Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

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Missing this Blog?

Have you been missing posts on this blog? Please remember that it has moved and today’s new post is here; http://www.cammather.com/current-events/cam-and-the-shoe-factory

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We’ve Moved – New Post Up

A few of our subscribers here haven’t made the move to our new blog site. There’s a new post up today! Don’t miss it;

http://www.cammather.com/uncategorized/big-hard-sun-and-life-way-off-the-grid

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This Blog Has Moved

to http://www.cammather.com/blog

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Not Thriving, but Surviving Challenging Times

Just a reminder that this blog has moved to; http://www.cammather.com

There is a new post up today at http://www.cammather.com/current-events/not-thriving-but-surviving-challenging-times

If you want to continue to receive notifications of new posts, please be sure to subscribe at http://www.cammather.com. This is the 3rd and final notification that you will receive about this move.

New Post and a Reminder to Move Your Subscription!

Just a reminder that this blog has moved.

Today’s new post is located at;

http://www.cammather.com/current-events/y2k-meet-climate-change

While you are there, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts!

See yesterday’s post for an explanation.

The Evolution of This Blog

By Michelle Mather

Over 6 years ago (on November 14, 2006 to be exact) we began writing a blog and posting it on our aztext.com website. We had been told that one way to increase traffic to our website and improve our chances of being found by search engines was to post regularly, which also added content to the website.

Here’s that first post in which we spelled out what we hoped to accomplish with the blog;

We decided we have so many new and exciting things happening, a blog would allow our website users to keep up-to-date on where we’re at, where we’ve been, where we’re going.

Renewable energy is exploding into people’s consciousness as we begin to understand the limits to the planet, our message of following the correct path in terms of energy efficiency first, then implementing renewable energy is being embraced by many of our readers.

This blog is going to be maintained by a number of people involved with Aztext Press. This includes Bill and Lorraine Kemp, authors of our various books on renewable energy, and the publishers Michelle and Cam Mather. Both families live off-the-electricity grid, so have a first hand perspective on living with renewable energy.

We’ll also keep you posted on upcoming books and projects we’re working on.

We hope you find some helpful information and keep in touch with us here at the blog. Thanks for dropping by! “

We posted sporadically for the next few years (all available at http://aztext.com/blog/index.cfm?a=archives) Unfortunately our blog at aztext.com did not allow people to subscribe, and so in February of 2009 we decided to begin reposting our blogs on a Word Press site (http://aztextpress.wordpress.com) so that our readers could not only subscribe but also leave comments on our posts!

Then in March of 2010, Cam decided that he should have his own website, separate from the Aztext Press site, where he could not only expand the scope of the blog but also promote his books, speaking engagements and workshops. So we began posting his blog at cammather.com as well as the two other spots.

Eventually we began working with Mother Earth News. They have been very supportive of our titles and we have appeared in numerous issues of the magazine. They asked if we would like to post articles on their blogs under the banner “The Happy Homesteader.” Eventually they gave Cam his very own blog space on the Mother Earth News website called “Homesteading in Canada.” In fact, it’s pretty easy to find Cam’s posts on the Mother Earth News site – here’s the address; http://www.motherearthnews.com/cam/ We don’t put every new blog post up on the Mother Earth News site – just ones that we think are applicable to a wider audience.

As you can well imagine, having to put up our posts in 4 different locations (using 3 different blogging platforms!) is quite a challenge.

So we’ve decided to simplify our lives and consolidate our blogs into one space. Since Cam is the only blog writer (with guest blogs by me once in a while) we will continue to post our blogs on cammather.com. Our WordPress site won’t disappear, but we won’t be posting any of our new blogs on it. If you are a subscriber on that site (http://aztextpress.wordpress.com) you won’t be receiving notifications for new posts. If you want to continue to subscribe to this blog, be sure to visit cammather.com and arrange to subscribe there. There’s a spot at the top right-hand side that says, “Subscribe to Cam’s blog here.” It’s that easy!

We also won’t be posting on the aztext.com site anymore. The existing posts will remain but we’ll post a note asking readers to find their way to cammather.com to read new posts.

We’ll continue to post appropriate blogs on the Mother Earth News site, but as I mentioned, only a fraction of our posts end up there, so if you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit cammather.com to subscribe.

Thanks to all of you who subscribe and read this blog. We are truly appreciative!

 

Mad Max Mountain Man

By Cam Mather

Did you like that “alliteration?” Four “M’s” in a row!

I wrote about seeing the movie “Chasing Ice” recently. I said that it is a powerful movie and it is. In fact it is changing my behavior.

We didn’t get any snow here until December 21st. For the first 3 weeks of December it was quite mild. It was depressing. I grew up near here and I remember the lead up to Christmas as being cold and snowy.

Normally I would have put my bikes away by December. When I lived in the city I rode my bike year round, but here in the country our roads are pretty icy during the winter.  I once rode my older bike after the salt trucks had been on our road and what a mess it made of the bike! So I stay off the road in December. Well, during a usual December. Climate change is so great because it’s extending our cycling season!

Michelle was in town one December Saturday running errands and she brought back a DVD from the video store. It was an overnight rental, which meant it had to be back on Sunday or it would cost us another $5. Now we could have afforded the $5, but sometimes I just like a challenge. Getting that video back on the Sunday was just the challenge I was looking for. It was about -5°C (about 27°F) in the morning. It usually warms up during the day so I thought I would wait until the afternoon to ride my bike into town. I worked on firewood in the morning and there was quite a wind chill, but I had decided I was riding that DVD back to town no matter what. (Town is 13 km/8 miles on “the Mountain Road”.)

By 2 pm it was still 5° below and the wind had picked up. A normal or logical person would jump in the car, turn the key and burn gas to get the video back. Or just pay the $5 penalty. Even if I saved paying the $5 penalty, I would have spent that much on gas. So I was pretty much committed to riding it back.

The challenge is always what to wear. If I wear a winter coat I know I’m going to get really sweaty and then chilled when I stop. So I went with 4 layers with a windbreaker on top. I was fine from a core body temperature point of view; it’s always your extremities that get cold. And here I must confess that I “drove/rode” the electric bike. I know what you’re thinking, what a crock, anyone can “drive” an electric bike into town. The challenge is that the 26-km/17 miles round trip is about the bike battery’s limit on a warm day and it was darn cold so I was assuming this range would be reduced. Plus the bike is 4 years old now so I was assuming some degradation in range over time.

My other big concern was that the wind was from the east, which meant it was at my back on the way there. I hate that. I like to start out into the wind. I want the worst part of the ride at the start, then I know I’ve got the wind at my back on the way home when I’m more likely to be tired. If I started out into the wind and it was too brutal, I could just turn around. If I get to town and it’s brutal coming back into the wind, what I am going do, call Michelle and ask her to pick me up? Not likely. And I really find it takes way more out of you to ride in cold weather, or maybe I’m just feeling my age.

I took a balaclava for the ride home since I figured that’s when I’d need it riding back into the wind. Turns out I wasn’t five minutes away from home and my face was freezing, so I put it on. I also put on some old ski goggles that my cousin Dave had given me years ago. I hate watering eyes, so I had to deal with fogged up eyeglasses under the ski goggles instead. “You should get contacts!” suggested Michelle, but that isn’t going to happen, so I spent most of the time with my upper jaw stuck out directing my breath “down” or blew my breath out the sides of my mouth away from my face to keep my glasses clear.

It’s funny; I always wore a balaclava when I was a kid delivering the Globe and Mail morning paper in the winter. It seemed harmless. Now when I wear a balaclava I expect the black SUVs to arrive and rendition me or at least to be tracked by some government spy agency satellite. Cause really, riding a bike in below zero weather with a face mask and goggles on I look like a cross between one of the 4 horses of the apocalypse and one of the roving bands of hooligans on Mad Max, but without the motorcycle and weapons.

mad-max-mountain-rd-man

When I’m driving along on my electric bike at 29 km/hour (freezing my butt off) being passed by the odd pick up with “HEMI” emblazoned across the tailgate I wonder how the end of oil is going to affect people who so associate their self-worth by the cubic displacement of their internal combustion engine. And their weekend activities which also involve gas consumption in the ATVs and boats, and I’d say snowmobiles but even here in the north it’s not making much sense to own them anymore since there is less and less snow each year.

There are a few hills on my ride that I walk the bike up. My attitude is to save the juice for level ground. Plus I like to get my butt off the seat once in a while. My electric bike is a great bike, exceptionally well made, but it’s heavy. It’s got to be three times the weight of my road bike, which my cousin Dave also gave to me. As I’m pushing this mass of steel and lithium polymer up the hill I think about how much energy it’s taking, in the form of Michelle’s awesome granola. Then I think about how much energy is required to push our 2,000-pound Honda Civic up that same hill, and I’m blown away. Then I think about how much energy is required to drag a 5,000-pound F150 up that same hill, and I am terrified. Because I think as this cheap oil starts running out and people can’t afford F150s anymore, there are going to be a lot of pissed off people out there. Cause someone used to a “Hemi” engine isn’t going to be happy with a “lithium polymer” battery on a Schwinn electric bike.

I on the other hand, am ready to embrace the inevitable. Now I’ve just got to figure out how to modify one of those clear plastic protectors (from a snowblower) for the bike to keep me out of the darn wind in December.

Winter Solstice at Sunflower Farm

By Cam Mather

Remember when you were a kid and your friends would come over to your place after Christmas and you’d show them all the neat new stuff you got, like the BB Gun or the Lego set? (Note that there was no mention of socks or sweaters in this memory.) Well, consider this blog to be like that post-Christmas visit. It’s of little value in terms of sustainability, homesteading or renewable energy, but more just a post-holiday stream of consciousness.

We had a great solstice holiday here at Sunflower Farm. We experienced a brutally dry fall like much of drought-stricken North America. December was dull and warmer than normal, more like what November used to be like. We got some rain during December, which turned the unfrozen lawn into a mud bowl. Then 4 days before Christmas we got a huge dumping of snow that was fantastic! It made everything look so nice and clean and bright! And it’s helping to keep the house cleaner, since Jasper the dog is now running and rolling on snow, rather than on mud.

winter-arrives

We were pretty thrilled when the world didn’t end on the solstice (as predicted by the Mayan calendar) and even happier when our daughters and our daughter’s fiancé came home for the holidays. It was a great time. The only adjustment I have to make is to ignore the “whoosh” of the hot water tank coming on more often. I know, it’s a trivial thing, but when it’s just Michelle and me here, we use lots of tricks to keep the propane tank from coming on (see this previous blog post.) With five people showering and washing lots of dishes we heard the “whoosh” quite often. I guess it’s just a taste of how often hot water tanks would be used in most homes during most of the year.

Luckily we’re now into a sunny streak and the solar thermal unit is back to making hot water and we even have enough excess electricity from our solar panels to dump it into our diversion load hot water tank (explanation of our diversion load is here.)

I’ve become much more creative in terms of winter activities when there’s a gang here. We have two sets of snowshoes, which came in handy since the dumping of snow ruined any chance of having a rink to skate on this year. But the holidays seem to inspire overeating and a lot of complaining about too many calories being consumed and not enough being burned. I now use firewood as a defense against this.

This year when the gang began looking for physical activity, I was ready with the suggestion that there was wood that needed hauling, and since we were blessed with a fresh blanket of snow, we were able to get out the snowmobile sleds to use for our task. A huge tree had come down in our forest. Trees never fall at the top of a hill on my property, which would allow me to pull them “down” towards the road. Nope, they always fall at the bottom of a hill, so I get to haul them “up” to the road. This enormous ash basically fell down into a mountain valley. I would have loved to have left it there but it probably has about 3 weeks worth of heat in it. So the timing of the snow was perfect. I had debated asking my neighbor Ken to help me pull it out using his tractor, but instead I used “scrambled-egg-and-hash browned-potatoes-power,” provided to everyone at breakfast. Pulling these suckers out on my own would have been a tough slog, but with Katie and Dhruva on the rope, it was a piece of cake!

ash-up-the-mountain

I also decided to load them right into the truck, so we built a ramp and whipped them up in the truck in one fell swoop. These are not “liftable” chunks of wood.

ramp

I decided to take my pickup truck over to the wood but we had a good 8 inches of wet packing snow to get through. Katie comes home from the city, puts on her work boots and is all ready to split wood and get involved with country life. She wanted to drive the truck over to the woodpile. The truck has “aggressive” tires and is 4-wheel drive and has a standard (stick) transmission. Both of our daughters learned to drive standard because we drove a standard Honda Civic while they were learning how to drive, and they both drive exceptionally well. Katie hadn’t driven my “new” (to me) truck yet and since she lives in the big city and doesn’t own a vehicle she doesn’t get much practice, but she jumped in and was ready to go. After a bit of familiarizing with the clutch she was off to the races. As she plowed through the snow around one corner into a tunnel of snow-laden pine trees I was pretty sure that the truck was going to end up in the ditch, but she wrestled it back on track and got it there, no problem. Can there be anything more fun on a holiday than driving a 4-wheel drive truck through deep snow? I think not.

the-truck-haul

So all in all there was a fairly decent “calories in, calories out” quotient at Sunflower Farm. Jasper the Energizer Dog also enjoys the snow immensely. With the two more dumpings that we experienced, we’ve got more than a foot and a half now and he just bounds through it effortlessly. Sometimes I wish we had about 200 sheep for this dog to herd all day, because he just goes and goes and goes.

Jasper-the-Christmas-dog

There was a much higher thrift store component to gifts this year. Luckily our daughters appreciate “antique” and “vintage” and getting a bargain. I guess I was the worst for getting new stuff. As discussed in a previous blog post, there were two main items on my wish list. I’m confident that they were both purchased at a 50% discount. First was my “error code” reader, which will work on both my car and truck. Both of my vehicles seem to display the “Check Engine” light on a regular basis. When you live as far from the nearest garage as we do, this will be a time/carbon/money saving investment, and it was only $35. The second item is a chain saw chain sharpener and I’m pretty excited about it. I sharpen my own chains with a file most of the time but periodically I take them to a local small engine repair shop to get them done professionally. Now I have the tools to do it myself, I just need to take some time and learn how to do it.

cams-new-toys

So that’s about it. No insights or major revelations here. Just the rhythm of the holidays… eat, haul firewood, eat, read, eat, stoke the fire, eat, do dishes…

The snow turns our place into another world. It insulates and deadens any sounds which just makes it all the more special. I spent the entire holiday in a cycle of loading wood, and cutting wood, and shoveling snow and playing Frisbee with Jasper. I have completely forgotten about my former city existence. There was no last minute shopping. And even though there were huge sales after Christmas, I had no desire to get out and buy anything. I have firewood to keep me warm. I have a chain sharpener to keep my saw blades cutting efficiently. I have “enough.”

* * * * * * *

Thanks to Ashley, Dhruva, Gerrit, Neil, Ruth Ann & Tracy for your donations. Thank you for showing your appreciation of this blog! (Donation button is located at cammather.com)

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 27,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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