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Pick Up My Guitar and Play, Just Like Yesterday

Remember that great song from “The Who” called “Won’t Get Fooled Again”? It had one of the greatest lines ever written … “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Pete Townshend was brilliant. That song also had the line “pick up my guitar and play … just like yesterday…”

I put my guitar down a decade (or two ago), but I recently just picked it up again.

When I lived in suburbia I was searching for a distraction. I tried Tai Chi one night and found it so slow it wasn’t for me! So I joined a badminton club so I could smash the heck of out of a plastic bird. Turns out if you play hard it’s a great work out.

I also took a guitar course at Sheridan College in the evenings. I played trumpet in high school but gave it up. I took the guitar course and really enjoyed it. I remember the young teacher trying to follow a structured curriculum, and all the adults taking the course at night said, “We just want to learn how to play the introduction to the acoustic version of “Layla” by Eric Clapton” from “Unplugged”.

So we took 10 weeks, one night a week to learn it. And it was awesome! And it sounded awesome!

In fact, when I play the guitar and sing I am in fact one of the greatest guitar players and singers, EVER! (in my own head) I pity everyone else other than myself who has to listen.

When we moved here two decades ago my priorities shifted. Learning how to live off the grid turned out to be a lot of work. Heating with wood is a lot of work. Growing food on a bigger scale is a lot of work. So suddenly stuff that was so critical to maintaining my sanity in the city evaporated. I used to take long canoe trips as often as I could. After a decade here we finally sold the canoe since I never used it.

It was the same with the guitar. I think it turns out I was just infinitely happier “living.” Day to day was awesome, so I didn’t need the distractions anymore.

Occasionally I’d hear a song I liked, play the guitar for a while, then it would go back on the guitar stand and gather dust.

Then about a month ago I heard a song on the radio that I just love and said, “I’m going to learn how to play that!” I think it was “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison, and I changed the lyrics to “Here Comes Liam” in honour of my grandson.

When I used to learn how to play a song, it took forever! First, I’d have to write down the lyrics by stopping and starting the song hundreds … or thousands of times. Then I’d have to listen to it, like a ba-zillion times, each time trying to find the chord that sounded right.

Now, guess what? There is this thing called the internet, AND SOMEONE ELSE HAS DONE IT ALL! It’s soooo awesome. I can figure out a song in minutes rather than hours.

So I have a recommendation for you. If you have ever thought about learning to play the guitar, you should. It’s really easy! And I know what you’re thinking … “I’ve heard that before!” Like the time you needed to change the head gasket on your car and your neighbor said, “Do it yourself … it’s easy!” Four weeks later, you still ended up taking it to a repair shop.

Well it won’t be that way. Turns out, and I guess I should have called this “The Lazy Guitar Player Method,” you only need to learn about 3 chords, and you can play 90% of all songs, ever written. Or 100% of Neil Young’s songs. These are C, G, and D. Oh, and probably A. And F wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not crucial.

This just means you look at a picture of where you put your fingers on the strings for each chord, and strum. It’s amazing! And you sound so great! Every time you have to switch from chord to chord, you get faster. And your fingers build up calluses.

Now, all the guitar purists are saying “Cam, you are full of crap. It takes years to learn to play the guitar properly.” Well of course that’s true, like anything. But I’m not talking ‘properly’. I’m talking quick and easy. And I’m talking about having a vivid imagination, because I’ll tell you, when I play “Sweet Child of Mine” I cannot for the life of me figure out why the remaining members of Guns and Roses haven’t tracked me down to tour in place of Axel Rose. If Axel’s not touring right now. I’m never sure. And GnR just do the 3-chord version of the song.

If you are really lucky like me, you have a partner who has resigned herself to your constant noise and disruption whether it’s rototillers and chainsaws outside or tunes blaring inside, and your guitar playing will be just one more thing to her to tune out. It’s usually not until about the 10th or 12th go through that I’ll hear “Really? Can you not find another song to play?” Cause no, I can’t! Cause I just figured this one out and I sound waaayyyy better than Bob Dylan ever did. Or maybe the Indigo Girls will change their name to “The Indigo Girls and that guy” and let me tour with them. Or at least let me help them with “Closer to Fine,” as long as I only have to play C, G, and D. And maybe A on the that last part. I don’t even know what the different parts of a song are called anymore and frankly, I don’t care.

It’s magic. You strum 3 chords, and your mind just fills in the hard parts, the difficult notes and chords, all the other instruments, the backup singers, and best of all, the adoring fans who erupt in crazy applause after every song. And you’ll even inevitably learn to do an Elvis impersonation … ‘Thank you, Thank you very much.”


Reminder from Michelle – Do you shop at amazon? If so, please link to amazon from the link on this page (righthand side near the top.) It won’t cost you any more but everything you buy will provide a very small commission to this blog and provides us with the funds to pay for hosting etc.  Thanks!

Back in the Saddle

So I’m back in the garden, growing food … but on a much scaled-down version of my former manifestations.

My theme song is “Back in the Saddle.” The Areosmith version.

 

 

I think it’s a remake of a cowboy song by Gene Autry, but I remember playing it … a lot in 1976 when it came out on “Rocks.” It’s a very punkish edgy song for its day … but really, I think I mostly listened to it for Steve Tyler yodelling at the end because, really, I don’t think there is enough yodeling in music these days. (It’s at about 3:50 of the video)

It turns out that getting ‘back in the saddle’ in terms of getting back into the garden this spring was really hard. This was because of last year’s drought … which took all the fun out of growing food.

I don’t mean to belabor the concept of mild PTSD, because I do not want to marginalize people who have experienced war and really traumatic experiences. But mine was a real slow burn, dragged out sort of trauma. Every day, for 5 months, I had to spend the day in a place that was really under stress. My sandy soil was parched by June and I only had 16 weeks to go … growing enough food for 25 families.

And the heat. Every day was an inferno. Turns out, there is no shade in a good garden. For years I’ve used all these little mental tricks to try and ignore heat in the garden … but seriously, after 90 days of scorching temperatures they start to wear down.

So basically, on the last day of last year’s CSA I walked away from the garden and didn’t go back in. I’m sure you’ve read all the articles and books about how important it is to clean up the dead stuff each fall because that’s where the pests live. Nope, not last year. And you want to remove all those wooden stakes you have delineating rows so you can move hoses around for irrigation. You know …   so you don’t hit them with the truck next winter when they’re frozen and you’re driving a load of horse manure in. Nope, but duly noted … pulling out stakes in the fall would have been a good idea.

So this spring, not only was I not really into getting back in the saddle, the saddle needed waaaayyyy more work than it does most springs. And I’ve got two grandkids now. And I’m back doing websites full-time to earn a living.

But I started a little at time. Cleared up a section of tomato stakes and dead plants. Rototilled a bit here. Spread some manure there.

Then it was time to put up the chicken wire fencing I use for peas, which is way more work upfront but which really improves production. And as I was doing it I was thinking … hmmm … I guess I’m actually going to be able to eat some of these peas this year. And maybe shell enough to actually freeze some for next winter. We love frozen peas. And maybe my grandson will be here when they’re in full production and we can hang out in the pea patch eating fists full. Is there anything tastier in the world than a pea right out of the pod off the vine?

And so the darkness that was last year’s garden has slowly started to lift. This weekend I got more stuff planted, some kale, lettuce, my first rows of sacrificial potatoes. It’s starting to feel good finally.

There are a number of gardens and areas of the main garden that will be fallow this year. Well, maybe it’s not technically fallow. I have rototilled them and I’m planting them with a green manure, buckwheat. If I just left a field to sit, it would turn green really fast, with weeds. That would be fine until they went to seed, which just makes the following year even more problematic for planting. I will probably cut down the buckwheat just as it starts to flower, then rototill that back into the soil. With so many areas in buckwheat this year I may leave one to flower … and then go to seed .. and see how bad the “buck-WEEDS” are next year. It’s fun to think about experimenting, and letting some of the gardens recharge. I have pushed them pretty hard for 5 years.

I always have weeds, and this year will be one of the worst because I could not stay on top of them last year because I spent all my time irrigating … and trying to keep moving in the heat which was effort enough. Even with a drought, weeds will always find some moisture in your soil.

And then this spring has been the ultimate kick in the head, with endless, limitless, never-ending, record breaking rain. The basement flooded once with the spring snow melt and drained by itself after several weeks. Then the rains started and reflooded the basement deeper than it’s ever flooded before. And I must remind new readers that when you live off the grid, you simply do not have enough electricity to run a sump pump 24 hours a day to drain your basement. I did purchase a gas water pump last summer for irrigation, but I just cannot bring myself to drain our basement and spew CO2 with it.

After a few weeks the basement drained again, and now it has some water on the floor again because of the rain that just won’t stop. Really nature? No rain last summer for 5 months and now endless rain? Are you being passive aggressive? Mean-spirited? Ironic?

Let me be perfectly clear, as a Canadian it is my constitutional right to complain about the weather … I think. All I’m asking is for a bit of compromise in terms of rain.

I am happy that the joy of growing food has returned. I guess you really just have to get back on that bike after you fall off. Turned out this wasn’t an easy process after the a mentally and physically grueling summer of drought while running a CSA. I have put myself on the “DL” (Disabled List in baseball parlance) in terms of earning an income from growing food for a while. Turns out it can be pretty rough to do manually on a small, labor intensive scale. If mother nature helps with some rain, it is much easier.

I already miss spending my days in the garden. I do not miss working all day every day in the sun and heat watching my plants struggle. Poor Jasper wonders where I disappear to every day when I head to my home-office. He liked it better when he could sit in the shade of the pines and monitor me in the garden waiting for his next meal. Life is tough for some dogs. Not that I’m jealous or anything.

Getting to Know My Forest

I’m spending a lot of time in my forest. And it’s pretty awesome.

We’re in the process of applying for what’s called “The Managed Forest Tax Incentive Plan.” (MFTIP)

It’s a program in my province of Ontario which reduces your property tax, a bit, if you agree to manage your forest. We got a bit of discount on our property tax when we were generating enough farm income, but that ended last fall, with the drought.

I took a workshop about the MFTIP several years back and never got around to doing it. But now I’m back at it and part of the plan involves an inventory of trees in your forest. Sounds easy enough, if there’s an ‘app’ for it or something, which I don’t believe there is. But basically, it involves getting out and counting trees. You take sample plots and record the species, diameter of the tree at breast height (DBH) and height.

I suppose this could sound like work, if you weren’t doing it in your forest. Because forests are pretty awesome places. The challenge with work, and earning an income, and growing some of your own food, (you could include Netflix but I would never admit to that publicly in a sort of earthy, back to the land, homesteading blog) is that you often are too tired, or lazy, or stupid, to get out and enjoy your property.

Michelle and I used to say, “we own 150 acres.” I think now we try and suggest ‘we’re temporary custodians’ of 150 acres. Not that the trees and forests need any help. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of looking after themselves before we got here.

My daughter is an archeologist and has left some books around hoping I might pick one up. Turns out there’s some pretty cool stuff in those books. I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is that about 12,000 years ago, where I live, was under ice. The glaciers from the last ice age were retreating and somehow, once they were gone, all these lakes and trees appeared. The wonders never cease!

I remember a National Film Board movie they showed us in public school in the 1960s that showed a guy canoeing the Great Lakes, and it kept jumping around eons. So, one minute he would be sitting in a canoe on top of a glacier, then the next shot it would jump forward 100,000 years and the ice disappeared and he fell 500 feet into the St. Lawrence River. Is it bad that this is one of my few memories from public school?

So, as I walk the property I picture the ice retreating, the big piles of sand and gravel (drumlins?) they left behind, then the forests encroaching on the exposed soil … or in our case sand created from the grinding rocks. I spend a lot of time trying to improve my soil here.

The thing I’m loving about this whole process is how much I’m learning. I started thinking about it as work, and now I really look forward to going out and doing some inventory work regularly. It’s forcing me to pay attention to stuff in a different way.

When we first arrived 20 years ago as I walked the property I was looking for dead oak to cut. There had been a gypsy moth infestation a few years before whereby the oaks were attacked shortly after putting out their leaves. Once the leaves got chewed off they weren’t able to photosynthesize and they just got weak. The ones that survived I think are stronger.

It took a good decade of cutting before they were mostly used up, so then I switched to looking for any tree that wasn’t healthy to thin for firewood. And now I’m looking for easily accessible poplar to remove, to give the hardwoods more energy to grow.

Which brings me to an inextricable part of just about every one of my mindless blogs, 1970s popular music (that’s popular like “POP” music, as opposed to ‘poplar,’ like the trees I’m cutting.)

The rock group RUSH had this song called “Trees” and the lyrics by their drummer Neil Peart were quite brilliant, although I never had the same appreciation when I was a suburban-dwelling teen.

“The trouble with the Maples, and they’re quite convinced they’re right, is that the Oaks are just too lofty, and they grab up all the light, but the Oaks can’t help their feelings, if they like the way they’re made, and they wonder why the Maples can’t be happy in their shade.”

As I’m measuring and looking up at and admiring and touching, but never “hugging” these trees I often sing this song. Luckily the Oaks and Maples seem to slug it out fairly evenly here. There is indeed no “Oak oppression,” just survival of the fittest. It seems to pretty much be a draw over most of the property.

When I cut down these towering wonders of carbon sequestration, I am most grateful for the warmth they will provide next winter. And that is the main goal we have in our forest management plan. We use it for recreation and we love it that it gives animals a place to live. And the trees just seem to keep growing faster than we could ever cut them for heat. As I recall from the workshop years ago you need about 15 acres of woodlot to heat a home. I’m sure this depends on how efficient your home is, how warm you like it, species of trees, i.e. hardwood vs softwood, but I’m often asked this in our workshops and it’s a good target if you’re looking for property.

And you know who is absolutely “over the moon” about my forest inventory? You’re right, Jasper the Wonder Dog! Oh, how he loves the time in the woods. Do you know how many smells there are to investigate on our sojourns? Hundreds. Our terrain is hilly and there are often low areas that are full of water right now with the spring run-off. And Jasper the Wonder Dog has never met a body of water he didn’t love to play in. Or stand in and drink from. Or chase bubbles in. If I didn’t know better I’d guess he had used his Jedi Mind Tricks … that thing he does when you talk to him and he tilts his head inquisitively, to get us back doing the MFTIP. He knew it would mean endless hours of playtime in the woods.

I beat myself up that it takes a monetary incentive, like saving some tax money, to get me into the bush. This time it will be different. I’m going to be a better Forest Steward. I’m going to be a better person. More time in the woods! Jasper insists!

That Was Fun … Not!

Whoops. I did it again.

Sorry if you recently got a weird email from our website. Long story, but it was my fault as I try and learn some new software and well, I used it on my website and things went horribly wrong.

I love the TV show “Arrested Development” and they have a great pat line “I’ve made a huge mistake!” I love it and use it all the time. They were using “huge” before, well, anyone else.

Michelle and I ran our CSA for 5 years and I think did a pretty darn great job of growing vegetables for our members. Then along came last year’s drought where we didn’t get rain for…well…like…ever… or at least from May to October, which is kind of a big deal if you grow food.

So that was too much and we decided to not run it this year. It’s been hard. I really like growing food. I love being outside and in the soil. But after many years of trying to find a ‘niche’, I still believe with the current economic model farming is still very much a story of ‘go big or go home” business. Get lots of land and a big tractor. Yes, you can find cool ways to specialize but a lot of it is extremely labor intensive so it’s a young person’s game. And I wish them all the best at it, until I get back in the game. Hopefully with my grandkids… really soon!

We are doing websites again as we have for many years. And like anything technology related things have become even more complex. We’ve been using “WordPress” to develop our websites and I’ve been learning a very cool ‘theme’ which makes it easier to control websites. It used to be you had to be an HTML programmer. So, I’m excited about this new easier ‘shell’ shall we call it that is kind of like a “WYSIWYG” or ‘what you see is what you get”.

But of course, for it to make setting up websites easier, it must be hard to learn. Right? Well at least it is in my world.

I decided the best way to learn it was to actually have it on my own website cammather.com. “And how’d that work out Cam?” Ha ha. Not so good. It sent out a rogue blog notification and well, things just went downhill from there.

Again, sorry about that.

I’m sure you’ve never had a bad experience with technology. Your credit and debit cards always work, statements are always correct, your computer and phone and tablet always work flawlessly.

Netflix has a great documentary called “Silicon Cowboys” about some Texas Instruments people starting Compaq computers in the early 1980s. This probably would not mean too much to most people, but I started selling microcomputers in 1982 so it was at the heart of the whole Apple II, IBM PC, Macintosh, Clones, ‘compatibles’ like Compaq …  evolution.

It was fun to see how much polyester was in suits in the ‘80s. How puffy some women’s hair was, along with their shoulder pads, and how they actually made Compaq computers in Texas. Can you imagine?!

I was looking at screens running DOS (Disk Operating System) and remembering I spent a lot of time training people on microcomputers. Michelle bought one of the first Macintosh computers off the line because we wanted to find out why 1984 wasn’t going to be like “1984” (the book)

“Silicon Cowboys” made me remember just how little you could do on computers in the 1980s, and how when you went from an 8086 Intel processor to an 80286 it was a big deal. And how when Compaq was the first computer with an 80386, well, it was a pretty big deal in my world. I believe it was called “Moore’s Law” which suggested the processing speed would double every 18 months. Which meant that a year a half later, your computer would be twice as fast. So, 3 years from now your computer would be 8 times faster? 16 times faster? Is that how exponential growth works?

All I know is that kids today just have no idea of the processing power of their computers and smart phones. I look at what our iPhone does and I marvel at it all. I think it is compounded by having been in the whole corporate struggle for computer supremacy which involved mind-boggling innovation.

I still marvel at it. And then I think about our reliance on this stuff. I think about moving when I was 20 years old and setting out with my dad’s station wagon on a Sunday morning and getting a flat tire on Hwy 401 on our rental trailer and what was involved. And how much easier it would have been to have a mobile phone. Just a cell phone let alone a smart phone.

Michelle and I have one cell phone because we are usually together. When I left the hospital after our grand daughter was born for my long trek home, my daughter was still a little tired from the birth. I wanted to make sure she was okay. But once I got on the highway I had no way of knowing. Michelle kept the phone.

So, for hours I was traumatized by not having a cell phone. I tried a pay phone at a rest stop but on my third try when I finally resorted to using a credit card they said the call would be $11, or $17 or something like that so I hung up. You know, better to be stressed for hours.

She thankfully was fine and I worried needlessly. And I wondered if I would have worried as much if cell phones weren’t available, like that day in the late 70’s when we just left in the car with the trailer for the move. Is all this technology necessarily so great?

I won’t lose any more sleep over it. The technology is here so I’ll just do my best to try and master it. I did figure out a way though to use an old iPhone our daughter gave us to work on the rest stops along Highway 401 because they all have free Wi-Fi. So now I just use “G-chat” or “Facetime” and call people with the phone and actually can see them as I talk to them. When I was selling computers in the 1980s I could just never imagine a time when you would be able to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the world, on your smart phone, away from your home. Meet George Jetson…

first Divi training post

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This is a sample of text Cam has added to test Divi.

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My 1888 Brain

This is all related to slow internet which is a country thing, but sometimes can be a city thing, and a twisted convoluted story to get to the point, but really, aren’t most of my blogs like this? Bear with me?… (bare with me?) if you are so inclined.

We often get asked about what we use for internet out here in the country. We use satellite internet because there is no fixed wireless in our region. This is a good thing because it means there isn’t the population density to warrant a company installing towers for wireless. So I’m not complaining. Satellite internet is part of many people’s rural reality.

Right now, with so many (166,000 households in Canada last year so what is that in the U.S., 2 million?) canceling their cable/satellite TV and just watching stuff online, it means that at 7 pm when everyone sits down to watch Netflix, well … the whole internet slows down. But with a satellite there is limited bandwidth so the bottleneck slows everyone down … a lot. Our internet provider has launched a new satellite to deal with it, but it will take a few months to be operational.

So, we’ve been renting movies. Yes, I do a lot of reading … in the mornings … but really …  reading after dinner is a one-way ticket to la-la land for me. We rent from Tim at the local video store when we know that we’ll be driving through town and can return the DVDs the next day, and we’ve been borrowing some from the library. This is a good thing too since it shows up on their records as transactions which helps keep the local branch open, in a time when they’ve closed others in our rural area.

So, I’ve been bringing home stacks of movies, most of which we don’t get around to watching. The last batch had Season 5 of Six Feet Under,” the HBO series about the funeral home. It was exceptional and it was from 2005, so we watched it 12 years ago. But at the age of 57 this means that I when I am re-watching something a decade later, it all seems new to me.

Well, not all of it. I do remember a lot it, especially the final episode where the series is all wrapped up in the absolute greatest bit of movie/TV writing ever.

But there was one scene from Season 5 which has stuck in my mind in a big way. Okay, so spoiler alert, if you are about to watch Season 5 of Six Feet Under and want to be surprised DO NOT READ THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

In one of the episodes one of the lead characters, now deceased, returns to do a quasi rock video scene to the song Celebrate by ‘Rare Earth.

He is all dressed in white in a ‘from the other side’ sort of theme singing “I just want to celebrate another day of living, I just want to celebrate another day of life…,” a cautionary tale from the great beyond to remind you that you’d better enjoy every day you’ve got left … which might not be many for some of us. Because really, who knows?

I love this song and often break into quite a loud rendition as I walk this marvelous piece of land Michelle and I inhabit … briefly but extremely joyfully.

So, for 12 episodes I kept trying to recall when this video sequence was going to appear, and well, it turns out, my 57-year-old aluminum-and-soda-pop-addled brain just couldn’t reach down deep enough into its synapses to remember it. I had a feeling, and I got it, 2 minutes before it appeared … in the final episode. No points for you Cam! Oh, my memory was of a 2-minute rock video…nope…it was all of 10 seconds max!

We started thinking about all the noise that our brain would have had to filter through to get that data. How many tens of thousands of hours of videos, millions of words in books, billions of words in day old newspapers and Guardians, would it have to get through to remember something I’d watched over a decade ago.

Then at breakfast one morning Michelle and I discussed how differently our grandkids’ brains will be wired because their brains will be exposed to so much more video and imagery than ours. We’re piling on the hours late in life but when we were kids, TV was a Saturday morning in the winter thing so our parents could sleep in, and rarely did we watch TV in the summers or after school because we just disappeared on our bikes into the woods or suburbs and didn’t return home until we got hungry. Sure, the risks were probably there, but you didn’t seem to hear about them as much so parents were like, “See ya at dinner.” Antibiotics, vaccines so we didn’t get smallpox, endless freedom to play, OMG I was born at a charmed time in human in history.

So how many of the images cluttering up my brain are someone else’s creation, like the scene in the second Jason Bourne movie when he jumps from a rooftop and crashes through a window on the other side of the street and the camera follows right behind him? That was so cool but it wasn’t me doing the jumping, it was like 100 stunt people and movie technicians.

Which finally got us to thinking about the kitchen we were having our breakfast in. A kitchen that in 1888 when our house was built, or in 1910, or 1940, a farmer would come in for breakfast and every other meal, exhausted, or his wife would work in the kitchen, until they collapsed after dinner, most likely without the income to afford or the energy to read a book.

All of their memories were theirs. All their experiences were their own. As they sat and reflected on their life, it would be a recollection of only images and experiences that they had actually participated in.

It’s a very cool distinction. I created many vivid images over the years reading about Ayn Rand’s Henry Reardon or Margaret Atwood’s Grace Marks from ‘Alias Grace.’ I didn’t even see visual images of these people but somehow, they occupy my brain.

If the concept is accurate of this death myth/image of our lifetime passing before us as we prepare to cross over to the other side, I think the 1888 brain would offer a much more legitimate experience. Mine, while populated by a billion hours (into my teens) spent playing with Lego and Meccano, jumping off roofs in homes being built in my subdivision and staying out way too late to overfill a pillow case on Halloween could very likely be cluttered and corrupted with all these other images that I didn’t experience myself.

It would be great if you could get a filter to ensure that all your experiential memories were your own. I’m sure there’s ‘an app for that” on your Smartphone! Oh, and that latest episode of Game of Thrones you’ve been wanting to watch …

The Homesteading Retreat Weekend

(or more specifically the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome weekend!)

Michelle and I have had great success with our one day workshops over the years. We are grateful to the many people who’ve come for the day to learn about our experiences and outlooks on energy systems, food production, the economy, security and the reality of living the homesteading dream.

People have often traveled great distances to get here, and then they have to travel home on the same day. Some, especially our American guests, have stayed in nearby motels. I’m sure this allows them a chance to wind down before they head back to the city, and so Michelle and I have often discussed allowing people to stay overnight here to avoid this.

One of the reasons we don’t usually offer an overnight stay after a workshop is because of my voice. For many years I did workshops at colleges where I’d have a morning workshop followed by an afternoon workshop which meant 6 hours of talking loudly, as well as the whole before/lunch/after informal chatting. I believe in keeping people awake, so I talk loudly (and much to Michelle’s consternation …’quickly’) and spend a lot of time shouting and cajoling and doing my best Sam Kinison imitation which ends up with me collapsing on the floor … just to make sure that people are paying attention to the part on … energy efficiency, or the basics of home security, or the world according to Cam in general.

Anyway, my voice was usually gone by the end of the day and I would have to spend most of the following day (usually a Sunday) not talking. Michelle LOVED IT!

The result is that I’ve learned I need to be more careful with my voice and it seems to be working. I do way less yelling and friends say they miss the old ‘angry Cam.’ Alas.

So we have decided to offer our first “Homesteading Retreat Weekend.”

I’m also calling it the “Dispelling the myths and showing the realities of the homesteading, independent, sustainable, independent ‘life in the country’ dream” totally awesome ‘this must be just like livin’ in paradise’ weekend. I have never been one who believes in being short and concise. Long-winded and convoluted is more my style.

For this workshop our guests will be able to arrive on Friday night, which means they won’t have to get up really early and commute to our place. We’re excited about that.

The weekend will include three meals on Saturday, beginning with our totally awesome Sunflower Farm breakfast, which I rave (and blog) about constantly because it’s my favorite meal of the day. Then we’ll do the workshop as we have in the past. We focus on energy in the morning – all elements of it including solar, wind, wood heat, solar hot water, hot water production in general, propane back up, geo-thermal, etc. After lunch we focus on food – first on production with extensive tours of our gardens, then discussions of all areas of food preservation and storage. Then after the afternoon break we talk about all those things most people at the workshops seem to want to talk about most – economics..i.e. alternative currencies, security, and how do I tactfully put it…ah….er…sensible preparation for potentially temporary disruptions to those modern luxuries…i.e. electricity, water, heat.. that we often take for granted.

At our past one-day workshops, it was at this point in the day that this seemingly divergent group of people in our home would begin to find out what they have in common and that is when the best sharing would take place. So this time at our weekend-long retreat, the discussion gets to go right into dinner and beyond. I’m very excited about that. At our lunches once people get talking I often find it hard to drag them away from their conversations with complete strangers who they are now the best of friends with, to get out to the gardens to talk about important stuff … like horse manure.

On Sunday morning, we’ll enjoy another utterly fantastic life-altering Sunflower Farm brunch (OMG Michelle absolutely hates it when I build stuff up and create unrealistic expectations) … did I mention you’ll use this brunch as the standard for which you’ll compare all other brunches for the rest of your life, none of which will be up to scratch? Nope, no pressure here.

And after that you can do what you want on Sunday. Hang out and chat. Get the hell out because you are soooo tired of hearing me drone on that you feel that you’ll need some sort of brain cleanse to ever think clearly again. Go for a bike ride, canoe on Fifth Depot Lake, help me weed the garden, load a box up with vegetables to take back to the city … you name it. I think what I’ll do is offer a long walk on the property. People only get to hear me wax poetic about the magic of being temporary custodians of our 150 acres of paradise, so this weekend I’ll have the chance to take guests out and explore it themselves. If you’re desperate for bird watching or hope to see deer or otters, we’ll leave Jasper the Wonder Dog at home. Or we can take him and he will sprint miles ahead of us and sprint back to us and bound and leap with the joy that a border collie just seems happy to spend his day doing.

So there you have it. How’s that for a sales pitch? Two nights, 4 meals & refreshments, the undivided attention of 2 individuals who have lived the homesteading reality for 2 decades and will give you their honest assessment of what’s realistic and what’s not, and time for reflection by a pond and recreation in the heart of “Land O’Lakes.”

The cost for the weekend is $700/couple. We’re saying ‘couples’ because so often at our workshops people say, “Oh I wish I’d brought my spouse because ‘they’ need to hear this…” This way you both experience it so you lose the personal bias when get home and say “Homesteading is totally awesome!/totally unrealistic!”

We offer home cooked meals, peace and quiet, infinite perspectives on your retirement goal of moving to the country/quitting your job and moving off-grid/getting out of suburbia and earning an income away from the rat race, etc. It’ll be a blast.
We’re doing this the weekend of August 18-20th. The lakes will be swimmable (i.e warm enough.) The garden will be at its prime which means much of your food will be picked hours before its cooked. Hopefully it will be great weather for your bike ride or walk in the woods and to hear the loons on Sixth Depot Lake at night so you can you turn off your white noise machine. That weekend falls just before a new moon which means if there aren’t clouds you can spend the night in complete darkness realizing just how puny and insignificant you are in comparison to the expansiveness of the universe and its billions and billions of stars you see from our front yard. And you’ll be able to pick a box of veggies to take home with you to enjoy all week long.

We are going to limit this to 3 couples. We think this is the most workable. I’m thinking from the interest we’ve had in the past it will be booked quickly and I think we’ll only offer this once this year. Send Michelle an email at m.d.mather at gmail.com to ask questions and reserve your spot. I’ll give our blog readers a few days to respond before we put it out there to the rest of the ‘interweb.”

Hope to see you soon! For some photos of our place be sure to check out www.sunflowerfarm.ca

(If you are interested, but that particular weekend isn’t good for you, let us know and we might be able to change the date.)

 

 

 

My Own Private Cognitive Behavioral Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

Other Michael Lewis Books

Deepwater Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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