one and hauled it out with the truck.

I cannot believe the embedded energy in gasoline. It’s quite unbelievable. When I tried to roll the stump when I got it close to where I wanted to leave it at the edge of the paddock, I could barely budge it. But the truck didn’t seem to flinch while dragging it. Or the second one either. What amazing times we live in that we have access to such power.

As I drive around this part of the world I look at the hay fields surrounded by piles of rock. First someone used their horses to cut down the trees and remove the stumps. Then they had to drag out thousands of tons of rock, by hand and back. The fields are relatively small when you think of the prairie vistas, but they really were carved out of the bush.

There is a new trend in the area and that is to remove the hedgerows to make the fields bigger. This allows bigger tractors and equipment like combines longer runs without having to turn around. It’s the natural flow of capitalism, but it’s not a good thing. These hedgerows are great wind breaks, which will become more and more important with extreme weather events. And they are home to an array of birds of animals. In our part of the world a very vocal group screams whenever someone tries to put up large wind turbines (because of the bird deaths) but no one seems to notice massive bird habitat being removed in the name of progress when all of the hedgerows are removed.

Every stump I remove gives me a huge respect for past generations that worked this land. I am in awe of what humans are capable of.

When we lived in the city I listened to an Australian band called “Midnight Oil” and they had lots of great angry young man protest songs. They had one called “Blue Sky Mine” lamenting how capitalism forces us to accept industrial progress, like mines. The song had a lyric “Nothing’s as precious, as a hole in the ground.”

I concur. Especially when the hole is what’s left after you’ve spent two days removing the stump that was there. I could stand and marvel at the hole in the ground for days. But it doesn’t take long for me to want to fill it back in, grab a few loads of soil to replace the volume that was taken up by the stump and get the rototiller through the area.

I believe they refer to politicking as ‘stumping’ or being out on the stump. I’ve done the political thing. I much prefer the real stumping.

Vote for Me!

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Thanks to Neil for a wonderful blog post about us! www.peacockforest.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/cam-mather-saved-my-back-and-lungs/ If you don’t follow Neil’s blog yet, be sure to sign up for updates!

Shorting the Whole System

I am amazed with the interest in the movie “The Big Short” among people I know. I was in fact amazed that someone thought the book was worth making into a movie. Clearly their hunch paid off because it seems to be doing quite well.

 

I loved the book. I had caught bits and pieces of the story of these traders since 2008 but Michael Lewis put it all together in a digestible form. It is brilliant.

If you’re not familiar with ‘shorting,’ it refers to the practice of betting against a stock or market, or perhaps betting that something will fall in value, as opposed to what most of us do when we buy stocks, which is to hope they go up. The traders in the movie were responsible for other people’s money and well in advance of the crash of 2008 they started to ‘short,’ or bet against the market.

In hindsight this sounds all pretty basic. Well, yea, obviously, why wouldn’t you bet against it … it was obvious it was going to correct in a big way. Well, it was to some people, but not the majority of people, including many of the people who had money invested in their funds, it was not. The years before the crash saw a huge run up in stock markets that looked like it was never going to end. So these traders took a lot of abuse from people who were watching other people make a whack of money in other funds. Or at least this is my recollection since I read the book years ago.

So they were pariahs for a long time, until they weren’t…at least to the people who stuck with them. Then they made a movie about them, after a book.

I was thinking about this concept in preparation for our upcoming workshop.  Many of the things I recommend would appear to go against conventional wisdom. Why would you heat that way, it’s not that convenient? Why would you bother doing that, isn’t that growing and storing food thing you do a whack of work?  Yup, I get it. It’s all a lot of work and a stupid idea … until it’s not. And then it’s going to look quite brilliant that you took these precautions.

I feel like with many of the things we do with a ‘preparation’ mindset, we are really missing the mainstream boat. We are ‘shorting’ the mainstream. A lot of this has to do with us realizing that the constant pursuit of money just leads to spending it, which isn’t the best thing generally for the planet. So from that perspective we feel good about it. From a prepping standpoint though I just think a lot of what we do makes a lot of sense.

I talk about this in my books and it’s the concept that nothing I recommend really has that big a downside. Investing in a solar hot water system is only going to save you money in the long run. Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to just keep using fossil fuels in the short run as you might right now, but having your own independent hot water system removes one more expense from your budget, which is a good thing, and reduces your impact on the planet (if you care), and makes you that much more resilient to a disruption in the extremely complex, capital intensive structure which delivers that fossil fuel to your home.

All the things we talk about are based on participation in the whole capitalist economic model. The types of food you purchase to put away and many of the things we recommend are based on being able to purchase these items now. We live in a time of extreme plenty. But ultimately, you are going to the effort to do these things in a bet that there may be some interruption to that big complex machine that could be fairly disruptive to your well being. You’re shorting the system.

The great thing about my direction … let’s call it ‘the little short’… is that you probably won’t have people yelling at you to change your course and keep on the whole “make money/buy stuff/have to keep working to buy more stuff’ treadmill. Most people would like to remove themselves from that economic model if they could, I just show you some techniques to speed up the process. And to be more resilient should things go a little sideways.

We’ve changed the date of our spring workshop to Saturday, March 23rd. Be sure to register as soon as possible so that we can reserve a spot for you. Come and learn how to short the whole big picture thing!

LINK for information and to register for the workshop here

 

The Great Canadian Universal Healthcare Parking Fee Crisis

Recently one of our American readers (hi S.C.!) asked us to write about our Canadian universal healthcare system. It has sort of been in our news of late so I thought I would use the request to answer her questions and rant about our system.

We have a universal healthcare system whereby every Canadian citizen is covered and no one pays anything personally. It was created in the mid 1960’s after a long and arduous battle between those for it and those against it. It’s just a brilliant concept where, like any insurance program, you spread risk. Everyone contributes and you hope that it’s not your house that burns down (or you who gets sick) but if you do, you are covered. It is funded from general government revenues like income tax.

I remember when I first began working (many long years ago) I paid an OHIP Premium. The OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Program) managed healthcare in my province and it was partially funded by the federal government, partially by the province and individuals contributed a small amount. It was mostly symbolic but eventually some government decided to appeal to voters by eliminating that minimal payment.

I am a huge believer in and supporter of our universal healthcare system, but not having people contribute to it or be aware of the cost of it, is just an inane concept. What it boils to is this; the costliest system that Canadians encounter on a regular basis, IS FREE and so for many people it has no value associated with it. Having a charge affixed to something equates to value for most people.

Healthcare is starting to use up an increasingly large part of our government’s resources. In Ontario it uses 40% of the budget and we spend $50 billion a year on healthcare for a population of 13 million. The percentage of the spending government devotes to healthcare grows each year. The federal government a decade ago signed a health accord and agreed to increase funding to the provinces by 7% each year, for the last decade. Now think about it. Has the economy been growing by 7%? Has your saving’s account been paying you 7% interest? Of course not. I believe the doubling time for a 7% increase is about a decade. So basically Canadians are spending double on healthcare what we spent a decade ago. Really? How do you think that’s going to work out?

Most Canadians have never seen a bill for healthcare or for their share of the cost of the system. If the system wasn’t already so overburdened with bureaucracy, I think that every time you leave the doctor’s office or hospital you should be presented with a statement that itemizes the cost for the treatment you received.

When I ran in the last provincial election as the Green Party candidate, there were several All Candidates Meetings where (mostly) older citizens expressed concern that they couldn’t afford the parking fees at hospitals, which have been rising quickly since it’s one of the few ways that hospitals can generate revenue. This topic is now regularly covered in the media, this crisis of healthcare parking. I can only shake my head. Our system has doubled how much money it requires in about a decade, and we think parking is a problem? TVO’s “The Agenda’ just did a show on healthcare where they demonstrated that 1 percent of the population uses 33% of the healthcare budget, and the next 4% uses a third … so essentially 5 percent of our population uses 2/3 of the healthcare budget.

http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/high-care-high-cost-patients

(Just watch the first 2 minutes of this video.)

Half of the population uses only 2% of the healthcare spending. I am unbelievably grateful to be in that 2%. I am also incredibly grateful that the system has been there when members of my family have moved into the upper healthcare consumption percentage.

As our population gets older they use a much higher percentage of the healthcare system.

I know what you’re saying, “So Cam, you are being very negative about the whole enterprise and you’re not offering solutions.” That is correct. In Canada if you say we need to start charging people to use the system it’s anathema (the absolute worst thing you can suggest) to hardcore universal healthcare supporters. Somehow we have to convince Canadians that our healthcare system is a huge privilege, it’s not a right or a given. We have to start using it only when we actually need it. And we have to start being honest about the system. It’s not sustainable and no one will talk about it.

The deductible for my household insurance keeps going up and my agent keeps reminding me that insurance is for a catastrophic event. I believe that Canadians need to stop going to the doctor to get their blood pressure checked when they can buy their own machine for $50 and do it themselves. They need to stay out of the emergency ward when they have a cold.

Any politician who suggests we have to start being honest about the tsunami of a healthcare crisis that is coming will not be elected and this is proof to me of the deficiencies of democracy. When you’re honest with the electorate you don’t win. We aren’t even talking about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, and it seems to me that would be a good starting point.

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Our Visit to Ireland

If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably know that Michelle and I don’t fly so maybe the title of today’s post made you wonder, “How did Cam and Michelle get to Ireland?” And no it wasn’t a virtual tour; it was more a case of Ireland coming to us.

Immigrants from Ireland, many after the great potato famine, settled our closest village of Tamworth, and the nearby Erinsville. There is a wonderful group in Tamworth (http://srayner.ca/comhaltas/M_Language.htm) who regularly organizes Irish cultural events including a whole week during the summer when people come from across North America to learn Gaelic and soak up Irish culture.

Our community is always invited to participate and this year there was a concert held in the local Legion hall with the band “Four Winds” and they did indeed come from Ireland! (https://www.facebook.com/fourwinds.tradmusic?fref=ts)

The date of the concert was bad timing for us because Michelle was just coming back from Toronto after visiting with our new grandson and since it was a Wednesday night, I was busy weighing and bagging green and yellow beans. Yes, it’s quite a glamorous life here at Sunflower Farm during the summer! Thursday is CSA delivery day so on Wednesday I pick beans in the brutal sun and heat, and then pack them and put them in our cool root cellar. And yes, I’d love to pick them the same day, but with all of the other vegetables we pick fresh on Thursdays, it just wouldn’t work. And when I look at green and yellow beans in the stores that come from Mexico, I’m pretty sure beans picked 24 hours previously are a great deal fresher than the competition.

The organizer of the concert was looking for accommodations for the band members. He asked if they might stay in our guesthouse and since they were arriving late (after the concert) and leaving early the next morning, it wasn’t a problem. I got back from picking Michelle up from the train station just after 7 pm and had the beans packed and the kitchen cleaned up by 10 pm and the band arrived just after 11.

And what a delight they were. I love Irish accents, and am drawn to Irish movies because of them but to spend time with real authentic Irish people is, well, ‘brilliant!’ I say brilliant because it’s a word the band used often and their enthusiasm was truly contagious.

There had been a full house in town for their concert and Tamworth crowds are very enthusiastic, so when the band arrived they were, as one would expect with musicians after a concert, ‘pumped.’ They came into the house and just couldn’t get over how ‘brilliant’ it is that we are off the grid and how remarkably ‘brilliant’ they thought Sunflower Farm was (even though it was pitch black on their arrival) and it just went on and on. I could have stayed up all night listening to those accents if I didn’t have to be up by 6 am to start picking lettuce.

After they headed out to the guesthouse I fell asleep to the sound of the most enthusiastic laughter from the guesthouse. Clearly our houseguests were enjoying their stay in Canada so far.

In the morning Michelle helped with picking and packing the CSA boxes until 9 or so when the band members started getting up and coming into the house. Michelle served them some coffee as they took turns showering. (They were heading somewhere else for breakfast.) I came and went as often as I could since I appeared to be on top of the CSA box organization. And it was truly a joy to sit and learn about Ireland and Irish culture. I asked lots of questions based on my misinterpretation of their country and learned so much. And they continually reminded us how ‘brilliant’ they thought our place was, even more so in the daylight. I have now incorporated brilliant into my every day vocabulary. I have also perfected (or enhanced) my Irish accent, which I spoke to myself for two days before their arrival. I believe I only attempted to use it once that morning and they didn’t seem to take offence, which was good since it was used in with the greatest respect for their culture and the history of my community.

I must also say they were some of the most gracious guests we have ever had. Each of them thanked us many times for our hospitality, which, since I kept tromping in with mud covered work boots, was most reassuring.

We gave them all copies of our book, “Little House Off the Grid” and I don’t think I need to elaborate on their choice of words to describe it. And they happily returned the favor with the most detailed verbiage from each member of the band signed onto their CD. It’s a good thing CDs haven’t shrunk in size, or they would have been hard-pressed to fit it all in!

Four Wind signed CD

Before they left we did our ubiquitous photo in the front of the solar panels, which was their request. After living with solar power for 18 years I assume everyone is ‘over’ solar panels, so it’s always joyful to meet new people enthused about their brilliance. It is a very cool way to live and I never tire of people reminding me of how great they think it is. I need a reminder of this to sustain me during the dark months of November and December that approach on the horizon.

Four Winds Sunflower Farm

We have had many people visit Sunflower Farm, now from all over the world! Each time someone comes from a faraway place I’m always worried about how well we’ll get along. And each time I am amazed about the similarities of people and how much I enjoy their company. Each time they leave I feel I’ve made new friends and miss them. I hate to travel because I hate to leave this place, and I’m always so pleased when someone from faraway can bring his or her world to me for a while.

Four Winds CD Cover

Michelle and I have been enjoying the “Four Winds” CD immensely. We discovered Celtic music a few decades ago when we toured the East Coast of Canada and Cape Breton Island in particular which has nurtured it’s Celtic culture so well. And now, any time we want to we can fire up the CD and spend some time in Ireland. “I’ve got to tell ya, it’s brilliant!” (Said in my awesome new authentic Canadian attempt at an Irish accent)

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Spaces for the October 24th workshop here at Sunflower Farm are filling up. If you are planning to attend, please be sure to let us know.  Visit http://www.cammather.com/off-grid-retreat/upcoming-workshops-at-sunflower-farm for more details and to register!

Cam’s Small Business Speed Networking Event

We had a totally awesome night in Tamworth last week.

Michelle and I organized a Speed Networking Event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

networking

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

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

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

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

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

Tamworth sign

 

That Whole Quantitative Easing Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

The Price of Oil is Scary

So have you noticed the price of oil lately? Pretty great eh? Cheap gas! Yee ha!gaspistol

I think not. I don’t think this is a good thing. I guess I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy but I think something is amiss and I don’t think it’s going to end well.

A barrel of oil has stayed above $100/barrel for quite a while now. Then last summer it started this crazy nosedive to its current level of about $50. And it frankly just doesn’t make any sense to me, on so many levels.

First off, it is just such an amazing commodity; it shouldn’t be this cheap. The potential energy in a barrel of oil is mind-boggling. Three tablespoons of oil is the equivalent of a human working manually for 8 hours. If you spent your whole life toiling in the fields (which I lovingly do every summer) your whole life’s energy expenditure would be equivalent to 3 barrels of oil. 3 barrels. So if the world is burning through 80+ million barrels of oil everyday, you can appreciate just how much work that fossil fuel is accomplishing for us.

Now some (like me) would argue that much of it is wasted commuting long distances or flying to exotic places. Some would argue (like me) that we have to burn less of the stuff because when you use a liquid hydrocarbon like this, it releases sequestered carbon from under the ground into the atmosphere, and on a large scale that’s not a good thing. Some organizations like 350.org or even the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that if we want to have any hope of stopping the planet from warming more than 2°C we basically need to leave three-quarters of the known fossil fuel reserves that energy companies have on their balance sheets, in the ground.

And that’s one of the biggest problems with cheap oil. Some countries seem to be pumping it likes there’s no tomorrow, to generate cash, and this stuff is too precious to sell at a discount.petrol-pump-icon

There are lots of great theories as to why the price has collapsed the way it has. One is that countries are trying to punish Russia, which relies heavily on oil revenue, for it’s incursion into the Ukraine. I tend to take the more classic economic perspective and that is that demand is simply not there. The media loves to remind us of how great the economy is doing and why we should be so confident and get out there and run those credit cards up making ourselves happy. But I don’t things are as rosy as we’re being told. And I think the plummeting price of oil is the proof.

There is a hard cold reality of cheap oil and that is that many North American producers are no longer profitable. Fracked shale oil and Alberta tar sands oil are really expensive to get at. At $120/barrel there is an economic incentive to do this. At $60/barrel, well, not so much. And some of these investments we’re talking about are long term. So if you take drill rigs out of the fields and scale back investment in looking for new supplies, eventually you’ll have a drop in supply, which should bring the price back up. But I don’t think you can replace lost supply that quickly which means a huge price spike later on. More pain after the short-term gain we’re experiencing.

In a perfect world the price of oil would have just kept going up indefinitely. This would destroy demand and get consumers to switch to alternatives, many of which use free energy, like the sun and wind. A high price of oil is good for the environment. But economics being what it is, this whole supply and demand thing doesn’t seem to fit with an ever-increasing price of a commodity. Sooner or later the bubble bursts and prices come back down to earth. And customers shopping for new cars see cheap gas and buy big honking’ vehicles that will be on the road for 15 or 20 years. (These same consumers will be on the nightly news when gas goes back up in price complaining at the cost of filling up their inefficient vehicles!)

I may be out in left field on this one; in fact I’m sure I am. I simply can’t understand how such an abrupt price drop in oil can be a good thing over the long haul. Something’s up. I just can’t get my head around exactly what that is. But I don’t think it’s a good thing. Or, quoting the title of my friend Joe Ollman’s book “This will all end in tears.”

 

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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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