New moniker

We don’t really think of ourselves as wilderness adventurers although, to some extent, each day seems to end up being one.  And we sure as hell don’t think of ourselves as dooms-dayers or survivalists.  We are too happy for that kind of pessimism and not sufficiently well-armed or togged out for that kind of apocalyptic dystopia.

Mad, perhaps, but not Mad Max.

I suppose I do accept the moniker of off-the-gridder.  Pretty hard to deny that description given the title of the blog.  But, honestly, with the exception of lacking a dishwasher, a microwave and ‘shopping convenience’, we are pretty comfortable and definitely living a relatively modern lifestyle.  We got Netflix, fer Gawd’s sake! Picked up a smart-phone even!

No, really, we’re really pretty normal.  Mind you, I have slowly adjusted to thinking of myself as semi-rural. That is a significant adjustment.  I admit that.  That reclassification was somewhat prompted by feeling a bit out of place in the new urban environment but I can still think, speak English and drive a car so it is not like the city has become an alien landscape.  We fit in.  Kinda.  OK, the car is pretty old and battered and I don’t own a suit or tie anymore…………….but I can fit in the city on casual Fridays at the very least….OK, in the bad part of town.

I mention all this because Jim Cobb has just authored a new book titled Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide (Food, shelter, security, off-the-grid-power and more life-saving strategies for self-sufficient living).  He’s an expert, it seems.  And Jim has pretty much categorized people like us as ‘Preppers’.  Seems we are preparing for the end of the world as we know it – acronym: TEOTWAWKI.

I suppose he is right, in a way.  Although we are NOT really preparing for the end of the world, but we are preparing to live in a manner that is different than we KNEW IT.  I wasn’t all that keen on life in the cul-de-sac and I am much more interested in this way of living so Jim is right – to that extent.  We ended the life as we knew it.

But he is a bit extreme.  He envisions a world (society) that has collapsed in an apocalyptic heap and that we are all forced to live locally, frightened and completely deprived.  And he may be right.

But I see it differently.  I believe the world will continue to do as it has done and that is bad enough.  It means more people, more rules, more controls, more pollution, more work, more stress and the gradual elimination of the natural joys in life.  I see further erosion of families and communities.  Greater environmental degradation.  Stronger and sicker corporate psychopathy.  I see an increase in BIG Government and the quasi-security, control-state.  I see people essentially confined to cities and basically being programmed to live Matrix-like lives where their level of personal skills have diminished to the point that they can’t live without their systems.  And don’t want to.

Admittedly that view is not unique.  George Orwell and a number of other famous writers have had the same vision but, for the most part, there have been outliers in their prophetic visions, people who swam against the current, broke away, went off-the-radar and, of course, also went off the grid. To that extent, we are those people.  We are Preppers.

But so long as I do a bi-annual shop at Costco, use Craigslist and buy most of our food from Save-ON, we are really just Prepper-wannabes, prepping to prep…preppies, if you will.  I just don’t think we are THAT far out there.  I think we are aspiring to normal healthy living despite being forced into a somewhat extreme minority category by doing so.

 

 

It is all about pace…..

We are home now.  Thank God!  Twelve days away and ten of them spent ‘a-buildin’, two in all-day transit.  Our neighbours (our age group) went to Victoria as well.  They went down to have high tea with the Lt. Governor at the Empress.  One day of travel, one day of pomp, tea and ceremony and one day home.  “We’re exhausted!”

Admittedly, ten days on the work site is easier to take than ten hours of pomp and ceremony but the point is that the last two weeks were pretty fatiguing.  But satisfying.

We did good.  See pics (don’t look too closely).

Team Cox

Team Cox

A dead-end laundry room was converted into a nice workable little kitchen.  A back wall was opened and the little windows replaced with older French doors.  The ‘age’ of the house and the doors is in sync.  Looks original.  A deck was built off the French doors and it is fantastic.  200 square feet of pleasant outdoor space sans the prodigious amount of backyard dog-poop ubiquitous to the rest of the yard.  In effect, we built a space to get above it all.

The kitchen was re-wired and is about to be re-plumbed – we only got half of that done.  And a small standing-room-only laundry closet was added by taking space from the little workshop.  It was wired but remains not-yet-plumbed.

BEFORE  (no AFTER pics -- too tired to think)

Before (No after pics — too tired to think of it)

The old floor in the lower portion was torn up and the new flooring was purchased.  It sits awaiting getting laid (something we can all relate to).  Should be easy (something we all hope for).  But it never is (something we are all familiar with). So, we’ll just have to hear about the affair afterwards (something all too common in this crazy world).

The W’fers came back with us and are in greater demand than ever.  Interesting how that goes……………..

When W’fers come, we usually tell others so that the W’fers can experience another Canadian family situation if they so choose.  Plus, we rarely have more than a week of project that we are going to tackle at any one time so W’fers for a longer time is burdensome for us and boring for them.

Not so this trip.  This trip we worked the ‘boys’ pretty normally and filled their bellies pretty well for about ten days and then we took them to Victoria to help us with our little reno.  Basically, they built the deck.  And that took them 3/4 of their time down there but they did get to ‘bank’ some time for the future.  Should they go back, they have a free place to stay.

We brought them back here because a neighbour had a small project and gave them the keys to his cabin.  So they get their own place for a few days.  And then they go to another neighbour who should keep them half-busy for another week.  The schedule runneth over.

But, it gets better.  Two neighbours hearing of the success of this W’fer experience stepped up and the ‘boys’ have at least two more weeks of W’fing opportunity available to them if they want it.  Sounds as if they do.  This small corner of Canada is having a major influence on two young men and – if I do say so myself – it is a good one, I think.

IMG_20140727_171243654_HDRAt the very least, they are pretty proud of themselves over that deck.  And they should be!

More partial

Deck almost done…should be today.  Electrical almost done…should be today.  French doors almost hung…..should take weeks.  Then to plumbing and kitchen cabinets.  Then to constructing a closet.  Today is Wednesday.  We go home in four days or so.  Gotta pick up the pace.  Gotta pick up my feet first.  Everyone working well together…and I don’t wanna push that.

A contractor’s life, eh?

One small blessing – the building supply store is just a few blocks away.

Actually, we are getting into the ‘workday’ swing of things.  Somewhat.  We don’t feel like quitting until it’s 5:00.  Must be generational muscle memory thing or something, but I had to drag Sal off the work site at 5:00 only to have her practically fall asleep in the car as we headed back to where we are staying.  Memories of pre-retirement, I guess.  Let us hope that fades quickly once we are home.

Basically, we are ‘wingin’ it.  Can’t really plan until you see the challenge and then the first steps (demolition) are obvious.  Once you have de-constructed, you will have a plan (of sorts) in your head.  I do, anyway.  And, since time is short, I get on with it.  Of course, no one else knows the plan ’cause it is in my head and these fools can’t seem to read my mind!  So, we work in small bite-size chores, “Here’s how you hang a ledger board.  I’ll cut it and you do it.  Let me know when you are done.”

“Voss das a led jar bode?”

“Never mind.  It will become clear enough at step two.  OK?”

“Yah!”

“……we’ll use hangers for this deck………”

“Voss das a hungers?”

“Never mind.  They will become clear at step three.  OK”?

“Yah!”

“What do you want me to do?”

“We’re gonna need some shallow holes dug for the gravel under the concrete piers.”

“What gravel?”

“That is where you come in……….”

And so it goes.

 

Quick update – partial

Down in Victoria doing a partial renovation on my son’s apartment.  Deck, kitchen, laundry room.  We will try to get some new flooring down as well.  Maybe.  But there is not enough time for us, really.  A little over a week is a tight schedule by our work routines.  Typically, I just have the supplies laid in by that time- still rubbing the sleep from my eyes on day four as a rule.

But this ‘job’ is different.  We are all goin’ at it.  Sally is doing the electrical.  W’fers are the muscle and my ‘gophers’.  Son is the ‘owner’ and major demolisher, hard decision-maker and all ’round ‘go-to’ guy.  I get to be the supervisor for once in my relationship with my son.  He acceeds construction knowledge to me.  That’s nice, misplaced as it is.

Take what you can get, Dave.  Most fathers are considered dorks in all things.  At least you have construction”.

I know that.  I am not complaining.  NOT in the least.  His fierce streak of independence has made him a joy to raise.  Honest.  My son was basically an independent person from the age of ten.  And I am a dork!  He simply didn’t need parenting except on rare and unusual situations (at which times he really needed a guardian angel).  He managed to grow up basically on his own terms and they are all good ones.  Hell, we had to force money on him now and then and make him buy clothes when the old (decades) ‘comfortable’ ones were literally falling off.  (He would have made a great orphan and I am pretty sure that option was under his consideration at times).  He just never cared about much of any kind of consumerism (exceptions; travel, motorcycles and dog treats).  And this renovation fliers in the face of his frugal nature.  “What is the cost of doors?!!  Hell, no!  We don’t need no stinkin’  doors!”  So, we are cherry-picking Craigslist when we have time.

But we have so little time.

Today we deck the deck, build the railing, frame the new door and demolish a few things to get at it all. And I’ll try to get you an update again in a few days.

Dateline: Victoria.  Tusday, July 22.  And it’s all good.

…..gasp

It hit 33 degrees Celsius today…about 90-something Fahrenheit.

This is Canada!  What the hell….?

I tend to generate a lot of heat all on my own.  I really don’t need this.  And I find this  Saharan heat hard to take.  I was not alone.  We watched about 20 people go zooming by in a whale watching boat dressed in survival suits – which oughta kill ‘em pretty quick I figure. Frankly, I think whale watching tours are really people-watching for Killer whales.  They have to be amused by sun-cooked red dough-boys arriving by the dozen.  If they only knew the half of it.

Those red survival suits are designed to keep you alive in the ice-cold ocean but work against you when you are sitting in an open boat in the scintillating mid-day sun.  Survival suits are a bit like logging safety gear; when you aren’t slicing yourself into bits with an errant chainsaw, the stuff just makes the activity so much harder to do that you are closer to danger – not safer.  Same with survival suits – you need to be immersed in the actual danger to use them and appreciate them.  Falling in the ice-cold ocean makes a survival suit make sense; but NOT falling in makes the suit a living Hell.

Survival suits are actually worse than logger safety gear because they make you want to fall in but wearing hot, restricting leathers while cutting trees doesn’t make you want to cut your own limbs off.  But they are both stupid.  Someone has to come up with safety gear that doesn’t make you want to rip it off.

But, I digress.  It’s the heat.  Makes it hard to concentrate.  I tend to babble – even on a blog.  No one notices – they are in a heat induced stupor themselves.  And, because of that,  I babble more.

Me and the boys got to work a bit earlier today to avoid the worst of the heat and it worked…kinda. We just worked for an hour and then quit.  Then they went boating and I sat like a lump until it was time to take a nap.  And some people pay big bucks to go to places this hot!  On purpose!  I honestly don’t get it.  If 20 degrees Celsius is pleasant, 40 degrees is not twice as good.

Man, just when you thought global warming was a myth and the oil patch propaganda might be right…………(only kidding.  I was never that stupid!). 

Progress

With the help of youth, we made marked progress today.  It is good.

I am in the process of increasing my solar array.  To that end, I bought more panels and assembled some piles of scrap metal over the past winter. Bought some junk.  Scavenged.  I even got a welder and set myself on fire a few times learning to use it.  Trust me – it is all part of making progress.  If you don’t get crispy, you get better.  I am getting better.  In fact, I have pretty much finished the basic structure and me and the ‘boys’ erected it today.  We enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment together.  We were all ‘boys’ playing with a BIG Meccano set.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe boys are recent guests and don’t quite ‘get it’ that acquiring the steel and all the stuff is the largest part.  90% of any job is the preparation.  The other 90 is clean-up.  Only 40% is the actual work (yes, I know the math is all wrong but it always is – so work with me on this).  For them, that ‘prep work’ was just already there.  In place.  Background.  For me, of course, assembling the structure was very much a later step in the process.  And it is a process that is, at this juncture, still only half done.  The hard part is yet to come.  Doing the hook-up.  But there is no question that taking a bunch of ‘bits’ and assembling it is Ikea-like, a ‘kit’ coming together as it should.  Everyone was pleased when the holes aligned and the bolt that was presented could be put in place.  Pretty simple on the surface – lots of thinking and planning and preparation so that it was ‘simple on the surface’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The panel-holding structure for the actual solar array is 17 feet off the ground; say five meters.  It is made up of a rectangular frame of square tube and angle steel.  Some of it welded, most of it bolted.   In total it will present a frame of about 120 square feet, say 12 square meters. That frame will sit on top of salvaged steel scaffolding supplemented with steel legs and cables.  120 square feet can generate a lot of force in a strong wind and this apparatus will be on top of the hill and exposed to the strong Sou’easters in the summer (often in excess of 60kmh) and the even stronger N’orwesters in the winter.  We can get 100 mile an hour winds out of the fiords on occasion.  But 75 mile per hour winds are to be expected at least once every winter.

I am having to build for the worst.

That is not always easy when using salvage.  And NOT being an engineer.  So, I do what I always do…build it to specs that would withstand Godzilla in a rage.  Then double it.  And double it again.  And then hope it makes it through the 30 year rule.

Sal and I have done everything to the thirty year rule so far.  We build and use materials so that whatever we make will last 30 years.  Mind you, we started on the thirty year rule ten years ago so we are now working to the 20 year rule.  As physical work becomes harder, the standards fall accordingly.  By the time I am 86, we will be building with duct tape and bungy cords.  If I make 90, then we’ll simply watch it fall around us.  It’s a plan.

“So does that mean your solar structure will last 20 years?”

Not yet.  As I said, we are only about half way there.  I’ll keep you posted.        .

 

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Messin’ with their heads

When your mostly-adult house-guests are almost 50 years younger than you, your perspective changes. Translation: you know deeper in the bones that you are getting old.  It’s weird.  But it can be and usually is a lot of fun.

Of course, I can do the math.  I know how old I am.  I can read a calendar.  Simple arithmetic.  But this is different.  This is like wonder, like awe, like a fascination with not only what I once was but what I am not-so-slowly becoming. I watch them.  I listen to them.  They ‘get things’ quickly and get to it even faster.  And I am getting slow.  Again; I knew I was slowing down but it is not until the tortoise encounters the hare that he really gets it.  With Leon and Ole here, I am getting it.  So is Sal.  We are old turtles.

Last night – around nine – reading in bed, “Wow!  Wish I had the energy to go launch kayaks and go for a paddle after a long day.  Can’t do that anymore!”

“Forget kayaking!  I’m just hoping I can stay awake until they get back.”

There is the age gap, of course.  Which is more than a generation gap.  More than a cultural gap.  We are like walking North American history books standing in front of new foreign students.  Much of what we have to say is dated and pointless but sometimes we’ll bring up a topic they find interesting and then the old man gets to pontificate.  This is where old age has an advantage.  It’s all in the aid of mentoring, of course, but, in reality, it is how I enjoy myself with young people.  I like ‘messin’ wi’ch ‘em’.

“So, you see……a formal education is really the opposite of learning.  It is the narrowing of the mind into a standardized format that serves the state or the institution or the corporation but, for you, it will be a restriction. A degree is a document indicating a specialization that will limit your life choices.  If you get a degree in say, social work, and it cost you thousands of Euros to get and years to obtain, what is the likelihood that you’ll spend decades being in that line of work?  The odds are pretty good that, with marriage, mortgage, kids and a steadily increasing income you will be literally hand-cuffed to social work even though, in your later years, you may no longer have the interest. I do not recommend doing what I am suggesting by talking like this but I am saying that real learning is the most exciting thing living has to offer and you should continue to pursue it in all forms not just the one that you are pre-programmed into by your culture and the dull institutions it has given rise to.  When something is institutionalized, it is incarcerated, it is locked up, it is no longer free.  And that is what the institutions like universities and colleges have become.  Traveling like you are is an education.  A real education.”

“Unh, can I have the last potato?”

“Is there any more of that cheese dish?”

OK, I admit it.  I have ‘em trapped at the dinner table and I take advantage.  It is a boon for me that Sally’s cooking is so good.  You can often see the young people pulled between eating some more or saving their brains from my prying and running from the room but I am a guiltless Machiavellian in this way.  You see, my ranting and raving only makes them eat faster and then the dishes get done earlier and I can get to bed sooner.

And they think I am just a boring old fool…..little do they know how they are being manipulated into giving me peace and quiet after having served me with sweat and toil earlier in the day.  Hahahahahhahahahaha…………….(imagine me slanting my eyes and rubbing my hands with glee).

What goes around, comes around 46 years later

Leon and Ole are from Germany.  No idea where the erroneous Belgian identity came from.  They are 18, soon to be 19, and planning on a year away from family and school to find out what they want to do.

Little do they know that the search never ends.

In 1968 I was 19 traveling for a year (including Germany) throughout Europe on a shoestring finding out what I wanted to do. What goes around, comes around.

Some of us end up just going in circles.

But they are better than I was.  They are pretty cool customers for almost 19.  Yesterday we brought up a pile of logs using the old/new winch and driving the boys like rented mules.  What a delight.  I did virtually nothing but run the machine and act like the wise old man of the forest (I was wearing my red check logger shirt and had Sal on the walkie-talkie in case I needed real expertise). We got done in five hours what Sal and I would previously have taken three days to do.  I am starting to believe that slavery has been unfairly dissed.

The plan was to keep ‘em for a week and slough them off on others nearby who needed a little summer help.  But plans change.  We may keep ‘em a bit longer. If only I could find a couple of pairs of good leg-irons.  Humane ones, of course.

The average NA adult does not have a lot of good experience with nice, polite, obedient teens.  Their own teens are either obliged to rebel against their parents by at least being surly or else the teens the adults encounter are in large groups wearing hoodies and acting furtive.  We have a generation gap.  But teens from other countries are a different story.  They are a mix of appreciation and confusion.  Well, some of them have been raised properly, too, I suppose, but appreciation and confusion works for me.  Plus, out here, I am usually bigger and carrying heavy blunt instruments.  Out here I still have influence with teens.

I confess to using that to my advantage whenever possible.

“Hey!  Ole?  I only have two things in my life that Sal is not the boss of.  See that black chair in the living room?  That’s mine.  That outdoor chair you currently have your sorry butt on?  That’s the second one.”  Ole is instantly air-borne; catapulted from the chair in mid-sentence.  It’s a beautiful thing.  And Leon is laughing.  Is it any wonder we enjoy young W’fers?

 

Cement, crapshooting and complexity

Woofers are coming.   We made arrangements last February for two young men from Belgium to visit us for a week or so and we have not had any confirmation until yesterday.  But, it’s on! They are on their way.

Woofers arriving means another town shopping day a week ahead of normal schedule.  But that’s OK - I need more welding wire anyway.

The biggest challenge for us is to line up work for them to do – that they can actually do.  Right now, most of my chores are a cut-above ordinary chores in terms of skills required and complexity of the project.  I am deep into the solar array upgrade including welding the frame, re-wiring, adding panels and trimming trees around the site.  All these things are more significant chores than wood-gathering or garden-work.  And even wood gathering is a more complex chore than gardening due to the use of winches, highlines, chainsaws and splitters.

We don’t want our Woofers getting hurt.

Woofers are a crapshoot.  Some of them are capable and strong and keen and generally competent at whatever they do.  But some aren’t.  Some are simply out of their element.  You don’t know what you have until they arrive.  If those under-skilled ones are pleasant and help with the dishes and cooking, it is still considered a successful visit.   But then there are the ones who really want to ‘try’ but, when doing so, scare the hell out of me.  Those young keeners are gonna bleed.  You have to watch them like hawks.   With the trauma-tempters, we try to encourage them to do more kayaking and oyster collecting.  And dishes.  It usually works out.

And therein lies a bit of irony: the better I get at what I have to do, the more complex my chores become and the less valuable the unskilled help is.  If I ever get good at anything, there may be a lack of Woofers in our future but, at my skills building rate to date, we won’t have that much to worry about for awhile.  Still, I am finding that I have fewer simple, grunt-work chores and more ‘rocket-science’ tasks (to my mind, anyway – like welding) and so the Woofers are having to work a bit more on their own.  Collecting sea-weed is a typical Woofer chore now.  Getting dirt for the garden.  But, in the beginning of this OTG adventure, they might have been hands-on with building a shed or cement work.

I confess that – for me – cement work and Woofing are made for each other.  I hate cement work.  I only have about five or six small sites to pour (15 bags) but if they are any good, they will be mixing bags of Reddi-mix and forming cement pads while I continue to do work on the frame.  That would be great!

Keep your fingers crossed.

Where are you on the party endurance scale?

We’re going to a party tonight.  By boat, of course.  Everyone will arrive by boat.  It’s the only way.  By 7:00 pm there will be a flotilla of small boats rafted in clumps against anything that floats – a dock, an anchored buoy, a couple of trees near the shore…whatever.  People will be dressed in layers with the top layer likely a logger shirt or a Gore-Tex jacket.  Under that will be another logger shirt.  Some wag may show up in a Hawaiian shirt (there’s always one).  It will be fun.  Nice.  Community.  There will be the usual chit-chat, catching up with others that you haven’t seen in a year or so (since  the last party) and there will be the usual avoidances with those currently in the doghouse.  Hatfields and McCoy stuff.

I like everyone.  Well, there are a few McCoys for me, too.  But I am not keen on going even if I loved everyone.  I have never liked parties.  Hate’ em, actually.  I like dinner parties (mostly because I like dinner) because I can actually have a real conversation.  But chit chat eludes me.  I don’t ‘do’ weather.  I don’t care about the latest appliance.  Smartphone apps are not interesting.  I am ‘beyond’ real estate prices.  And, sadly, I am too old to flirt.  Being ugly was always a challenge to flirting but one I overcame because I had a motive (never mind).  But now I lack motive and all the women wear logging shirts anyway. Hell, some of them are loggers!

So, except for adding a little mortar to the walls of building community, what is the point of the party?  For me?  Not too much.  OK, there’s the dinner.  So, I’ll go.

My friend and neighbour and I have a rule.  We like each other.  A lot.  But visits can be no longer than three hours.  That’s the limit.  We start to fidget at the 2-hour-and-fifty-minute stage.  And we leave ten minutes later.  Even when visiting each other.  In fact, I raised the topic to him at the last ‘visit’.

“Hey, ya know the three hour rule we have….?”

“Wanna change it?  Say, two and half?”

“Deal!”

“So, your time’s up.”

“Great!  See ya.”

We’ll likely remain friends for the rest of our lives although – near the end – he and I will visit for no more than fifteen minutes.

Here’s the funny part – most of the guys going to the party will be striving for the 3 hour rule, too.  The older ones are aiming for two.

Go ahead – write to me.  Tell me I am wrong.  I dare you.