Tag Archives: work

Blissfall days

I had the best day today not building stairs.

I did all kinds of other things that needed doing, but not The Thing.  And those tend to be the best days.  A friend visit, sitting companionably with pet birds, and doing frost prep in the garden that’s going to sleep now under a thick blanket of mulch.

Two perfect fall days, crisp and bugless and sunny, and instead of the harvest pressure overwhelm, holding a sense of ease and “enough”-ness.

I may also be getting more sleep due to the shortening days – that may have something to do with the bliss.  It’s almost the “it’s either done or it’s not done, full stop” time, when you walk away regardless of “done”.

When I create any sawdust, the chickens are like “For me?! Don’t mind if I do!”

I could be all-seasoning my garden, but instead I’m putting it to bed.  Getting more out of the year will come later.  As I take in the late beans, etc, I’m thinking about all the things I’ll do different next year (More watermelons.  And orange and yellow tomatoes), the mistakes I’ll correct (plant melons later, they don’t like it cold) .  There’s always next year. It’s easy, and pleasant, to look forward to what will be bigger and better with the lately earned experience and knowledge, and it likely will.  But it’s nice to look back and recognize for a moment that it is better, now, than it was.

I’ve learned to garden some.  I grew cabbages.  I have a garden shed now.  My beds are really getting in order.  I’ve experienced the joy of sweeping a mulch blanket off a bed and finding it ready to plant.  No-till is awesome.  “No-work” is a crock of….  There’s a great deal of work, mostly upfront, and then the quality, weedless bed must be maintained – kept covered when not in use like a jar of milk, lest it grow unwanted things.

The Silkie chicks are at it too. Pepper perch!

Maybe it’s coming with age (or the decline of energy that, once boundless, must now be budgeted) .  I’m getting better at rationing my ambition.  It won’t all get done at once, or nearly as soon as I’d like to.  Given enough time, it will.  And it will be better along the way if I aim low.  Instead of how much can I fit in, I’m starting to think more like how little can I get away with planning to do?  (Oh, the tyranny of a plan!) I’d love to paint the house.  It needs it, blah blah, but hell, it can wait!  It will be great when it gets done, but not worth the weight of grimly determining to do it.  I’m not going to put that on a mental list yet, because it will be heavy there.  I’m choosing the lightness of unscheduled, and any time unscheduled is a win.  The time gets filled, with good and productive things, even things I might have planned, but it’s sweeter when it’s not on a list.  (I’ve known this forever.  It’s still elusive prey).

I’m thinking about my successes and gifts of the year, what I want to tweak: how I can spend more time with my friends?, hoping I can share out part of my greenhouse, how to ration out my time? (half a day seems to be the best maximum for focusing on any one project), will this be the year I finally get potatoes in the ground at fall?

How can I escape the September crush?  Because it’s bad.  Bad for me.  I want to never feel like that again, and it has been part of the annual routine since moving here.  And that, I think, is part of the adjustment that comes with diving into the farming life (along with, you’re going to suck at everything at first and make big mistakes).  I’ve got to find a new rhythm.  But I grew brussel sprouts, so I can learn to adjust my rhythm.  Give me time.

This off-grid life

Off-grid is just the way we live, so I tend not to think about it at all, let alone how it’s different.

When I am struck by how living off-grid is different, however, is when I’m at someone’s else’s house, and I turn on the tap, and hot water comes out.  That startles me.  It’s that easy to just wash a dish?!  I’ve already forgotten.

Definitely, there are many ways to live off-grid that preserve many or most conveniences.   You can still have hot running water and plugs in the walls, but it has to be accomplished differently.  That’s not our way.  We prefer it to be really hard (joking).

We are on the very primitive end of the off-grid spectrum, partly because we are just getting started out here.

It’s a work-in-progress for us, trying to find a balance between livable convenience and dependence (on fuel/complex systems).

There’s a reason why ready electricity has become so pervasive it’s practically assumed to be a human right:

Electricity is damn convenient. 

Nearly everything runs on it.  Rarely does anyone think of having a home without electricity presumed to be part of it, just there, in the walls.  You’re really in trouble if you get so hard up they turn the power off- wow.

Other life supporting systems of the house depend on it – running water, heat, sump pumps.   And almost all the lifestyle supporting systems require power – fridge, stove, lights, freezer, telephone, tv, computer, tools.  Farm and industry absolutely depends on electricity, to water and milk livestock, run machines.

I had to sit here and think about that list just now – What are all the things assumed essential in modern life? – because we live without plugs in the walls and that presumption of electricity.   I forgot “lights” at first.

That means a compromise for every single thing.  It has to be done without or had from a  different source.

Different power sources:  

Mostly, batteries – stored potential electricity – are our number one alternative source.  Lights, phones, computers, the internet, all run off batteries.  These get charged off our solar panels, or the generator, or when they are plugged in other places in the world.  Rechargeable batteries are in constant rotation (Eneloops rock).

Tools other than cordless, like a table saw, need the amperage only the generator can supply.  Turning on the generator is a minor event.  It starts with one of us announcing the forthcoming use of the generator:  “I need to vacuum/charge my computer/make some cuts”.  Then all the things, and their associated wires, must be gathered up and plugged in in the charging area, to take advantage of the time that the generator is on.  Plans are made:  “Well if you’re going to have it on anyway, then I should vacuum, and transfer some files to my (AC dependent) external hard drive. ”  It’s not a bad thing, to have to turn on the genny once in awhile.  Every few days, it runs for an hour or two, maybe less.  We can go a long time without it during periods of sun.

So far so good.  We watch movies on our rechargeable laptops, don’t stint on the internet, use only cell phones and battery lowered lights.

Water and Electricity

Everything to do with water is where we get into the afore-mentioned primitive nature of our situation.  Water is heavy.  It takes a lot of energy to move it from place to place.  Exactly how much energy is quickly forgotten when it’s being done by cheap and readily available electricity, and quickly remembered once you start moving it around by hand.

First, pump it up out of the ground, an essential job usually done by friendly neighbourhood electrons.  Because lifting water through the air with a pump is an onerous job, rainfall is very abundant here, and the well usually goes dry briefly at the end of summer, I’ve become a nut about catching rainwater.  There are more elegant ways to do it, but I’m at stage 1- buckets and barrels.   This is not a good look. Buckets everywhere.  And it’s work- cleaning the buckets so the water stays clean, storing and readying them, filtering the water.  But less work, to catch water off a steel roof than carry it across a field.  In the winter, this turns to clean snow and ice collection, and melting.

We people use a lot of water.  Drinking, preparing food, washing the things, washing ourselves.  The chickens consume a lot of water.  Pigs, even more.  Cows drink huge quantities, transforming so much of it to milk.  When you are intimately involved with all the water that you use, because you catch, hold, transport, pump, heat, or melt every drop, you use one hell of a lot less than when it just flows past you from tap to drain while your mind wanders.

The other aspect of electricity and water is the hot water heater, which is generally forgotten in the basement until the bottom rusts out and it empties on the floor and you become glad you are renting, or wish you were.  Hot water an option with a flick of the wrist.  On-demand propane is an awesome alternative to that hot water heating behemoth, and the usual choice for the off-grid life.  We have an ideal one that we use for showers, but it is not yet integrated into daily life.  By that I mean, hanging it on a tree by the well, and one person showers while the other pumps, is not “well-integrated”.

I am definitely looking forward to moving up to stage 2 or 3 vis a vis water and hot water – more sophisticated water collection and supply – gravity feed, or solar, low volt pumps, and truly on-demand hot water.  It won’t be hard to get more sophisticated than buckets, but this bit of convenience requires an investment of work we have not yet had time for.

Doing without: 

At the moment we are doing without only the fridge and freezer.  While this means we have no problems with a superfluity of old half full condiment bottles cluttering a fridge, the lack of refrigeration in the summer is sort of tedious and I am very much looking forward to a root cellar. And a neighbour has given us a nook of space in his freezer.  That’s where the pesto is.

What are the costs of living like this?

Energy is a requirement for us furless people.  We need structures, warmth, to cook our food, and we’ve decided we like to communicate.   All of which require energy these days.  Our dependency on energy is immutable, but living off-grid, the dependency is shifted some from electricity to other.  Chiefly wood.  Our heat is 100% wood.  Next, propane, to cook, and to create electricity with the generator.

Our not-the-hydro-bill costs are fuel – a small amount of gasoline for the chainsaw to cut the firewood, infrastructure costs- the genny, the panels, charge controllers, batteries in the bank (these are all made elsewhere with energy from other sources), and propane.

Our propane costs, for cooking, water heating, and powering the generator, have averaged less than $35 a month.  I think that’s ok.

If we had to, we could live without these things too- go back to the axe and Swede saw, walk to someone’s house if we want to talk to them, but that would make life very, very different.  We would really no longer be living in the world the way it is now.  It would be hard to get a job, let alone show up to it, and communication with anyone outside of a 5 mile radius would be impossible, not least because you’d be too busy at home making candles.  That’s an extremity I’m really not interested in.  For a modest price, we can still mostly participate in the wide, evolving world.  Using less energy, from different sources, we still have the opportunity to get outraged at the Oscars and watch cat videos.

It’s amazing to think that not so long ago – all of that energy, for shelter, water, food, and communication, was ALL accomplished by the metabolism of food to physical energy.  Everything was made with hands – carried and chopped and hewn and grown and harvested, and communication was face to face.  First the harnessing of steam, then electricity and fossil fuels, and everything has changed, including the world, to the degree that the planet looks different from space.

Now, we think of the cost of physical movement and work as “time”.

Time is one of the costs of our off-grid life.  To do the dishes, I have to boil water first.  Every morning, I heat up water for the hens and move wood around.  I spend time messing around with things, daily, that many people never do.   That time is freed for them.  The electricity is in the wall and water in the tap.

There’s a lot of complexity behind the scenes required to deliver water to a tap- a different application of time, in my opinion.  Time to build and maintain the delivery system throughout house, property and municipality, time to build and maintain the grid that creates and  sends the energy from dam to meter, time spent working to pay the bill for both those things…

Comparing it, would some of us be better off to just carry the water?

The advantages are short and sweet.

No power bill.

The power never goes out.

No in the wall wiring, therefore zero risk of bad wiring, old wiring, or short circuits causing fires.

Quiet.  There is no ever present electric hum of appliances.

No poles, no wires looping through the scenery.

One less drop of energy consumed from coal or hydroelectric infrastructure.

Some might say there is no electromagnetic radiation from the constant movement of electrons through wires.

No power bill.  Ever.

Happiness II: happiness under duress

I’m trying to restrain myself from doing a Miltonesque Happiness Lost, Happiness Regained stunt, but I knew this was coming- the failure of the dam of habit, structure, and support; the inundation of stress.  I know that Happiness Recovered is coming too, thankfully, on the other side of Lost.

Due to reduced hours, awareness, and deliberate care, I’m hitting the wall in the last week of April instead of the first, but still, the wall is here.

It feels like I got a hoof in the chest, or I’m under water, with my rib cage squeezed so I can’t draw a full breath, which gets tedious day after day.   At work I fight vomiting half the day, and my inability to do simple math or focus on words on a page spawns horror at the mistakes I might be making and puts my last energy into concentration.  My woodpile scratches are not healing, and sometimes my throat gets sore and feels like it’s shutting, in a matter of seconds.  Kinda weird, how something that’s all emotional can play out so physical.

I swear, my stress-coping machinery has been savaged, god knows how or when, exactly, so I’m just not equipped to manage stress, real or imagined.  Knowing it’s imagined doesn’t help. Continue reading Happiness II: happiness under duress

Rudderless

All I want to do now is play outside.  Aka, yardwork.  Cleanup, cleanup, cleanup, the Sisyphean job you inherit with a new place that lasts, oh, pretty much ’til you leave it.   I started out today raking up my “front lawn”, a bucolic task pleasantly accompanied by Saturday CBC.  But pretty soon I was digging out ancient plastic that was laid down at some point in the past in lieu of landscape fabric (I guess), then I stepped on a wire and discovered it was one protruding inch of 6’ of chicken wire under 6” of dirt, totally enmeshed with the roots of the tree it was by.   By the time I’d wrested that from the ground I was bleeding, sweating, and filthy, so I figured I’d just keep that theme going for the rest of the day, moving from random task to random task until the light and my energy finally fade.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is my favourite way to work.  It’s how I want to live, actually.  Barefoot until November and moving constantly from thing to thing as I’m inspired to do it. Continue reading Rudderless

Another year

My birthday is next week, and I think birthdays are more suited to the reflection, self-assessment, and resolutions normally saddled on the “New Year”. As I’ve said before, I’m pretty damn happy with myself and my life exactly where I am today. Maybe I wish I was a little bit younger with tougher joints and more money?….well really, no. I am where I am, and that’s an amazingly awesome, successful place. Since it’s not about the arrival, anyways, but enjoying the work towards something you care about. So what is there to work towards that I care about? What fronts of life?

Relationship? Dante Shepherd’s opinion notwithstanding, most of my experience with relationship can be succinctly summed up with the two words, “epic fail”. On the other hand, I love being alone; I revel in it. I care less than I ever have about having a man at my side. I think that means I’m stronger emotionally or something; that I stand alone more peacefully every day. I’ve certainly never been happier.

Money? Well, money flows through my life like a wide, fast river, but it doesn’t pool anywhere. I just don’t think I’m suited for RRSPs or savings accounts. I always seem to have enough, and I can always earn more when it runs out, but there’s never any in the bank. I fantasize about the feeling of “security” of savings, of plans, of always earning the money before I spend it, but in my imagination, that feeling is just not appealing enough to put off the things I want to do. When they become available to do, I seize the day, every time, and the dollar be damned. I know when I want to change this philosophy badly enough, I will put my shoulder to it like everything else and change it. But for now, I just don’t want to badly enough. So that can be filed (with relationship) under “would be nice; no investment of energy planned”. Continue reading Another year

Eventually

I had a big pre-snow afternoon.  The temperatures are hovering 2-5 degrees above zero at night now, and the snow is close enough now to be imagined covering everything, so now is the time to clean the yard of anything that you don’t want to have to deal when it melts next year.

My main goal of the day was to mulch the potatoes that I’m leaving in the ground, and also to take down my upside down tomatoes that were becoming very unsightly.

Here’s how that went.

First I need to put the trickle charger on my battery but before I move my truck I should load in the stuff I need tomorrow, and to do that I need to unhitch the trailer, and then I see the compost is full when I’m looking for a wrench to undo the battery. I might as well dump the compost on my way to the garden, and there’s also garbage; I might as well load that up too but the bags are ripping, and on my way to get more garbage bags I see some plastic by the side of the garage that should go to the dump too and then the whole side of the garage is piled with wood and ancient tires and garbage that were here when we moved in, and I sort and load all of that junk and move the wood into the scrap wood shed, and then I notice a snarl of fencing and barbed wire to drag to someplace better, and then when I move the tires to the tire pile, I see some more plastic in the woods and follow the trail of garbage that some bear dragged away and distributed long ago, and then if I’m loading up for the dump now I might as well address the old slash pile, and clean up the old wood and berry brambles on that, and after that, then I should move all the ash so the burn scar could rehab to grass, and for that I need the wheelbarrow.

That’s the first time I got near the garden, because that’s where the wheelbarrow was.
Continue reading Eventually