Cheap Solar-Powered Haircuts and Eating My Own Masterpieces

By Cam Mather

Back when we lived in the city and had a real income I used to get my hair cut by “Tony” at his shop. Tony was a great guy and he and his brother Dominic had a good little business going. By the time I left Burlington my haircuts were costing me $25. I didn’t mind paying it. Tony had a family and living is more expensive in cities, and he always offered me his homemade wine. Of course I never drank it, so I guess I should have asked for a discount.

When we moved to Tamworth I started going to “Karen’s Country Cutz”. Karen did a fabulous job on my hair and she charged $8. No really, eight dollars! But then there was a fire in the store next to hers on the main street of Tamworth and there was some damage to her place. Eventually she started working from her cousin’s home which is about 20 minutes south of town and working fewer hours and it was getting harder and harder to make an appointment with her. So I came up with the brilliant idea of asking Michelle to cut my hair.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Michelle had attempted to cut my hair. She had taken a few shots at it years ago when we bought one of those hair clipper sets when we were in “pay off the mortgage” mode. We actually have some video of our daughters when they were very young squealing with delight when Michelle had one of those “oops” moments. And really, what one word do you NOT want to hear when someone’s cutting your hair? Because there’s really no turning back. Not at least with my hair, which is short. I still remember one of my customers in the city teasing me mercilessly about the bald spots I acquired during one of Michelle’s haircuts.

I was willing to give it another shot so during a few of my haircuts with Karen I asked her to coach Michelle on how to cut my hair. I certainly didn’t expect Michelle to be as good as Karen, who is a trained professional, but just in the ballpark was all I was after.

The big challenge is that once Michelle gets those shears in her hand she had a tendency to make like every movie you’ve ever seen where someone joins the military and they have their heads shaved. She’d just start at the top front and start blasting to the back. So Karen showed her how to cut up on the sides and back, and then do that thing where she pulls the hair on top up between her fingers and then cuts it with scissors.

And now Michelle is giving me great haircuts! And I’ve gone from spending $25 to $10 (I always tipped Karen) to spending zip! And I don’t have to drive anywhere! And those buzzing shears are solar-powered like every other appliance in our house!

It’s great that I hardly leave the house these days so having a fancy haircut is no big deal anymore, but it’s nice to know I can get a great cut anytime I want. And it’s FREE. Every time we’ve put up another solar panel we’ve reduced how much propane we need to buy, on our way to our goal of zero. Every potato that goes into the root cellar in the fall is another trip to a grocery store we don’t have to make. Any time we find another way to not spend money it’s like finding a $20 bill in your pocket, only you keep finding it every month… and it’s a great feeling!

* * * * *

On a completely unrelated subject I want to show you the earrings that our HelpXer Melissa from Philadelphia gave to Michelle. They are tiny books, and there’s actually paper and a cover and they’re properly, professionally bound! Melissa specialized in book binding when she did her Masters of Fine Arts and now she makes these tiny books. They are very cool. Melissa has just opened an etsy shop selling her beautiful earrings at

Melissa’s miniature books would look great on Michelle’s miniature shelf. My mother gave the shelf to Michelle years ago and Michelle has managed to fill it up. The shelf is actually an old lead type drawer in which each section would have had a font in a specific size for the production of printed materials, back when printing was done slowly, on a press, where the type was handset and the people setting the type went mad from lead poisoning.

Our daughters were also into miniature stuff, and they spent hours crafting amazing things out of polymer clay. Our friend Joe Ollman used to produce little books at “WAG PRESS” The books were about 4”x 4” square and drawn meticulously by Joe, then printed and hand bound. He charged some crazy price like $2, which probably didn’t cover his costs, but he wasn’t in it for the money. I guess some artists aspire to a higher cause. I don’t get art, but I loved Joe’s books, especially the little drawings he had in the lower corner so that if you flicked the pages it looked like a cartoon because the image on each page changed a tiny amount so there was perceived motion.

I think at this point in history many people who grow food on a small-scale share this same essence of a higher level of purpose in doing it. Sorry to drone on about my blueberry bushes, but really, I spent $200 on bushes this year and it will take me, what, a decade before they’re paid back? What sense does that make? It’d be way better to just stock up when the commercial ones come to market. And in the winter, buy the ones flown in from Chile.

When I present one of my gardening workshops, I end it with a series of photos I’ve taken over the years of some of the best vegetables and fruits I’ve grown. They are blemish-free, gorgeous, untouched by chemicals, organic, artistic masterpieces. As I scroll through them I point out that I can’t paint, (i.e. art, as opposed to rooms) I can’t draw, I can’t sculpt, I really have no artistic abilities whatsoever. But every year I create these amazing masterpieces. Unfortunately they don’t last for long, unlike most other masterpieces. My masterpieces get eaten. And really, what else is there? We need to eat to survive. Eating healthy, local, organic, beautiful food is the ultimate expression of art appreciation. I’m off to the strawberry patch to admire my strawberries. They are the most beautiful thing I ever seen! Well, since my record crop of raspberries last year. Oh, and the broccoli from the year before. And those…

A bowl of this year’s strawberries

Photos by Cam Mather and Melissa Jacobson

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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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