Dateline: Fatigue

No recent blog entry lately due to energy depletion.  Low on personal battery.  Three days in Vancouver will do that to me now.  I now find the city like an energy sponge and my home is like the charger. Been back a few days now and finally feeling like there is enough charge in the old smartphone to make a call.  So, ‘hi, there’…

C and R came home with Sal while I went to the city.  They are from Germany.  They have been here before but they are amongst the most appreciative of guests.  They love everything!  Dog.  Raven.  Dolphins.  Trees.  Sally, of course.  The meals.  The seals. Boats going by. Sea planes.  Garden.  Even me. But especially Ben.  C was Ben’s nanny when he was three.  They have been close ever since.  C & R came for the wedding and then stayed a few days up here.  It is wonderful to have them.  It seems like everything is new again.  It’s a bit like having little kids – you see your own world through their eyes all over again.

But they are gone now, replaced by F & L – also wedding guests (from London, England) and, of course, they are the same.  Boggled by the amount of space, the quiet, the work accomplished and the setting.  BIG difference from London.  Seriously, one of the best parts of having guests is seeing their eyes literally opened wide and watching them just stare at things.  It is fun.

It is also interesting to listen to their thoughts.  Almost always you can see the little wheels a-turning and them mentally placing themselves here and then thinking ‘no way’ and then thinking ‘maybe there is a way’ and so on.

“There is a way, guys.  It’s easy.  Just get rid of everything, quickly learn a few skills and close your eyes, grab your wallet and leap!”

“Yeah.  Right.  That is NOT gonna happen.  Hmmm….what kind of skills………?  Couldn’t we leap half way…say into a small town…kinda…?”

“Oh, I am only kidding.  Honestly.  It is hard to make the leap at the best of times and it gets harder every year after 50….give or take a year.  By the time you are 55 it is almost too late.  I know.  I was 55 and we simply could not have done what we did had we waited one more year.  There is a tide in the affairs of men, when taken at the flood………..”

“But, you know, we have been thinking recently that the rat race holds no more interest for us.  It might be time….. We have been thinking of making a change….”

“I think it is part of life.  Around 50 most people feel something is amiss or at least needs a bit of changing.  Something needs changing, anyway.  Some opt for red sportscars and secretaries.  Some for golf and golfing instructors.  They long for something they just can’t put their finger on and, even if they could, most often they are too busy running the race to really nail that feeling down.  I know that space.  I know that feeling.  And my friends of a similar age have all described it as well. But the forest may not be the answer for everyone.  Personally, I think it is but I am somewhat Dave-centric in my thinking.”

“We wouldn’t even know where to start….”

“Yeah.  That’s the fun part.”

 

Love, chaos, madness and a chocolate fountain…….

It was a good wedding.  I might have even mustered a tear….or maybe a bird peed in my eye….hard to say…the wedding ceremony was held outdoors.  There were birds in the sky.

Perfect day.  Lovely garden setting. Bride was beautiful, groom handsome, best man funny, speeches all generally short and the food was great.  Everyone dancing including some octogenarians.  And the place was alive with hob-nobbing from the get-go.

Our family is now just that much larger.  And not just a few of them are as eccentric and weird as the ones they are joining.  Quite a bunch of whackos all told.  More than a few times I contemplated the wisdom of living off the grid last night.  It was truly an inspired decision.

Mind you, metaphorically speaking, there were not just a few ‘off-the-gridders’ in attendance as well at the wedding regardless of where they lived.

It has been a year of weddings for our children.  Emily and Brian last November and Ben and Katie yesterday.  Thank God we only had two kids!

 

But I won’t bore you with wedding stuff.  It’s the stuff of stuff.  But I will say that there was a lot of love in the room last night.  Chocolate love and strawberries was the least of it.  It was pretty neat.  Nice way of passing the torch…………..and that is what it felt like. Something changed during their ceremony……….and  I could feel the torch leaving my hand.

 

Volts, schlmolts, amps, zaps and all sorts of things magical

Yeah, you guessed it…the new solar array is starting to generate.  Oooooh….it’s so fine……..

One of my charge controllers is a-pumping.  The other awaits in eager anticipation of being juiced up, too.  Much like my son-in-law, Brian, who was the monkey-on-the-frame for the installation of most of the panels.  He wants to see the results of his labours as much as we do.

We are just reconnected to the old panels so far, actually – hence one controller pumping. In that sense we are just getting our old share of sunshine back workin’ for us. The new ones have yet to come online.  They are 90% wired but not connected yet because we are just finishing the actual physical assembly.  Two more panels to go up on the frame for a total of 14, old and new.

But the bulk of the job is over.  That’s the building of it all, the fabrication, the purchasing, the cobbling, foundation work, the lifting and the assembly.  NOT to mention the running back and forth to my shop for parts, tools and ‘making adjustments’ to fittings.  95% of our electrical work (out here) is really just plain physical, day-labour-type work.  Some of it is kinda mechanical, actually.  The bolting, welding, etc.  Those two components are what takes up all the time.

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The fact that we take so much time to actually make electrical things work (switches, combiner boxes, panel connections, batteries, etc.) is more a function of our fear of all things electrical than it is the time required for ‘electrical engineering’.  If we knew what we were doing, the actual ‘electrician-required’ part is only minutes.

Mind you, if we knew what we were doing, the labour-mechanical components wouldn’t take so long either.  I blame Brian.  

So, we are slow.  So sue me!  (Brian might).

To be fair, we had four surprise guests yesterday and that could have proven irritating to me (given my focus at the time) until one of them expressed an interest in all things off-the-grid and was a machinist to boot!  He was in his element jumping up on the array with Brian to help us put a couple of panels up.  And the other three guys were really pleasant and fun to meet as well.  So, it was good, all good and especially good to have another set of willing and skilled hands.

After I dropped the visitors back at the other island, I returned to continue on the job.  Sal was just finishing up wiring the first set of panels.  She stood about twenty feet off the ground on the top of a swaying scaffold and reconnected the old panels and ran the power to the combiner box.  Before she came down from aloft she checked to see that they were producing.  They weren’t.

“I dunno.  Did it all to the diagram.  Maybe they are broken?”

So we checked them together and came up with all sorts of weird readings.  That is such a disappointing feeling when you are way up in the air and think you are 90% done.  But a few misplaced wires set right and we were ‘on’.  Usually a little happy ‘jig’ is in order with small work victories but, given the swayin’ location, we waited til we were back down on terra firma and then the smiles and Riverdancing began.  WOOhoooo!

And that was just 20% of the array producing!  Eat your heart out, George Lucas.  When we get it all together, THERE WILL BE AMATEUR LIGHT AND MAGIC!!

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Post script: we went all out this afternoon and the final two panels are up and Sal decided to take a shot at getting another part of the array working (goal: 40% of everything we have.  60% more at a later date – we have other things to do starting tomorrow – my son is getting married!).  She took off the back of the electrical boxes on each panel and one of the boxes looked like it had been inhabited by rats and slugs.  Eeeeuw.  Not a single piece of it was shiny and bright and ready to accept a wire.  A quick check of the gunk with the meter showed the panel was producing nothing. NOT good.  A panel ‘out’ of a string renders the string virtually useless.  So, the panel went into ‘refurbish’ mode (meaning: a lot of scraping, cleaning and shining) and then VOILA!  The panel was producing according to the meter and it is being ushered back into the fold as I write.  

OOOoooooooooooohhhhh….I love it when a plan comes together. 

Some things are harder than others

7:30 am.  Got up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head….

Breakfast first and then we got to work.  Started by packing up the hill the new solar panels and all the bedding and mattresses used to ‘comfort them’ while they were in storage. Then took the bedding stuff over to a neighbour who needs extra comforting due to a giant family visit.

The nature of giant family visits means that any and all such comforting will be in short supply.

Jumped in my newly ‘lame’ boat to go pick up other neighbours needing a ride to their property with their supplies.  Mine was lame due to the need for a haul-out to get my bottom scrubbed (yeah, I know how that sounds).  And so, after dropping them off, I took the boat into the shallows and put it over two embedded horizontal struts on which it could settle when the tide went out.  While the tide slowly receded, I stood waist deep, cleaning what I could and keeping it positioned.  Half an hour, maybe forty minutes.  Boat settled nicely.  I was shivering a bit.

Went back home to get dry and then re-position big ol’ heavy electrical cables from one side of the property to the other – that required dismantling some under-the-house connections – for the new solar array. Doesn’t sound like a lot of work but it was and it required Sal and Brian, too.

Later…back to the boat with Sal and the ‘kids’ to clean the bottom and paint it.  Lying in the mud, scraping and painting, everyone was a mess.  But the boat looked good.  Three or so hours later we went back home to get clean, make dinner and start back on reviewing the book…..which, by the way, is NOT going well.

And then, a few hours later after dinner, Sal went to get the now-floating boat and took it back to the dock.

It was 9:30 pm. “Geez, Dave, what do you DO all day?”

“I dunno……stuff….you know…..chores……”

The real answer is that our chores are NOT like city-oriented chores.  Ours require climbing steep slopes dragging heavy equipment, carrying and using tools and standing in the water cleaning the boat (instead of getting it hauled out by a machine and then using a pressure washer) and on and on it goes.  Chores out here are ‘jobs’, really.  Not just chores.  Usually a bit bigger than tasks.  They are jobs.

‘Cept for the book.  That is just a pastime, really.  No heavy lifting.  No slopes.  But – here’s the message – the book is killing me.  Seems reading aloud is an extremely effective editing technique.  Doing that exercise makes me hate what I have written so far.  There is some interesting stuff there but it is covered in word-mud.  I have written a heavy stew and half of the ingredients are off. The whole thing stinks.  No wonder writers are reputed to drink heavily.

I am trying to wire in a new solar array with all sorts of complications…but I’ll get there.  I am needing to build more outbuildings and just don’t have the time….but I’ll get there.  I have some huge jobs, a gazillion tasks and too-many-to-count chores to do before winter ….but, I’ll get there.  But I may not get that book done.  It seems to get worse instead of better…I just may not get there.

Writing is easy.  Good writing is hard.  Great writing is impossible.

Optimism: the 30 year rule

The basic 30 year rule in the blog title assumes that I live 30 more years after building and in a similar manner until the fateful day.  Give or take a week.  And, so far, being ten years into it, it is working. Kinda.  My trusty solar array which has the slightly too-short 25 year warranty (and starting 10 years ago) is fine but, suffering from panel envy, I got some more solar panels this past winter.  And then I built an array or frame structure to hold the old panels and the new ones in a better spot.

It is now up.  It is awaiting the panels.

Today I took down the old panels from the old frame.  They had been built to the 30 year rule, meaning: they were very hard to take apart.  I eventually had to grind three bolts off while dangling from atop the old array-frame.  Tip-toe-ing on a 2 inch pipe leaning at a ridiculous angle mini-grinding off two bolts that, presumably, had high titanium content.

Thought I was gonna die.

“So, how did you assemble all that in the beginning?  There are so many cables and struts that I can see it clearly isn’t gonna fall down, but I can’t see a logical way to put it up or take it down. What did you do first?”

“Well, Brian, I am old.  And I can’t remember.  I remember adding all the cables later so at least they weren’t in the way at that time.  But they are now.  And I seem to recall doing the first four panels one way and the lower four a different way.  To be honest, the only thing I remember clearly is the 30 year rule which means I shouldn’t have to remember anything.”

“Well, at this rate you are going to live to somewhere around the ten year rule – which is just about now.  I think you are going to die.”

“Yeah.  I feel the same way.  Did you see that flash?”

“Yeah.  What was that?”

“The power of eight solar panels jumping the tracks and trying to get aboard my misplaced crescent wrench.”

“Geez, man.  Maybe you should get someone in.”

“First Aid?”

“No, doofus.  How about an electrician?”

“You mean Sal?  She’s at yoga.  Anyway, I can’t afford her anymore.  Her rates went way, way up.”

“How high?”

“She’s priceless.”

“Well, you might get fried.”

“Strange you should say that.  I can feel low current juicing through the frame to the ladder as we speak.  Glad I have on rubber soles. Should have on rubber gloves,too, I guess.”

“You serious!?”

“Yeah.  But it was only because I still have the panels wired together and let the wires touch the ladder.  I am gonna stop that right now and disconnect everything and wrap the ends in tape and all.  No worries.”

“Is this how people put on solar panels?”

“Yep.  Zactly.  They get up on ladders, dangle over the edge, get a little juiced now and again and then act like an expert at the next gathering.”

“Yeah.  I remember now.  At that last dinner party, you and Mike were talking solar panels for an hour.”

“Yep.  And, as you can see, I haven’t a clue.  YEOUCH!  That one smarts!  Did you see that flash?”

“I’m leaving. I can’t watch. This is crazy.”

“Hey!  Come back.  How else you going to learn about stuff like this..?  YEOUUUCH!  Hey, did you see that flash?”

Embarrassing isn’t the half of it…

…Wordpress won’t allow any comments on that last blog (I Wish to Thank…).  I am sure that is driving many of you crazy.  Well, Sid is, anyway.  But he was already crazy…

Anyway, I am posting again today simply to see if the post gets ‘commentability’.

What to say….?

Well, it is a lovely August day.  Visitors are arriving in surprising numbers.  “Surprise! Thought we’d drop in and say hello!”  We have had guests up that wazzoo for days.  Yesterday we had 9 where 2 were expected.  But that’s not news.  Every summer my attraction to mankind is resurrected only to waiver and die by the last few weeks of October.  I am like a social butterfly.  Literally.  A social fruit fly, more like it.

I have had enough tea and biscuits to last me the rest of my life.  I want to work on my projects.  And I don’t think anyone would care, actually, if I did.  But I need Sal to help me and she is – most of the time – being Ms Chatelaine to the guests and so, without my helpmeet (who uses that word?), I am worse than a blind, one-armed, paper-hanging, ESL student with head trauma (just to mix a few metaphors) doing my work.  In other words: nothing is getting done.  OK, maybe a little head trauma.

200 words does not a blog make but, like I said, this is really just a test to see if the comments will work on this page.  Over to you…

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I wish to thank…

To edit a book, it seems, requires that you read it aloud to some poor, trapped sap.  My daughter, Emily, and her husband, Brian, are here on vacation and they have no where else to go.  They are my trapped saps.  So, I have been reading the first draft of the book out loud to them. Two chapters every night. Trust me, there is no harsher critic on the planet than your own daughter.  We got to chapter three last night (did chapter two twice) and mercifully, we quit. They were not pleased at being my biblio-Guinea pigs.

This exercise does not bode well for a best seller.  In the words of my critics, “This is a book so easily put down.  And should be”.  Even I was nauseated by chapter two and I wrote it!

I can see the review now: ‘The author is writing under the delusion that his life is interesting and that people are particularly fascinated to read about his self-inflicted injuries.  They are not. His eventual demise, on the other hand, will be much anticipated news.  I want to be on that notification list’.

By chapter three my daughter said, “Oh my God!  How is it that you actually survived to this point?  The only impression I am getting from this book is that you are an idiot with no practical skills and a complete disregard for personal safety.  Or even common sense!  I had no idea my father was such a doofus.  Well, I had an inkling, I admit, but now I have proof.  I am surprised I haven’t inherited the place by now.”

“So, you like it so far?”

“Only my chances of becoming a property owner earlier than I expected”.

“Brian, what do you think?”

‘Well, now I understand the reason for the first aid kit being the size of a small freezer.  So, I am learning.  I guess.  And I appreciate much more the fact that the house and you are still standing although, to be frank, I think that is a fluke.  A miracle, actually.  But I have to question just how many more blows to the head you can take.  That Sally encourages you to go to work every day is also something I think you should look at. I now see her in an entirely new light.”

“So, you think I dwell too much on personal injury?”

“Ironically, I don’t think you dwell enough on personal injury, given your history.  Don’t you see a pattern here?  I know your wife does.  Seriously, dude, consider taking up an indoor hobby.  And, please, NOT writing.  Maybe macrame?”

“Wow!  That bad, eh?”

“Dad!  We are only at chapter three and I would run screaming from the room if it didn’t mean falling into the sea like you seem to do in every chapter.”

“OK.  More ravens, then?”

“All ravens.  All the time!”

Hello Sam, Ivan and Lee (Ni Hao, Привет)

Sump’ns up.  I don’t get it.  Who ARE you people?

I mean ‘who are you NEW people’?

Thanks to Google counting just about everything, I know that I have maybe 300 regular readers.  The desperate, the lonely and the antique dealers.  Plus a friend or two (altho, come to think of it, they also fit into the first three categories…).  Anyway….

Last two days I have had 2300.

Makes no sense.  Usually I at least have to throw a sexy word like ‘boobs’ or ‘guns’ into the title to pick up my numbers.  I confess to having done that a few times, so I know.  One of my best read blogs was something like Sex, Drugs and Guns in El Salvador.  Of course, I wrote that blog from my house.  It was just artistic license, I swear.  That is what I told the police anyway.

But I haven’t written anything sexy in a long time (forgot how, actually) and I don’t have guns so why the sudden increase in my numbers?  Ok, I have prescription medications but I haven’t written about them.  Not much to say, actually.  Barely remember them, either.  I think they are for dementia.  So, I don’t get it.

Mind you, Google also tells me that more than half of my readers are from Russsia (.ru) and China (cn).  I suspect that few, if any, of those people are actually reading the blog.  I suspect that they are ‘spying’ on me.  For whatever reason.  I have some readers, a few friends and a lot of foreign spies.  Much like our government it seems.

I bet they get more from me than they do from Ottawa.

I can’t imagine of what interest my blog might hold for a spy in Moscow, Beijing or even in the US?  They thinking of running away to the forest?  Don’t they know that if they can find me, their bastard co-workers can also find them?  Where you gonna run, fellas?  Go ahead and make a break for it but you can’t hide.  Truly we are all now living in a giant suite at the Hotel California.  We can check out any time we want but we can never leave.

Anyway, I appreciate the attention.  No such thing as bad publicity, they say.  Even if it is in Cyrillic or Mandarin.

Down time and post apocalyptic fantasy

Lots of updates…it is in the 30′s Celsius again but we are getting a nice cool breeze so it is really rather pleasant.  Perfect, actually.  A stream of guests are scheduled to start arriving in a few days and so the joint will be jumpin’ til well into September.  Our work stint in Victoria tired us out and so we haven’t done much of anything since getting home.  Lazy buttheads is the status we aspire to and have been achieving rather well.  Woofers are off working on another island so food supplies are holding.  Sal is finishing up her organization of the book so we will send it out to Beta readers as soon as we can…should be soon…a week or so.

It is the calm before the storm.

But calm is not a story and I’ll write about the storm after it has passed.  For now, just a bit of musing.  Watched the Sci-fi remake of Total Recall last night.  The essence of the plot is basically gratuitous violence, of course, but a major sub-plot was our hero’s sense that the life and the work he was doing wasn’t satisfying.  He had to get out.  As it turns out, for him, he was really a super-spy who had his memory replaced with that of a working stiff. He couldn’t stand it so he went after a fantasy service that gave him a ‘new life’ – one that was that of a super-spy.  I could relate.

“Geez, Sal.  Total Recall is our story! We dropped our ordinary life for an adventurous fantasy.”

“Sweetie, this is not a fantasy and a long, hard day shopping and schlepping day is NOT an adventure.  Get a grip.”

That is why I like cheap B movies.  I get ‘into’ them.  I am the hero.  Last night I was ‘Doug’ the super-spy.  Today I am a lazy butthead.  It doesn’t get any better.

Is it just me or are our politicians keeping an extraordinarily low profile?  I get the sense that they seem to know that they are reviled and so they just aren’t getting out and about making the news circuit.  Good survival instincts.  Mind you, Harper (who, it seems, will not eat in public because he thinks eating makes him look stupid) made an appearance at an event commemorating the First World War 100 years ago.  I guess he thought that was safe – no vets around from that era.  No food.

And he is worried about looking stupid at dinner?!

But maybe it is just the season.  I just can’t raise my black bile levels much these days even though there is still so much to rail against.  Lazy butthead days, I guess.

But a tip o’ the hat to a friend of mine who decided to retire.  He’s my age and it is time.  It is good to see.  Another tip to another friend who bought a sailboat and is in love again – him and Wally Ross (author of Sail Power). The point: there is life after work.  A better one.  And, if you occasionally long for the old action, just rent a cheap B movie and lose yourself in it for the night.  That’s what I do.

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.