Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

first Divi training post

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

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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).

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?

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.


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.



Gas Tube Arrestors, Busted Wind Turbines and Spiders from Mars

I’m maturing as a person.

Oh, I still have my fits and tantrums, but I’m getting much better. As one approaches their 60s perhaps this resignation to certain outcomes becomes easier.

Several weeks ago we had a major storm blow through with tornado warnings in our area. I never remember one in the middle of September, but the brutal heat of summer carried on into September so it shouldn’t surprise me.

As I was walking towards the front screen door at one point during the storm, the loudest thunder bolt I’ve ever heard struck simultaneously with the flash of lightning. It was terrifying, like a World War I artillery barrage, and more worrying from an off-grid standpoint.

We have a marvelous 1 kilowatt wind turbine on a 100 ft steel tower that reduces our generator run time significantly. But let’s be honest, it’s just this massive, tall lightning rod screaming “Hit me, hit me, HIT ME!” during a lightning storm.

Sure enough the following morning the turbine was spinning very slowly, even though the wind was still high. Not a good sign. This is when my newfound maturity appeared. Rather than grabbing an axe and chopping down the nearest tree on the “To Be Cut” list to deal with my rage, I just assumed the turbine was toast and shrugged my shoulders with resignation.

The absolutely wonderfully brilliant news was that there was no noticeable damage in the battery room. The last time we got hit by lightning (3 summers ago, a week before my younger daughter’s wedding! Read about it here.)  it took out the inverter and lots of other expensive equipment.

So the other day, my neighbor Sandy and I brought down the turbine, which is on a gin-pole tower. It’s still kind of scary, but pretty gratifying when you finally get it down. The problem last time (3 years ago) was that the DC Rectifier had been blown up. I say “blown up” because you could see where there had been sparking and big chunk of plastic was missing. A rectifier is like the opposite of an ‘inverter.’ It takes AC electricity, that the alternator on the turbine produces, and it converts it to DC to go in to the batteries. All those black ‘bricks,’ the black plastic boxes that you plug into wall outlets to power your computer or charge your cell phones are DC rectifiers, converting AC from the plug to the DC the phone battery wants.

When we replaced these the last time we got hit, Bergey, the manufacturer of my wind turbine, suggested that we add a “Gas Tube Arrestor.” A Gas Tube Arrestor is basically a fuse. And low and behold, as soon as we got the turbine apart we could see that one of these had blown.




gas-tube-arrestorThe bad news was that I have to replace it and the rectifier. The good news is that it blew up and apparently took the short or surge of electricity down the turbine into the grounding wires to the grounding rods, rather than into the battery room. How cool is that?! Which begs the question … why hadn’t they provided them when I installed the system a decade ago? Continuous quality improvement I suppose.

As we were taking the turbine apart I noticed this little spider hanging around. Let’s call him/her Ziggy. I sort of assumed she had jumped on from the sunflower nearby where the turbine had ended up when we took it down. But then I noticed she didn’t want to leave the area.



So finally I looked down the tower and noticed that she had a web there.

Nature is a funny thing sometimes. We live in the bush and have no shortage of bugs but all the things the bugs want … pollen from flowers, people to bite, etc. are at ground level. How many bugs would want to hang out at 100 feet, the height of the tower when it’s erect?

But there was the spider, and there was the web, so apparently she had a thing going.

And since she was a spider that hung out at high heights I started singing David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” with the lyrics “Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Wierd and Gilly, And The Spiders from Mars.” And I could not get that song out of my head all day, and it was a good thing.

Taking down a wind turbine is kind of a stressful process so there is a great sense of relief and accomplishment when it’s finally down. So you have a natural buzz afterwards. I’d rather not bring it down, but when I factor having to bring it down twice in 10 years, with the huge amount of electricity it has generated to improve the quality of my life, without the carbon I would have produced if I’d run my generator, then it’s a pretty good trade off.

Couple that with a catchy tune from a recently deceased musical icon, and it was a pretty good day all and all. Luckily we haven’t yet hit the grey days of November, so the wind power hasn’t been missed. Every time I bring down the turbine I get better at it and learn more. I finally understand this whole DC rectification thing.

I’m intrigued to see if Ziggy hangs in for a week or two while I order the replacements and install them. Fall is in the air; I’m thinking she’s probably better to find a place to overwinter at ground level.

I just wish Bergey could figure out another improvement that would take the lightning jolt at ground level so I didn’t have to drag the whole thing when it gets trashed. I can dream, can’t I?


A couple of notes from Michelle;

  • Thanks to RH for his recent (second!) donation. As you can imagine, it will help pay for these wind turbine repairs! Even though Cam does the repairs himself, the parts and various bits & pieces are not cheap! You’ll find the “TIP JAR” above on the right hand side of this page. Every bit helps and is most appreciated!
  • Many of you probably found this blog through our writing in Mother Earth News magazine. They’ve offered us a small commission for every Mother Earth News subscription that is purchased using our link; Mother Earth News magazine is one of our favourite magazines!
  • HAPPY THANKSGIVING to our Canadian readers! We’ll be celebrating here at Sunflower Farm with our family and lots of great food from our garden. We have so much to be thankful for!

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.



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.


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.



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.



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

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

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


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



How Heating with Wood Keeps the Darkness Away

How Heating with Wood Keeps the Darkness Away (literally, figuratively, metaphorically…)

I love heating with wood. It’s been a common theme of many of my posts.


I will never forget the conversation I had with a friend before we moved off the grid almost 20 years ago and started heating with wood. She said “You’ll hate it! Oh it seems all romantic and stuff, but it won’t take long before you just hate it.” Almost 20 years later I still love it. Yes, by March I do get tired of starting the woodstove, sometimes several times a day in the swing seasons, but the overall experience is still amazing.

I love wood heat. I have never felt warmer. I love the work involved with getting our firewood. I love that’s it’s almost zero-carbon. And I love that every spring I know exactly where my heat is going to come from next winter. It’s in the piles of cut and stacked firewood that I harvested from our property that is curing and drying in the heat of summer.

I remember a movie from the 1980s called “The Mosquito Coast.” In it the father, played by Harrison Ford, has had enough of the rat race and decides to drop out. But he doesn’t do the hippie thing and just get a place in the woods near a village. Nope, he moves the family lock stock and barrel to a very southern location, in Central America I believe.

I certainly understand his desire to get out of the city. That was me. And I certainly appreciate his distaste for how wasteful our current economic model is. I’m with him. The movie though is a very cautionary tale. I’m sure the character was predisposed to this, but he begins a descent into madness and … spoiler alert … it doesn’t end well. That movie has stayed at the edge of my consciousness since I moved off-grid.

I do believe I was the instigating force in our move, although Michelle quickly came to love where we live and can’t imagine living back in the city again. I’m sure our daughters had misgivings about the whole adventure, but they seem to love visiting here now so I think living in the city they understand the attraction this place held for us.

As my mind chatters on though about how well capitalism is innovating to deal with our climate crisis (i.e. not fast enough) or the floating plastic blobs in the oceans, or the volume of waste each one of us creates each year in this system, it can become very easy to dwell on some dark thoughts about where we’re at.

This is what I love about heating with firewood. I know, it seems completely unrelated, but it’s not. Because I cut my own firewood. I harvest firewood from our 150 acres of forest and I am forced each winter to get out into our woods to do this. And when you are standing in a forest, surrounded by trees, and ponds (frozen right now) and more trees, well, it just seems that everything is alright with the world.


My focus completely changes. My mind just switches into a whole other gear. I am looking up to find dead trees to harvest. I am looking at the lean of these dead or dying trees to figure out how I can get them to fall right to the forest floor, without getting hung up in other trees. I’d like to say I’m such an expert that this rarely happens, but instead I’ll say that our woods are so healthy that I can rarely find a tree standing off on its own enough to not hit any number of obstacles on the way down.

I am also accompanied by “Jasper the Wonder Dog” in the woods and he reminds me of the simple concept of ‘joy.’ In the winter ‘The J-Dog” spends way more time inside the house than he’d like. But once he gets into the woods, all is forgotten. There are just endless smells to chase and paths to sprint down and places to dig and explore. Michelle claims our pets can smile. I’m not sure I see this (although none of them are grumpy cats so I guess I get it a bit).  But I can sense however the different mental states in my dog stuck inside most of the day in front of the fire which in itself is not the end of the world, and the dog in the woods who has unlimited space to run and unlimited smells to pursue. It simply is joy. There’s no question he’s smiling. I’m smiling right along with him.

This week we were cutting in an area with a lot of big beautiful pine trees. The deer love these places to hang out during big snowstorms because less of the snow makes it to the ground underneath. And boy does our dog love the scents they leave after being hunkered down.

Then there’s the repetition of hauling the cut logs from wherever they are (generally in lower area, up a huge descent)… up to the road where I can access them with the truck. And the lifting and the bucking with the electric chainsaw and splitting with the electric log splitter and piling and stacking and.. and … and…

A mind boggling amount of work, and a mind boggling stupid way to heat your house as opposed to having someone deliver a fossil fuel to your house to do it… natural gas, propane, home heating oil… but a mind boggling method to keep your mind uncluttered and unencumbered and joyful.

Ever have one of those nights when your mind if just full of thoughts that keep you from getting to sleep, and you haven’t had enough physical activity to make you tired enough to sleep? Ya…. When I’m cutting firewood I don’t have those.


Don’t forget to sign up for our next workshop! For details and to register, click here.


Step Away from the Store

It probably won’t surprise any of our readers to know that I don’t consider myself a “consumer,” as business pundits refer to people residing in capitalist societies. I buy stuff, but as little and as seldomly as possible, and only stuff I really, really need. If you follow the blog and have seen the state of my clothing in photographs, well … let’s just say that thrift stores are my happy place.

Last week I needed a part for a machine, and Michelle was busy on Thursday and Friday, so Saturday was the first day we could head off to our nearest large city. Last Thursday of course was American Thanksgiving and Friday, well, it was a ‘black’ day as it were.

A few years ago this wouldn’t have been a big deal for a Canadian, because we Canadians didn’t celebrate “Black Friday.” Our Thanksgiving is in October (where it should be, well away from Christmas) and retailers were smart, they didn’t really offer discounts until “Boxing Day”on December 26th. Now from a business perspective think about how illogical Black Friday is. You take the one time of the year where (most) people feel they have to buy stuff (presents) and you offer massive discounts. Huh? People are going to spend money anyway. Why would you discount at a time when people are forced to spend? It’s so weird.

Now though, Canadian retailers have been sucked into the “Black Friday” vortex because so many of us would head to the U.S. to take advantage of the sales. For many years this was a good thing because with our strong Canadian “petro” dollar meant it made sense to spend the money on the gas to get there. But now our Canadian dollar is worth about 75¢ U.S. so the sales would have to be massive to make it worthwhile. And Canadian retailers now start discounting to compete with the U.S. and of course “Cyber Monday” allows you to take advantage of sales anywhere you live.

Sorry for the digression, but anyway, I found myself at “Canadian Tire” (how Canadian is that?) on the Saturday after Black Friday and I realized as I approached the parking lot that I’d made a huge mistake. And low and behold, I had only been in the store for about 10 seconds when I told Michelle I was “SO’d” (shopped out) and needed to go home.

I did persevere long enough to get the part that I needed, and we even hit a nearby thrift shop that was very, very quiet, presumably because everybody else was shopping at regular retail stores looking for the bargains.

This disdain for shopping started when I lived in the city. Well it was actually suburbia and 20 years ago it seemed to me that was what people did in suburbia, they shopped. That was how they defined themselves, by what they bought. And many seemed to hate their jobs and spent their weekends buying ‘stuff’ as a reward for putting up with a job.

When we moved to our little piece of paradise I have to admit I did ramp up my consuming for a while as we upgraded, well, just about every system in our off-grid home. And when you put up a wind turbine it turned out that it helps to have some specialized tools, and when you learn to do your own plumbing you need some tools. So Canadian Tire did become my happy place for a while. I was lucky enough to be able to learn what I needed and I often borrow tools from my neighbor Ken, but you get to a point where once you’ve borrowed something often enough, you realize it wouldn’t hurt to own it the next time something breaks, so I would wait for it to go on sale before I bought it. It’s part of  the ‘independent’ mindset that starts to creep in when you’re off grid and start looking at the big picture state of the world.

But now I seem to have just about every tool I need. And I still have the “Ken Tool Lending Library” just down the road if I’m desperate. And I seem pretty set on clothes … for… like…ever. Canadian Tire came out with some new fiberglass handled shovels a few years ago and I tried one and liked it (because it is easier on my rapidly ageing elbows). So when they went on super sale I bought a couple so I can have one in various locations. At my age the 7 minute walk back from the “old wind turbine/potato garden” to the tool shed to get a shovel and the 7 minute walk turns out to be 15 minutes and “X” number of calories that are not well invested. Jasper the Wonder Dog loves the walk, or in his case full throttle sprint, back and forth, but me, not so much.

So I will now stay out of retail stores for the next 6 weeks or so. They are crazy places at this time of year, and I feel this immense cloud of depression come over me as soon as I walk in. Where did all this “stuff” come from? From the ground, from trees, from stuff that was mined, plastic from oil … and how soon before it all ends up I a landfill? I’m just better to not see it at all.

I’ve read a few reports that suggest that the holiday frenzy was not up to previous year’s madness. It could be that the middle class has been so hosed over the past decade they just don’t have the money or available credit to keep up the pace. In Canada a whack of people spend so much on their housing with our on-going housing bubble that they just don’t have as much money or credit left over to jump into the feeding frenzy contact sport that has become holiday shopping.

Or maybe, just maybe, more people are starting to clue in that ‘buying stuff’ is kind of a shallow way to try and fill up your life with meaning. There is more out there and the best stuff doesn’t necessarily come from a store. I can dream can’t I?

In the meantime, if I get one of those “let’s go shopping” moments in the next few weeks I will either try and distract myself working on next year’s firewood, or hit a thrift shop which seems to be a much quieter place at this time of year. Do you think my new grandson will notice if that toy isn’t in a shiny new box?


All Candidates Meetings As an Exercise in Intellectual Resilience

Yes, I know, another blog about our recent federal election. The election is over but I just wanted to share my thoughts on the experience. I am sorry if my blogs have been a little election obsessed lately, but it turns out that when you run as a candidate in one, it does kind of take over your life. It certainly takes over your psyche… i.e. you think about it non-stop – from when you’re digging carrots to when you wake up at 3 am and want to think about shiny happy things like cutting firewood in order to get back to sleep but all you can think about is how to respond to questions at the next ACM – that’s cool political poli-speak code for “All Candidates Meetings.”

I know Michelle uses a bunch of software/games to keep her brain active, I know there are things like Luminosity which are designed for this … to keep your synapses firing to ward off old-age-related brain clogging. I’m finding that running in an election is very much like this, only scarier.

All political parties change their policies on an on-going basis; to meet changing world and economic circumstances, as well as voters’ fickle mood swings. So no candidate will be completely knowlegable on every aspect of their party’s platforms. The Green Party is no exception, although it changes much less. Because we have yet to form a government we have been able to stay pretty true to our vision for the future. The challenge for me, even though I tried to read/memorize the entire 185-page document called “Green Vision 2015,” is that I wasn’t able to be completely knowledgeable about our party’s policies.

The party did provide ‘talking points’ of the key policies that we put forward in the election, but there was a still a gap in my knowledge. I have heard of cabinet ministers in sitting governments taking their policy books into debates so they get it right, so I feel better about doing so at ACMs. And quite frankly if I attended an ACM where candidates didn’t have to refer to a policy book with the range of questions they receive, I’d be highly skeptical about their responses.

So the question is, how do you take a 185-page policy book, and 15-page ‘talking point’ overview, and distill it down to 2 minutes to encapsulate the essence of your party for voters coming to an ACM? It’s extremely terrifying and absolutely intellectually invigorating. No pain no gain right?

We got lots of questions along the lines of, “Oil prices are low but gas prices are high, what is the federal government going to do to bring down gas prices?” The other candidates talked about how complex the oil industry is and used words like “oligopolies” and stuff like that. Well I’m finally comfortable enough in my new ‘Green Party’ hat, we’ll call it my new green skin, that I would simply say that “the Green Party is going to create a vibrant new economy where you can stop having to buy gas from corporations who you don’t seem to be too happy with. Wouldn’t that be great, and here’s how we’ll do it…”

As soon as I started down this road I could see the questioners’ eyes start to roll back in their heads and they often started shaking their head in the “No, I don’t want to hear this” vein, but I’ve learned to persevere and flesh out the concept. The fact remains, the International Energy Agency says we hit peak conventional oil in 2005, all that’s left is hard to get or tar-like bitumen or shale oil, so the price of energy is going to go back up. If you want to keep driving your big honkin’ pickup truck an hour to work every day, well there’s nothing any government can do to help you. You’re simply going to have to respond to an inevitable economic reality. You can vote for a party that’s honest about this and offers a way forward, or you can grumble.

We also got the “how are we going to pay for healthcare?” question a lot. Canada has this unbelievably awesome universal healthcare system. Michelle’s treatment for breast cancer 5 years ago was absolutely stellar. And it didn’t cost us a penny.

A decade ago the Liberal government’s Paul Martin negotiated the health accord with the provinces (which actually administer healthcare directly) and the federal government increased the money they provide to the provinces for healthcare by 6% for the last decade. If you do the math, it’s quite terrifying how much of an increase that is, especially considering that much of the time the economy has been contracting or had very little growth. The recent Conservative government had said that when the current health accord runs out, in 2017 I believe, they would limit yearly increases to the rate of economic growth. The first two quarters of this year the Canadian economy contracted, so one could interpret that as meaning that they would actually claw back some money, but I think they said they’d keep increasing it at least 3%. They also dropped our G.S.T. (Goods and Services Tax, or sales tax) two-percentage points and dramatically reduced our corporate sales tax while they were in power. So the government had way less money to play with every year. It will be interesting to see how our new Liberal government handles this problem.

This comes at a time when Canadian society has just crossed this age Rubicon. There are now more people in Canada over 65, than under 15. In other words, you used to have a large majority of younger people working and paying into the system, with fewer at the top using the services, so it was sustainable. Now, not only is the productive tax-paying group at the bottom end of the age range getting smaller, the bulge at the top is placing enormous pressure on the system. This year people over 65 used 40% of our total healthcare budget. In the next two decades as a tsunami of the population reaches 65, we’ll use 60% of the healthcare budget. Do the math. It doesn’t add up and it’s not sustainable. Any politician who tells you it does is being unrealistic.

The Green Party has excellent policies designed to keep people healthy and keep them out of the system. I typically answered the healthcare question by suggesting that if governments are going to have to keep spending record amounts on fighting historic wildfires, or $60 billion for Superstorm/Hurricane Sandy in New York, or $6 billion for historic floods in Calgary, etc etc. they won’t have any money left for healthcare. We simply have to focus on climate change first. It’s not what anyone wants to hear, but I said it over and over again during the election campaign. As you can tell, I was able to turn just about any question at an ACM into an opening for me to talk about Climate Change.

For me personally, every time I bend down to weed carrots or pick spinach, which I like to do on my knees while wearing kneepads, I say to myself “Take it easy Cam, stretch it out, work your way down slowly, because by the time you need that knee replaced, the cupboard might be bare.” Actually, I think I’ll go and do some more stretching right now!


The Wisdom of Words … for Babies

I continue to plow through a year’s worth of my Dad’s old “Economist” magazines, skipping the stuff at the front that is all about derivatives, fiscal management, quantitative easing, blah blah blah and reading the later stuff which is full of book reviews, science stuff … you know, the ‘fun’ stuff.

The February 22, 2014 issue has an article about The American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago. There was a review of the theory suggested by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University that last year’s (2014) polar vortex was indeed caused by the weakening of the jet stream, a result of the arctic warming 3 times as fast as the equator. This reduced the temperature differential that in the past had kept the jet stream less wavy and  our winters more moderate, broken up with periods of warmer weather. As writers in The Economist often do, they suggested that her theory needed to be proven in subsequent years. Well, this year we experienced “Polar Vortex II” in which February 2015 was the coldest one EVER in my part of the world, so take that skeptical Economist, Jennifer nailed it!

On a more enjoyable note there was also an article about research which shows that the more parents talk to their babies, the quicker the baby will develop vocabulary and ‘the better their intelligence develops.” It’s very cool and relates to how many words the child hears. And it is specific that the words have to be spoken to the child. For instance, having your baby sit between you and your spouse while you discuss Steven Hawkings “A Brief History of Time” and debate black holes doesn’t count.

I loved this article and it convinces me of why I have brilliant daughters. Their mother. I met Michelle in a high school classroom. I had gone to work on my Calculus homework after lunch because I was abysmal at the subject. My friend Linda brought Michelle to the classroom to hang out, and it was clear that Michelle didn’t need any additional work because she was smart. Michelle has proven this to me daily since 1975, including when we took a Calculus course together at Trent University in Peterborough. She got an “A” and I got a “D” because it didn’t seem to matter how well she explained stuff to me, my brain synapses just couldn’t fire properly to absorb it.

Which brings me back to our child rearing. It would be easy for me to say that I practiced this model of parental behavior by talking to my daughters when they were babies and toddlers. People who know me know would suggest that I am somewhat mildly verbose and would infer that this would have been the case. Obviously if I was changing a diaper, I would have chatted incessantly to my baby daughter. I’m pretty sure I did.

The problem is that our daughters were born in the first wave of video recording in which individuals filmed other individuals, as opposed to the second wave in which authorities film everyone else, often using drones. And so we are able to sit down and watch endless hours of our daughters as babies and toddlers and it is very clear who gets the credit for my daughters’ incredible intelligence. Alas, it is not I.

I did the bulk of the filming and in each case it is Michelle talking to our babies. Michelle changing a diaper while talking lovingly to our baby. Michelle sitting with our baby while reading them a book. Michelle feeding them while expanding their vocabulary. Michelle sitting at the dining room table as they got older working with them on math and printing and all sorts of other skills.

The bulk of the filming of me in my parental capacity was done on Saturday mornings when Michelle went out and I unplugged from our electronic publishing business and spent the morning with the girls. And intellectually, well, it’s not pretty. A typical Saturday morning play day, as filmed by me with the camera on the tripod is seeing how far the girls could leap from the couch to the cushions spread across the floor to break their fall. Or it may show a dance session with the girls getting an aerobic workout to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”. There is a great deal of fort building. Fort building in the bedroom under the bunk beds. Fort building in the living room with the IKEA couch cushions and a vast array of blankets stripped from every bed in the house. Fort building downstairs in the playroom of my office. Then there was the autumn ritual of building a pile using about 100 bags of leaves scrounged from the neighborhood, and the obligatory jumping on to the leaf bags from the back deck. And who knew that my oldest could push my youngest that high in a jolly jumper meant for solitary activity. Was that even safe?

Yup, it’s all there in low-resolution 8 mm living color. The reason that my oldest works at a educational institution and my youngest is working on her Masters degree in Applied Archeology is probably not due to my encouragement of their mini-mosh pit dancing to Robert Palmer’s “Might as well face it you’re addicted to love,” but in fact to Michelle’s sweet, adoring, never patronizing, talking with our daughters to help them develop vocabulary.

My daughters are exceptionally smart. They also have exceptional taste in music. I am constantly amazed by what great taste they have in music. I did that! Now that’s a real legacy!

Our eldest daughter has informed us that there will be a new addition to the family this summer and I, who still feels very much like a teenager myself, will become a grandparent. I’m going to have start practicising my proper grand child talk. No Tony Soprano potty mouth for this young one.  There will be lots of adult chat directed to the grandchild. And just the right mix of fort building. I’m going to focus on the fort building part.

P.S. My reading of The Economist is proof of the concept of “confirmation bias.” Years ago I would only have sought out the articles on climate change. Suddenly, the article on talking to babies was just as interesting!


Katie Archeologist

THE Workshop you NEED to Attend!

I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken about some of my former illustrious and numerous careers, especially in sales. I sold advertising in my uncle’s used farm equipment paper, radio advertising in Peterborough, television advertising in Kingston, computers in Hamilton, desktop publishing systems in Toronto, and then my own business in Burlington & Tamworth for 25 years. So hold onto your seat, ‘cause this is gonna get ugly!’ Because I want to fill up our spring workshop early. We sold out our fall one and it helps us to get a spring strategy the sooner it’s booked. Soo… long inhale… here goes…

So, this is… THE BEST WORKSHOP…. EVER! No, it really is. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. This is a fact. You can look it up.

We call it “The Hands-On, Solar Powered, Off-Grid, Personal Independence and Resilience, All You Can Grow, Ready for Rough Times Workshop” and that doesn’t even begin to explain how totally awesome it is.

It started many years ago as an offshoot of the renewable energy workshops I was giving at colleges. I focused on energy in the morning, then expanded on the independence theme in the afternoon to talk about food production and storage, transportation, water, alternative forms of monetary exchange … that sort of thing.

Eventually I began calling it “Thriving During Challenging Times” and one time at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton a few years back we had 75 people attend the workshop.

In those days it was all PowerPoints, and there were probably 300 photos in it, but I don’t always think that has the same impact. So we decided, hey, if we really want people to see how this is done, and know that you can really do this, then we need to have them come to the house to show them.

Now we’ve been offering it here for a number of years and every one gets progressively better. I appreciate the first people who came and we have used their feedback to continuously improve it. At the beginning I used some of my PowerPoint slides to set the stage for ‘why’ you may want to become more independent and resilient. I quickly noticed that people would start dozing off as early as 9:30 am during the PowerPoint presentation, and duh, they were here already, so obviously they got the “why” thing.

And now every time I present my workshop I further refine it so that people are just getting the essentials. You know how when you used to write essays in school the more you reread it, the more extraneous stuff you could take out and make it shorter? Well that’s what I’ve been able to do and so now there is less to absorb, just the essentials. I have lots more information if people want it, but I won’t put it out there if it just puts extra pressure on everyone’s brain synapses … because at 55 I now realize there’s only so much ‘stuff’ you can file up there. Now the daylong workshop consists of visiting various areas of our house while I explain the how’s and whys of our various systems and then allowing time for people to ask questions that are directly related to their own situation. I stay on message and answer quickly and if I think I haven’t got them what they want, I revisit it with them at lunch or during the breaks. ‘No one leaves with questions unanswered’ is my mantra.

You learn only the essential stuff and not some esoteric, theoretical concept you see on a screen, you see ‘IT.” You see what a kilowatt of photovoltaic panels looks like and what sort of lifestyle you can live depending on how many hours of sun you receive. You see what an acre and a half of cultivated gardens looks like and how much food it can produce. You see what’s involved with backyard chickens and what you need for a proper root cellar.

Michelle prepares wonderful food and people really seem to love sitting down for lunch at our dining room table and having a chance to talk to everyone else. I love meeting all these cool people. It’s a blast. It’s fantastic! I love these days! I’m totally pumped when they’re over!

This year our spring workshop will take place on Saturday, April 25. The cost for the whole day, which includes coffee breaks and lunch, is $120/per person. This includes two of our books, one of which will be “The Sensible Prepper,” hot off the press. We’re 2 ½ hours from Toronto, less than 2 hours from Ottawa, less than 6 hours from Boston and less than 11 hours from New York City. So there’s no excuse to miss it. Book a plane. Book a train. Fill up your gas tank. It’s an incredible value! The knowledge is priceless! Bring your parents … bring your adult children … bring your neighbor … tell your co-workers, tell your baseball team, let your homesteader wannabe group know about it, put it on your local bulletin board, post it on your Facebook page. It’s a really big deal! It’s that awesome!

Thanks for listening. If I have any blog readers left two days from now I’ll be shocked!

 For more information click here. To sign up for this workshop, email michelle at gmail dot com.


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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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