Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

How I Spent My Recent Birthday

By Cam Mather

I recently celebrated a birthday. Thanks for all the nice greetings on Facebook! I can say “Well I’m 51 now so I don’t expect anything special” but I love being “The Birthday Boy.” Mostly I like an excuse to eat debaucherously (is that a word?).

I’ve now renamed my celebration “Birthday Week” so that I can eat all of my favourite unhealthy treats for a full week. This included purchasing a box of Sugar Pops cereal from Canadian Tire (the former tire/hardware store that now sells food in some locations – if you can call ‘Sugar Pops’ food) and experiencing a sugar “high” for my entire birthday week. I used to reserve sugared cereal as a Christmas treat, but I’m expanding that now to include my birthday week. Taking this to its natural conclusion, adding in Easter, summer holidays, and national holidays from every country and religion on the planet, I should be eating Frosted Flakes everyday!

I’ve also decided to take my birthdays off, or at least out of the office – not that I don’t enjoy my time at the computer. Now lots of people would use a birthday as an excuse to finally try sky diving, or fly to Hawaii, or horseback riding lessons. This year I decided to spend my birthday building a shelf. I know! No one can say that I don’t know how to live life to the max!

Using my solar-powered chop saw

I know what you’re thinking… “But Cam, you’re an environmentalist … you’re constantly ranting against needless consumption and acquisition of material possessions that all come from the earth, why would you possibly need a new shelf?” Point taken. I’m doing my best to stop buying “stuff.” But it turns out that when you run a publishing business you end with a lot of books to store. And when you have a huge garden and save your own seeds, you end up with a whack of boxes with seeds and assorted paraphernalia in them. The seeds are all in reused jars and packages and most of the boxes come from  the grocery store, but they accumulate none-the-less.

My neighbors Don and Debbie Garrett run a sawmill where they make custom trim and molding and flooring. They end up with lots of ends and scraps that they don’t use which are up for grabs. Having obviously lived a life of depravation in a previous incarnation or having inherited my grandfather Fred Micklethwaite’s genes, I’m a horrendous scrounger and can’t stand to see anything go to waste. So whenever the pile gets big enough I take a run down and fill up the pick up truck. I have several piles of this scrap lumber on my property now and use it in various ways.

Here’s some really nice wood that I’ve set aside for a grow light with 3 shelves that I’m going to build this winter.

The small stuff from Don’s makes amazing kindling. When you heat with a woodstove it’s pretty handy to have some small, dry kindling to get the fire going. I use some of the wood scraps for things like tomato or garden row stakes and some of the bigger stuff is useful for building stuff with. I even used some of Don’s scrap wood to build a little shelter for my rototiller near the garden.

So from an environmental perspective, my new shelves have no impact. The wood is scrap. I cut the wood with my solar-powered chop saw. I drill the screw holes with a battery-powered drill, charged in my solar powered house. Well. I did have to buy a few new screws, and for that I apologize.

So I spent my birthday cutting and drilling and screwing and ended up with a new shelf in our shipping room so that I can stop falling over boxes whenever I need to find some seeds. Oh it isn’t pretty, but that’s not my style. I call this style of furniture “Backwoods Rugged.” I have no doubt that soon people living in upscale condos in major cities will be requesting my work!

Using my solar-charged drill


There’s nothing better for providing a sense of accomplishment than building a set of shelves and cleaning up a huge disorganized mess when you fill those shelves up. And they were free! I saw a smaller set in the Canadian Tire flyer for $80 this week. I saved $80 on my birthday! And had pizza and Dr. Pepper even though it wasn’t Friday. How great is that!  Best Birthday Ever!

Finished shelves but still empty

I’m not sure how I’ll be able to top this on my next birthday. I watch our cats climbing on my maple tree out back and I see those crazy multi-tiered climbing “trees” in the pet store flyers. I’m thinking maybe I can make my own. The beauty of making stuff with wood like this is that fact that the cats can scratch the heck out of them and I don’t care. Go ahead kitty … give it your best shot … make my day. There’s more wood where that came from!

Finished shelves all filled up

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  1. Larry

    Good job Cam. 🙂

    What? No snow yet? I’ll send you a few feet. 😉

  2. Cindy

    I enjoyed the snowflakes once I realized I wasn’t haven’t a migraine! Nice shelves!

  3. Lisa Pedersen

    nice work Cam!
    and happy birthday to you!


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