Posts Tagged ‘Current Events’

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.

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…

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.

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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?

Wonky Websites and the Sunflower Farm Family Expands!

Sorry if the blogs have been a bit wonky lately. There are a variety of factors at work.

The first was our move to a new host. I’m pretty sure most of us have had the experience that anything technology-related is fraught with potential ‘challenges’. When you realize the complexity of the internet today sometimes I’m amazed that anything works at all.

We’re paying a new host where our website actually resides on the web. We switched to GoDaddy which Michelle has been using for years. I was very excited about this because Danica Patrick is my favorite NASCAR driver. Well, she’s the only driver I know, but I’m a huge fan, even though I don’t watch too much car racing.

We use WordPress to create our website, and over the last few weeks our website keeps getting hacked. Sorry if you’ve gone to read blogs and they were bizarre. Well, they are always bizarre, but in this case the hackers left their mark and wrote crazy notes or left bizarre graphics. Really? You people don’t have anything better to do with your time? Now we’ll have to pay for anti-hacking protection. Sigh…

The good news though, is that we didn’t really notice this for a bit because we’ve been distracted with becoming grandparents … again! We are now twice as old!

“Sophee” was born to our youngest daughter at the end of January and we consider ourselves to be doubly and infinitely blessed. Mom and baby and Dad are doing great and we are thrilled. We drove through the Greater Toronto Area (aka GTA, aka The Deathstar) to see her the morning she was born. I stayed overnight and Michelle stayed there for 10 days while I came home and manned the fort … or fed the chickens as it were. With wood heat and pets and chickens to feed, our place is not well set up for lengthy times away, especially at this time of the year. We have propane heat backup but I hate using it for so many reasons (which I will cover in an upcoming blog.)

That was the longest period of time that Michelle and I have been apart since we were married, 34 years ago. I know, it sounds pathetic, but we’re not the types to take separate vacations … or vacations at all for that matter.

It’s kinda awesome when Michelle is away for a few reasons

  1. I get the La-Z-boy chair! We should have two but can’t fit another in our living room because apparently in 1888 farmers weren’t spending much time in front of the idiot box so they didn’t consider that when they built the place.
  2. I get to eat pizza every night! First I bought one on the way home from visiting Sophee, then when it ran out I made one, from scratch, dough and all. It turns out that it was a stupid idea because now Michelle knows I’m not the helpless ‘pizza-dough-challenged’ individual who pleads with her every Friday night to make pizza.
  3. I get to watch all those movies like “Black Hawk Down” that she doesn’t want to watch. The pets often find new places to sleep when all the stuff is blowin’ up because I don’t hold back on the volume.

It is quite bizarre though to be here alone since our little piece of paradise has been a shared experience for almost 20 years. Yes there are ‘2 cats in the yard’, Jasper the Wonder Dog and chickens who love me … especially when I’m delivering warm mashed potatoes to them, but it’s not quite the same. Our family uses “WhatsApp” to communicate and there were regular updates on Sophee’s progress, but it was still weird to be alone.

While I was home alone I got to help out with our grandson, who now lives closer, so we were doing the whole grandparent thing full bore. It is a privilege and we really do feel blessed to have healthy grandchildren who we can spend time with. It very much puts what’s important back in to focus.

It’s such an exciting time for us and also a huge distraction from what’s going on in the real world out there, so it’s a really great way to avoid focusing on some of that negative stuff. This is hard for me.

Our Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had campaigned on electoral reform which meant changing our “first past the post” system which saw his government form a majority with 39.5% of the popular vote. This means that more that 60% of the people who voted didn’t vote for the government we got. It’s kind of similar to when presidents lose the popular vote but win more electoral districts.

Anyway, the Liberals had campaigned on this when they were in third place, then they got elected with 39.5% of the vote and said “Well, we think everyone is pretty happy with the old system so even though we had this committee talk to experts and Canadians and even though the committee said we need a system of proportional representation, well, we’re going to break our promise.” It was a deceitful, dishonest, cynical thing to do and because I heard the Liberal candidate in every All Candidates Meetings say, “If you elect Justin Trudeau to be our Prime Minister this will be the last election with first past the post.” I found it pretty infuriating. So as Nathan Cullen, who was on the electoral reform committee said, “he lied.” But apparently they think they can get away with it, so they did it anyway. And you wonder why some people don’t bother to vote.

Sorry, but I took this one kind of personally because it would have helped the Green Party.

On a happier note, my grandson has this great coffee making toy set and he makes great coffee and he pours in the coffee, then the sugar, then the cream, and says “Thank you” constantly which is hilariously cute. I could do it all day.

So I shall stay focused on my family. Michelle and I will try and figure out how to keep the blogs from getting hacked hourly. And the world will continue to unfold the way it will whether I’m paying attention or not.

Thanks for listening.

Post-Climatic Stress Disorder

(I wrote this in the fall, hemmed and hawed about posting it, then watched the news last night and decided it might be relevant).

I was watching images of the people dealing with the latest weather catastrophe to hit the south. And yes, I know that you can’t chalk up one weather event to climate change, but I figure now that ABC News has a whole section of videos on their website that I access through Apple TV called “Extreme Weather,” you have to start wondering sometimes.

I have a friend who knows someone who was in the middle of the crazy evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta last May, when wildfires forced the entire city to bail out. The videos taken by people fleeing the fires are pretty horrific. My friend says that this person is suffering from PTSD. I think that’s quite possible. If you’re not used to fleeing a raging wildfire that is threatening your life, then it’s probably a pretty jarring shock to the system.

Several months after the wildfires and billions of dollars in damages later, Fort McMurray was hit with flooding. They got months’ worth of rain in just a few days, after the drought that had caused the wildfires. Again, it just kind of makes you wonder. In 2016 the Canadian insurance industry had the highest payouts ever.

We experienced a drought here last summer. It was brutal. It was depressing. It was excruciating. But it didn’t play out over a longer time frame. It wasn’t two hours to “Get Out of Dodge.” It was all day, every day, for 4 months. It started in May, carried on into June, July and August, and we still got next to no rain in September. We can call it 5 months.

And the heat. Toronto set a record for more than 90 days with the temperature over 26° (79°F), which meant that I worked out in the sun longer than I ever have in temperatures that were usually 30°+ in the shade and 45° in the sun. I hate summer. I really do.

I think we did an amazing job of producing a basket of produce for our members last summer, every week, for 16 weeks, during the worst drought to hit these parts, well…ever.

So I started asking myself, can you get PTSD from a slowly occurring event? And if it’s related to a changing climate, is it “Post Climatic Stress Disorder?” Nothing blew up near me, there was no firestorm, no flood, and yet, somehow I felt quite dazed and drained by the experience last fall. At least with a flood, the waters my recede in a week or two. But I had to spend all day, every day, for 5 months, watching my vegetables struggle. They were all stressed, all summer long. There was no respite. There was never a drenching rain where I felt I could stop watering and irrigating for a day. Not a day. It sucked the life out of me.

I won’t do it again.

At least not in a CSA format. I’ll grow food, but I won’t ever put myself through that again. Michelle and I grow great food. We (she) organizes the CSA exceptionally well. But we can’t do it well without some help from Mother Nature, and she appears to be increasingly uncooperative when it comes to creating optimal conditions for many human endeavors, like growing food. I don’t blame her. We’ve kind of been using her for a dumping ground of fossil fuel burning waste and she’s getting a bit of a fever and she’s pissed. I’d be too. I’d start making the weather erratic too if I were her.

I read a book a while back before I started running for the Green Party called “Don’t Even Think About It.” It’s about how people react to climate change. One of the situations it discussed was what happens when you talk to someone who has just experienced a natural disaster that may be connected to climate change. If you point out that this disaster was probably caused by climate change and ask them if they will change their lives in any way to deal with climate change, more often than not their response will be, “I just want to rebuild my home, rebuild my life and get things back to the way they were.” It’s totally illogical, but I get it. Let’s just rebuild and hope it doesn’t happen again. Until it does.

So I have been putting myself in that situation since our drought last summer. Am I guilty of saying “I just want to get everything back to normal, and I don’t want to focus on climate change right now?” And of course all summer that’s what I wanted, to get back to normal, which meant some rain. I accepted the dead lawn. I accepted the death of hundreds of dollars and years worth of work on blueberry and raspberry bushes, because I couldn’t spare the time or water to save them, but just a bit of rain may have helped a few other things.

But the more I thought about it, I had already taken action, my post traumatic climatic shock response, prior to the whole thing becoming so darn personal in my life, and creating havoc with my life this summer. I got out in front of it as it were. “Pre Climatic Stress Disorder.”

Michelle and I learned running for office is incredibly time consuming. And we did it provincially and federally for the Green Party. It sucks your time, and your energy and your spirit. And by the end of the federal election I was really questioning it. What the hell I was thinking? Why put so much effort into something with an outcome that does not have a Hollywood underdog sort of ending. The best you can do is hope to just move the dial a little further towards something actually being done for a threat that holds so much potential for so much grief for so many people.

The Canadian government signed the Paris Accord and has made commitments to start reducing CO2 levels. They are way too conservative. They are totally inadequate to meet the Paris targets. But at least they are talking about it. At least they are seen to be doing something. And Canadians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we will have a price on carbon and it will make fossil fuels more expensive.

The CSA eventually ended. We got rain several days after it ended in October. Obviously.  We’ve had precipitation this winter. I’m hoping the ponds will fill up again. It’s actually freezing rain right now. I think I’ll go out in it and get soaked and shiver and raise my fists in the air in rage and scream “Where were you this summer you useless rain gods?” Might as well try for a Hollywood cliché ending whenever possible. Look for video footage of my rant coming soon to my YouTube channel.

The Plague Comes to Sunflower Farm

“I don’t get sick.”

Ever know one of those people who says this?

Or “I don’t watch TV.”

What? I love TV! I watch as much as I can!

I was one of those ‘I never get sick’ people, but I hope I didn’t brag about it. I felt incredibly blessed to be able to avoid a lot of stuff. I think it helps that I still have my tonsils. So many of my peers got them surgically removed as children, Michelle included. Quite often, I would just suffer through just a sore throat, while Michelle got the full blown cold.

But once our kids were grown, and out of the house, we both managed to avoid getting colds and flus. We’ve led a pretty isolated life here in the bush. And when you aren’t and about with other people, well, it’s just easier to avoid a lot of bugs.

Then we had a marvelous, amazing, joyful reason to leave our little piece of paradise enter our lives. If our grandson doesn’t get up to see us we drive to see him, minimum once a week. And you know, when your 18-month-old grandson who spends time at daycare wants to come and hug you and have you pick him up, you just do it. I’m finding it physically impossible to NOT kiss those cheeks, regardless of how snotty that nose is.

Welcome to Germ Land. Let’s just see how good your immune system is ‘Campa’. (Michelle came up with that … a combination of Cam and Grampa!)

Turns out my immune system is not so good.

We both got a cold before Christmas but by the time the “kids” arrived we were feeling better and had a great time with them. Perhaps it hadn’t actually gone away, but we were just too determined to let it spoil the fun.

So after the kids cleared out a couple of days later the cold came back to Michelle with a vengeance. I was starting to think I had licked it in Round One before the holidays, but no such luck. It came back again for me a couple of days after it hit Michelle.

Michelle actually went to see her doctor, which she is loath to do, and the doctor suggested that she had a touch of bronchitis. I think that’s a code word for a wicked evil bug that you just need to shut up and get over because they don’t have a clue to beat a cold bug.

Today is January 19th and we’re both better but still have the occasional cough.

While I was sick I would have a good day and think, well that’s it, I’ve gotta get some fresh air. One night we had a blizzard so while I was feeling fine I snow blowed the driveway and pathways, I did firewood and I shoveled snow away from the greenhouses that are bending in because of the volume of the darn stuff this year. Later that night I lay on the couch shaking with my legs aching, coughing like I had TB, hot one minute, freezing cold 10 minutes later. What the hell was this thing? It wouldn’t leave me alone.

Ever look at a smart phone and marvel that it has way more processing capability than the computers that put a person on the moon? Ever wonder in amazement at what humans are capable of, then realize that these microscopic little viruses are way smarter than us? They can mutate and pass along information to circumvent a body’s immune system, just marvelous, marvelous stuff. And you know, they are going to be “the last man standing.” When we’re gone they’re just going to step back and be giving germo-high-fives all around. I wonder what they’ll do then, when they don’t have humans to torment? And will they really be that happy about wiping us out?

In my book “The Sensible Prepper” (available here) I suggest that people should watch the movie “Contagion”. Not necessarily from the pandemic perspective but from the what happens when lots of people get sick, or jurisdictions starting closing borders to slow down the spread, and economic activity grinds to a halt and how quickly store shelves go bare. After this cold bug I don’t think I can ever watch that movie again.

This bug has reminded me how much physical effort our low-carbon life really takes. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but with this bug wheeling a load of firewood into the house using the hand cart feels like climbing to Camp 2 on Mt. Everest. And that 25 kg (55 lb) bag of chicken feed that needs to be dragged in from the barn, well, it may as well be a small car because it feels just as heavy and I will be just as winded when I’m done. Then I’ll sit and pant and breath like Darth Vader and cough like I’ve got whooping cough, because it sure feels like whooping cough. My stomach and chest muscles will ache from coughing. I’m not sleeping very well, and I’m not that hungry. At what point in our evolution did some trait to take away your hunger, just when you should be eating to stay strong to take on the infection, become dominant. Evolution sucks!

I’m feeling much better. And each day that I am healthy and invigorated I will be grateful for good health. It’s easy to forget to be grateful if you’re just healthy all the time.

Soon I’ll head down to the city to see my grandson. And he will have picked up some new horrible thing my underdeveloped immune system has never seen before, and he will come tearing down the hall squealing with delight, and he’ll make sure to pass along some of that new thing. And for the joy that boy has brought into my life, it is absolutely worth it.

Sorry if I’m droning on about my grandchild, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the contract when you become a grandparent that you have to do this. I’ll try and contain myself in the future.

 

 

My Prime Earning Years

Happy New Year everyone. Time for resolutions about being a better person, making better choices, blah blah blah.

This fall Michelle and I did a lot of soul searching about such big life questions. Mainly about how to earn an income … or whether to earn an income … no, that’s not fair, it’s really about how to earn ‘some’ money.

I had an opportunity to take a job in the city and it was a tough choice. It would mean a real income, and it wasn’t a bad gig. The challenge was the drive, and the inability to live our lives the way we’ve become accustomed, which is to strive to have as little impact as possible and to produce as little carbon as possible. As soon as you turn that key in the car every morning that goes out the window, in a big way. As does the net-zero wood heat, because we’d end up having to burn some propane to heat the house and cook, and as I discuss in an upcoming blog, I’m loath to do that.

So here I am, at 57, in my prime earning years, and not prime earning. Well, now that the CSA is over and we haven’t got other things rolling, not earning at all.

This is supposed to be terrifying, and there is the odd moment of that. Those retirement financial ads do wear you down a bit. But then I think, it seems like a crappy way to live a life, work until you’re 60 or 65 and hope you live long enough to come out ahead of the pension fund or financial instrument that you paid into all your life. Oh, and you most likely didn’t head to work all happy and cheery every morning. Most of us can be pretty miserable with the whole work thing, so you travel during your time off, and flip your cars every 3 years because it’s a huge distraction. I’ve been doing the same thing for almost 20 years and I never tire of it. I just have to leave my front door to get a smile on my face living where I live.

I blame our frugalness for our current dilemma. We got very lucky, bought a small house at a reasonable price in 1987, worked and saved like crazy and paid it off in 1996, then bugged out of the Greater Toronto Area, or “Death Star” as I often refer to it, in 1998.

So for almost 20 years I’ve lived in paradise, grown a ton of food which I love to do, and cut and heated with firewood from our 150 acres. Really, it’s been pretty awesome. We’ve been livin’ the dream. During this summer’s drought we were livin’ the nightmare, but crap like that happens and you have no control over it. I have been getting better every year at accepting those things that I cannot change and trying to see the bright side to every situation. This summer I was forced to invest in several water pumps which I had always meant to do but which human inertia had stopped me from doing.

Last summer when we hinted that we might give up on this blog we heard from a lot of people who still enjoy it and wanted us to continue. We’ve had kind of a spike in people subscribing since then which is nice too.

We’ve also had a number of people tell us how many people would love to live the way we do. The challenge is we have to try and monetize this blog or figure out how to make some money from this.

The challenge with the internet is making money from content and it’s really quite tough. I also know that so many of the places I visit on the web kind of tell the same old story over and over or focus on just one specific topic. If your theme is the coming Zompocaplyse, and it hasn’t happened, for say the last decade, then your blog gets kind of stale. Our blog runs the gamut but basically comes back to life off the electricity grid and our perspective on the mad mad world we live in today. As world events and technology and my perspective changes, so does the blog. With the number of subscribers who’ve stuck with us for a long time, this seems to be a model that people like.

So with this in mind Michelle and I are launching two new businesses. The first is “Simple and Practical Websites”.  https://spwebsites.ca/ For years Michelle has been doing our websites and others for friends and associates using “WordPress” which is a free, online web development tool. Now we’re going to promote it.

The second business is that we’re going to do the whole B&B thing with Sunflower Farm which we kind of started a while ago but then got distracted with running a CSA and stuff. https://sunflowerfarm.ca/ We’ve decided this is a way to take some of the interest the blog nurtures and allow people to come and check out the place. It also lets people get a better perspective on how we really think, since I read Edward Snowden’s book and just watched “Citizen Four,” the documentary about him, I radically self-sensor myself on-line. Sure, I’m a shiny happy guy all the time, but there is the odd moment when I let myself slip.

So the deal for the next little while is this. I’ll keep posting a shiny happy ‘life-off-the-grid, sustainable independence, homesteading is awesome but here’s the reality’ blog early in the week. Then later in the week I’ll post a ‘here’s what we do for a living and if there’s a fit with what you’re looking for … someone to do a basic website … a place to visit and really check out off-grid living … then here’s why to come to Sunflower Farm.’

This way you can ignore the second weekly blog if you don’t want hopeless commercial interruption. I will endeavor to keep this second blog entertaining. In fact I’ve already scoped out some of our “theme” weekends/workshops and they are A) Pretty Funny B) Pretty Awesome C) Pretty Ironical D) All or none of the above. (‘ironical’ is actually a word, even though most people just use ironic)

The thing with the second blog post is this. If you’re following this blog because you have some interest in country living, as I’ve said all along the challenge with ‘livin’ the dream’ is ‘earnin’ an income’. So this way you can follow along as I try to shamelessly promote how we do it and you can see if it makes sense for you.

Worst case scenario when you read the Thursday blog you can write a tirade about why you didn’t subscribe to this blog for an on-going sales pitch and how you are officially cancelling your subscription in outrage (you know, the FREE subscription) then I’ll write a biting/witty response about how we’re not livin’ in some communist republic and how we’re still in a capitalist world and how I’ll pitch my dam wares any time I want. Or not.

So stay tuned. Fun stuff to come!

Shopping Downtown – on Princess Street in Kingston

I love shopping downtown. Especially at this time of year. What a cliché really. But how can you not be nostalgic at this time of year?

I suppose I am getting a bit cynical in my old age, like when I hear the Christmas song lyric about “children listening to hear sleigh bells in the snow,” which sounds pretty awesome until you realize that if you lived in a time and place where people got around in sleighs in the winter, you probably wouldn’t have any time to celebrate Christmas because you’d be spending all day feeding animals and cutting firewood to try and not to starve and freeze to death, and trying to avoid getting polio and TB and based on the mortality rate, well, you’d be dead by now anyway. But other that, ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

I don’t really ‘shop’ anymore, but Michelle and I do spend a bit of time on Princess Street in downtown Kingston. We’ll get a few photos of our grandson developed (Hey Cam, 1983 called and wants it’s ‘non-digital actually printed color photos that you can put in album’ back!). We’ll visit “Tara Healthfoods” and hope they have some of those Montreal style wood oven baked bagels that aren’t necessarily healthy but are awesome anyway.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA   www.downtownkingston.ca

Photo courtesy of Downtown Kingston! BIA www.downtownkingston.ca

Forty-five years ago I actually did ‘shop’ on Princess Street. I was just a kid. I had a Globe and Mail paper route which was a morning paper. So I’d be up early (in the dark in winter) ride my bike to the mailboxes (or pull a sled), load up 40 or 50 papers and deliver them. The subdivision was really spread out so it seemed to take a long time. The Globe actually published on Christmas Day, so after we opened our presents I went out and delivered papers. It wasn’t until later in life when I started reading enjoying the Globe myself that I realized how much people must have liked getting it, because I got lots of $5 and $10 tips, which in the 1960s to a 10-year-old seemed like an awful lot of money. Apparently I wasn’t charging enough for home delivery. If I’d have known then what I know now…

One year I came up with the perfect gift idea for my mother. She had a few souvenir spoons, like the kind you’d get when you went to Niagara Falls. So I realized that she ‘needed’ a souvenir spoon holder. I trudged up and down Princess Street in pursuit of this, the most perfect Christmas gift, EVER! I found one and I purchased it with my own money, that I earned, getting up at the crack of dawn to deliver papers. So it seemed like a pretty big deal. Since Mom would have driven me downtown I’m not sure how I hid it to get it home, but she seemed to like it. It looks tacky as hell to me now, but hey, I was 10.

There is something very special about strolling on Princess Street with its Christmas lights and decorations, in cold weather, and if we’re lucky, with snow flurries. It really harkens back to another time. A time when “main street” was the life of a town or city. Where merchants lived in your community, served in government, or local service organizations, and gave back to the community where they earned their money.

Most North American cities have had the life sucked out of their downtowns. There has been a giant sucking sound as big box stores vacuumed shoppers to the outskirts to buy stuff made in other countries. I get it, it’s how capitalism works, but it’s doesn’t mean I have to think it’s necessarily getting any better.

Princess Street in Kingston though is an anomaly. It has a vibrant downtown for a number of reasons. I think it has a lot of people who think like I do and like patronizing stores where they know the owner. Kingston is a popular tourist destination so the downtown gets very busy in the summer with tourists. And Queen’s University, with it’s 22,000 students, is within walking distance of downtown, and since most students don’t have cars, they walk to where they can shop.

It’s interesting to watch the metamorphosis Princess Street continues to experience. The Zellers and Woolworths where I shopped as a kid have been replaced by dollar stores. The higher end and more fashion centered retailers like American Apparel, H&M and the Gap have moved further north on the street, closer to the University.

When we moved back to the Kingston area almost 20 years ago I had been listening to a band called “Weeping Tile” on CFNY in Toronto. I knew it was a local Kingston band and couldn’t find the record anywhere because the record label had just gone under. So a record store called “The House of Sounds” got Sarah Harmer to drop some CDs into the store so I could buy them. It’s hard not to have a connection to Princess Street.

I just read a book called “Trash” written by a woman who grew up in Kingston around the same time I did and she talks about going to a smoke shop on Princess Street so her grandfather could buy tobacco and she could buy comic books. I bought comic books at that store! And I saved them, later in life hoping that someday they’d be my retirement fund. Then eBay came along and it turns out lots of people saved their comic books, so apparently none of us are going to retire on what they’re worth today. I still have them for sale if you’re interested!

The holidays remind of us connections with people and places. Princess Street reminds me of my mother. I remember her dropping me off at the Stafford Music Center once a week for my trumpet lessons. I can’t smell cigarettes today without thinking of Stafford Music Center, because apparently musicians like to smoke. And I stopped playing trumpet as soon as my parents let me, another career door slammed shut.

The times I shopped on Princess Street as a kid were full of happiness and promise. My parents kept me warm and fed so I never thought about money. Life was just about possibilities. Heck, no one had even heard about carbon back then, or AIDS, and no one I talked to ever mentioned the threat of nuclear annihilation, so it was pretty blissful.

My daughter, son-in-law and grandson moved back to Kingston. When he’s older I look forward to taking my grandson shopping on Princess Street. As is required of old people, I’ll regale him with stories of what it was like when I was his age. How I used to get up at 5 am and deliver papers in weather so cold it froze my eyelashes together (true story) and then had to get home and eat Red River Cereal (which was really just what we’d call birdseed today) and then walk 2 miles to get the bus … uphill … in both directions. And like all smart grandchildren he’ll roll his eyes and give me that “Grandpa, you’re full of crap” look. I can hardly wait!

I hope you have a lovely downtown street to shop on and you can enjoy the same warm feelings about the holidays that I enjoy every year. Happy Solstice!

xmasgreeting2016

 

 

They Shot a Movie Once…

I got a chance on Wednesday to spend the afternoon with my daughter and grandson. My son-in-law was out of town on business, so I went down after my grandson’s afternoon nap to hang out with them.

We started at the Kingston Penitentiary where they are shooting a movie. Since the band The Tragically Hip are from Kingston, and they have a song that starts with the lyrics, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown…” I felt that it was synchronistic and cool to check out a movie being made in Kingston. Does that make sense? Actually a lot of movies are made there, since it is very old (in North American terms) and was once the capital of Upper Canada.

Kingston Penitentiary was built in 1935 and considered Canada’s Alcatraz. It housed the baddest of the bad and closed in 2013. The movie “Alias Grace,” based on a book by Margaret Atwood, is about a young woman housed there in the early 1900s after being convicted of murder. The great thing is that the movie is a joint production between the CBC and Netflix, so I will get to see it eventually! I remember I loved the book when I read in 25 years ago … in my novel reading days.

They had dumped dirt on the road over top of pavement in front of “KP” (as Kingstonians call Kingston Penitentiary) to make it look like it would have a hundred years ago. It was a long walk to get there since there were so many roads closed around it. My grandson, who is now walking and prefers to not be stuck in a stroller is also not able to focus on long distance walking. Every blowing leaf and empty recycling box (which made a great stomp-like drum) is a new source of wonder. In front of KP he was mostly interested in the lumps of dirt. I share his wonder with soil but was I distracted by whole movie-making process.

movie-set

After we were done we visited my Dad, my daughter’s grandfather, and Liam’s great grandfather. What a wondrous time we live in when 4 generations are sometimes around to enjoy each other’s company. My father marveled at Liam’s dimples. Liam marveled at the 6 remote controls on the coffee table. Everywhere else that Liam spends time, these types of gadgets have long since been moved to higher places because regardless of how many brightly colored, BPA-free plastic toys are around, cell phones and TV remotes are always way more interesting in his opinion.

After dinner I was playing on the living floor with him at one point and he brought over a book (Six Little Chicks, a gift from Michelle) and sat on my lap wanting me to read it. At his age he has about a two-minute attention span for books, but I must say, I melted when he snuggled in wanting to be read to.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, this all took place the day after the U.S. election when so many people seemed off-kilter … even Canadians! Admittedly it had been a raucous and pretty brutal election, and I hope that the message the electorate sent was simply one of dissatisfaction with the way the status quo is unfolding. Based on that, I’m supportive of the results. Message received, hopefully.

But in a world where the zeitgeist of the day seems to be negativity, “us against them”, it’s that ‘they’re the problem’ or whatever, spending time with a child is delightfully distracting. My grandson is happy and content. Every day he gets up with a bright, unclouded view of the world. Every day is going to be a great day. He doesn’t have any negative baggage. If he had done a face plant on the sidewalk, and I hadn’t been able to stop the fall, I’d probably still be feeling great guilt, but he’d just be ready to chase leaves again, holding no grudge. As a grandparent I’d like to see him walk around in a one of those giant plastic balls you see people rolling around in. With a football helmet on. Alas, this does not seem to be a practical way to go through life.

I love my daughters very much, but I don’t seem to be able to remember very much from when they were this age. I was working long hours getting a business established, being involved with the local environmental group, being on the city’s “Sustainable Development Committee” and trying to pay bills. It was a time of sleep depravation and stress, and those wonderful moments that children bring to your life can be overlooked when you are so overwhelmed.

I think the difference with a grandchild is that I only see him about once a week so I have pent up affection and enthusiasm that I have a brief opportunity to shower on him. Then I get to leave and have a great night’s sleep.

The love of grandchild is a wondrous, powerful thing. It’s the kind of thing where you want to move mountains for them to have the same quality of life that you’ve had. Or run in an election for a party that probably won’t win, but that might move the dial on the need to deal with climate change a little further to the “Action” zone. No one likes to lose, especially in an election where the outcome seems so important. It is a depleting, exhausting activity.

My grandchild is teaching me to be positive everyday. To value the important things in life. To get over the slights against me, or the actions of others I may disagree with, and focus on all that is good in this amazing world of ours. To be grateful in the moment. I am giddy at the thought of spending time with him. There is no joy greater than getting a grandchild to smile. I love him fully and completely.

Only love prevails.

walking

 

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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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