My Recent Reality Checks

By Cam Mather

Once again I’d like to thank everyone who reads and comments on the blog. Yesterday I had one of those personal epiphanies thanks to our reader Amy. She was commenting on the video blog that we posted about how our chickens had faired this winter. She wrote:

“What a great video! I’m sitting in my cubicle, working and saving for our move to the country, and this was totally inspiring.”

Reading that comment was like being slapped in the head. A good, wake-up sort of slap in the head. First off, it was nice to get positive feedback about a video. They are actually a lot of work. After filming something I use Final Cut Pro to edit, which involves watching the video through and setting “In” and “Out” capture points to grab short bits of video. Then I have to sit while it replays it and saves it into a QuickTime file. Then I have to pull them all into a timeline and add titles, music, fades… etc., etc., etc. Then I have to figure out which of 11 million formats I should use to export it to so that it’s optimized for YouTube watching. So I appreciate it when someone leaves a comment and makes it all worth it.

But really, what was even better was the thought that someone had enjoyed it while working in an office. I think it’s human nature to feel that the grass is greener somewhere else. “It would be way better if only I was…” “I’d be happier if…” I suffer from this. I also struggle with going to the dark side. So often when I’m zoning out in the garden or hauling firewood on sleds in the winter, I suddenly realize that I’ve been dwelling on something toxic. That’s when I say to myself, “Really Cam? You’re in the woods, in the middle of paradise, doing exactly what you always wanted to do, but… someone makes more money than you, or slighted you, or has a much nicer vehicle than you, or… or … or … What is your problem? Smarten up!”

I fight this impulse, but it’s always there. In the words of Bruce Springsteen “There’s a Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Heck, even when he was rolling in cash and everything was going his way, Tony Soprano went to the dark side.

I’ve been much better at staying positive ever since Michelle had to deal with breast cancer a year and half ago. That was the ultimate wake up call to reality. I find I am worrying less and less about the little stuff and enjoying everything I do way more. It’s easy to forget what a gift this all is until you get that wake up call.

My recent temporary job helping my neighbor Don in his wood shop (which I called the saw mill to be more dramatic) was a huge dose of reality too. After 25 years of working for myself it was really hard to get out the door by 7:45 am. It sounds crazy since I’m often in my home office earlier than that, or during gardening season I’m in the garden much earlier, but it’s on my terms. To everyone who reads this blog and has a job where you have to get to work at a fixed time, you have my huge respect. You’re amazing. It’s hard! It’s an amazing thing you are doing. Way to go! How do you do it? (Michelle likes to remind me that at one time we both headed out to work at jobs outside of the home and never thought anything of it. I guess the problem is that once you have worked for yourself, it’s hard to go back to that way of life.)

And then Amy wrote the comment about reading the blog from her office while dreaming about a life in the country. A life we have. It’s almost like you need that reminder that some people would love to be doing what you’re doing to make you feel better about it. It’s twisted logic, but it works.

Now don’t get me wrong. It isn’t all wine and roses out here in the country or in being self-employed. Book sales still aren’t where we’d like them to be. I’m still having challenges getting our eBooks ready to be uploaded to resellers. I’m getting a little stressed thinking about everything that needs to be done in preparation for our CSA this summer. And I’m working through the logistics of how to make the chicken coop a little bigger this spring so that we can add a few more chickens to our flock. I really need to build that greenhouse that I’ve been talking about for a few years but can’t seem to wrap my head around. And I’m way behind with next year’s firewood. The pond has about 1/3 of the water that it usually has by this time since there was so little snow this winter. Yup. So many problems. So many things to worry about.

On the plus side, I get to cut firewood from my property this weekend! And the garden will get planted and the chicken coop will get built and more chickens will arrive and the CSA will be successful. And I’ll figure out someway to get enough water to keep the garden green this summer.

Today the sun is charging the batteries and powering the house. And we’ve had enough sun that we have 3 water tanks full of hot water, none of it heated by fossil fuel, all heated by the sun. And we live in a time of fantastic health care and technologies that allow us to keep in touch with the outside world from our place in the woods, and we have vehicles made of steel and rubber than can transport us in minutes, distances that took our ancestors hours or days to cover. I get to buy tropical fruit from Kim and Larry’s grocery store in town and tonight I’ve reserved George Clooney’s movie “The Descendents” at Tim’s Village Video store in town which I’ll watch on my TV that is powered by the sun (stored in my batteries during the day).

And really, what else could I ask for? People appreciate my videos because they show a place and a way of life they aspire to. A place like where I live and how I live right now.

Yes, Cam, you professional whiner, just shut up. Shut up and soak in how good you’ve got it. Cause it’s pretty great. And every day it gets better! Thank you blog readers for reminding me of this.

watercolour of house sunflA Watercolour of Sunflower Farm by local artist Barry Lovegrove

7 Responses to “My Recent Reality Checks”

  • Mike the carpenter:

    Hi Cam,
    Your blog reminds me of a conversation I have on a regular basis with my brother. He lives on 17 wooded acres situated on the Chippewa river. He gets frustrated that jobs in the area pay less than half the same jobs pay in bigger cities and that he has to drive 45 minutes to get to work. I offer to trade with him every time he brings it up. I live in a deteriorating suburb of Milwaukee paying rent that would more than cover house payments in his neck of the woods. And that 45 minute drive of his? It takes me longer than that just to get across town. But instead of the beautiful scenic view of the river and woods he has, I’m stuck in a smog encrusted traffic jamb on the freeway.
    I know he has a hard life getting by and that the work is never done when you live in the country–but what keeps me going is the hope that some day I can exchange my living arrangement for one like his, or yours.

  • Heidi:

    Cam, I think you are discovering “The Middle Way”,
    thanks to Michelle (and the Zen Master Sunflowers).

  • Cathy:

    No matter what we are doing, we have the choice to think positive or negative. It is an act of our will. Some people rant as a way to vent, and think through stuff. Others pig out, pull a poor pity me, or suck their thumb. If is tough on our body when we choose to stress out. Physically and mentally your body gets a boost of adrenaline, more acid in your stomach, our brain gets stuck on a bad broken record (or a tape on replay)it’s a physical/mental power surge that is not good for the curcuits. Dirt is my therapy.

  • Rick:


    I think many people would envy your way of life. I know I do.

    It’s not about stuff, or money. If you can keep a roof over your head, stay warm in the winter, keep the water flowing, organic food on your table, and if you have good health, to me that’s all that matters – some good friends or family is a plus too..

    I’m still working on making my transition to the small scale farm, though I need to sell some real estate first – which is taking along time in this economy. But, I have plan, more than I can say about most.

  • Thanks Wendy! Glad you enjoyed today’s post. We don’t mention it very often, but Cam and I homeschooled our 2 daughters for 6 years. We loved every minute of it and our “girls” who are now 25 and 23, have fond memories of those years learning at home! ~Michelle~

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Welcome to human nature Cam! Maybe you should do video rants like Rick Mercer, except with a chainsaw or wheel hoe in hand. All about homesteading, simple living, renewable energies, country life, life with no cash flow, peak oil, climate change, etc. Well, maybe not all at once. But seriously, consider a regular video rant.

  • Wendy Clark:

    Thank you Cam for this blog. I subscribed to your blog a few months ago and it’s now the best part of getting email. I needed your topic for today. I spend too much of my time complaining (mostly in my head) that I hate living in the city, getting frustrated waiting for the day we sell our current old monster home (too big for 3 people), dreaming about farm animals, bigger gardens, smaller homes with solar/wind power, and on and on. Today I’m going to remember that I am incredibly fortunate that I have a house over my head with heat, that I have a modest garden right out my front and my back door (we ripped up the front yard so I could have more veggie space–my husband calls it the ‘yarden’), that I am fortunate to be home schooling my son and spending time learning with him and most of all that I am a homemaker! Gee, sounds pretty dreaming on paper! In just a few months the work of canning will be here again, the sun will be warmer, and I will be outside ever day in my ‘yarden’ weeding and watching everything grow. What a gift. I forget that I get impatient with winter, but really I will enjoy the downtime to plan for next season, to quilt a little more, to make a few extra dish rags for myself and gifts during the year. Thanks Cam and Michelle for your inspiration, especially today!

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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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