Off Grid Islander

Living off the Grid on a west coast island

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Sue #1’s point

There is a guy on this island who cannot pronounce my name. Honestly, it isn’t that hard.. How stupid are you when you can’t handle a two syllable word?  Imagine if you will your name is Maurice and someone can’t pronounce Maurice so he calls you Mo..While I quietly plot his early demise, I consider myself fortunate that I only see him a couple of times a year…

On such a small wee island we have a couple of Sues, #1 and # 2. We have a few Tims, #1, #2, and #3. We have also at least four Jacks. Although there are several, we haven’t had to number them. It is easy to figure out which Jack you are talking about by context, the twenty something or the eight year old, the infant or the dog… Probably not asking the dog if he wants a Beer.

I was sitting this afternoon near Sue #1’s favorite  place in the world. In front of me a seal was fishing. He would throw his catch in the air just off shore. While he did, the seagulls waited on the surface of the water to steal the fish. They were very successful. Sometimes they stole bits right out of the seals mouth. E figured, the seal was pretty dumb. He did have options to, I don’t know, swim to the other end of the ocean with his catch….

I was sitting watching because I was tired.. We are helping out a bit at a house being renovated on the island.. After we helped unload a bunch of supplies from the barge delivery there, we went to the family house to do some small chores which involved lifting. On our way back we swung by our neighbours house to check  on her batteries. Last winter an arbutus tree landed on her solar panels. E replaced them and has been working to rejuvenate her batteries. The good news, the batteries are doing great and will likely not need replacing.. Saves her about $800.00. Bad news, yet another arbutus tree came down after the storm. It caused no damage but it is always sad to see a tree down.. Ironically it didn’t look that unhealthy compared to the few beside it…

She had offered us a pile of arbutus left over from the last tree down so we loaded it up into our truck and brought it home. E got his chainsaw pants on and grabbed his gear and we went back to her house to clean up the downed tree and grab a bit more wood. Arbutus is best split with the chainsaw immediately after falling as it gets tougher the drier it gets. It is however, ungodly heavy when it’s wet and sitting on the side of an incline. 

By the time we got back at 1:30 we were pooped. Although it always feels good to be outside working together. Our backs were worn out. We are not young anymore ! We have more trees to sort out on our property since the storm.. Two on the upper portion of the property need to be bucked and brought down tomorrow.. Ugh.. Tomorrow­čÖé

When I am tired I am grumpy, and I have no idea why I am still bugged by dumb guy who can’t pronounce my name. But as I was laying on my bed with a bottle of Tylenol and a hot water bottle this afternoon I imagined that this

guy, who shall remain nameless is about as bright as the seal off

Sue #1’s point


Friends, season one

Solar panels aren’t much help when it’s raining all day. And it has rained for four days. So we run the generator in the morning. While it runs, we pump water and use the electric coffee pot. (How posh!)…. That tops us up for the day and leaves us some juice to watch the Toronto Blue Jays on TV in the evening. 

I started another quilt on Sunday. Anne’s friend came to the island this summer and offered to bring material to the quilters from her home in Indonesia. Really reasonably priced batiks. I asked for shades of blue.. Naive me should have asked for much more but I’m new at this and didn’t want to appear greedy. It is beautiful material. I am making a lap throw. No more queen size quilts for me! Too heavy. New shoulder or not, I still procrastinate finishing my daughters queen size quilt cause it weighs a ton. 

We got our chores done in the morning and came home in the early afternoon to avoid the returning rains.. While it poured outside I was cutting and pinning my quilt squares as much as I could without an iron. Kathy joined me to begin her first cross stitch  project. I pulled out my UFO bag  (unfinished  objects). I haven’t finished the cross stitch I started for my twenty five year old daughter’s first birthday. (I didn’t really do toys or Disney)  Between  us we figured out how to get Kathy going on her granddaughters cross stitched present.

I thought I would iron my squares in the morning when the generator is going. But lo and behold, around 4pm the sun came out and topped up the batteries, with power to spare for the iron. I am way ahead of any imaginary schedule on the quilt because of those rays  of sunshine. 

Very excited for November to arrive. Our eldest son is coming to see us for a week. E hasn’t seen him since Christmas.. The other two came for Thanksgiving  but we had to wait for wild fire season to end to have a visit from eldest. He can help E with all the heavy lifting jobs on our to do list.

I have every confidence Kathy will be more successful with her grand daughters present than I was.. Instead of a beautiful cross stitch my daughter got a Fischer Price  tape recorder and a soundtrack tape of 

Friends, season one. 


My squares done

I finished my third quilt square this morning. It went very well. I need to get it checked by the women who actually know what they are doing before I volunteer to do any more. There were no outside jobs planned today as we hunkered down in preparation of the impeding storm. The rain water flowing down our driveway today was quite impressive. 

Although we live on the edge of a cliff and sit fairly well exposed to the sea and wind, we have a lovely rock face near us that sticks out and gives us a little protection from the south east winds. We are tucked into the Lea and it favours us well in some of the winter storms.. That being said.. We were hit full on once the storm came straight from the south tonight at 8pm.

It wasn’t as strong as predicted but very entertaining just the same. Although it was dark out we were able to see the waves as they were probably 6 or 8 feet and the seas were white.. Gusting 90 km.  As it was a high tide the waves seemed pretty darn close. Fun!!!! . Unlike our friends and family who sit in the dark in Vancouver, we still have all of the power we always have.. Which is none.. What we do have is our generator, and batteries and a very nicely functioning off grid system of electrical support.  So we watched a movie.

It was an risky choice for a night with a storm warning for two people who spend a fair amount of time commuting across the water.  The movie was a recommendation from our friends (thanks Don and Marion)… The Finest Hours, it’s very good. Kind of a mix of The Titanic and a Perfect Storm with less singing. I have to say when I watched it, it didn’t make me more nervous living here but I felt better about the storms we face on our waters.  It’s really quite incredible how much abuse these boats can take and once you have confidence in your boat the world is your Oyster.. (Or something)…. Our waters are never anything like in the movies. When they are , I am at home in front of the fire watching from safety. But we do go across on rougher seas than I would have imagined. My comfort level with rough weather on the water is definately increasing the longer we live here. 

I don’t worry much living here but when I do worry it is usually more about falling trees and rocks. Oh, and the fact that our house is likely to slide of the cliff if given any inclination at all… But, I take solace in the fact that we will likely go together and it’s been a good life. Rumours are untrue that we sleep with life jackets on and oars beside our bed.. I’m not one to live in fear but I do believe in being prepared.  So, if we should find ourselves floating down the channel tomorrow, never to be seen again at least the women can say I left with

My squares done


Sends us afloat

One of your easier jobs….Weather forecaster in San Diego.. “Today it will be sunny” “Tomorrow it will be sunny” “Five day forecast? Sunny..” “Long range forecast?  Sunny with brighter periods of sun during the mid day” Not so easy on the Pacific West Coast today . While it isn’t unusual to have heavy rain and lots of it, we are currently in the middle of a three consecutive storm onslaught. We have had two days of heavy rain. We woke to thunder and lightening this morning and the winds are picking up. Tomorrow it will be worse.. The third storm is the tail end of a typhoon which may or may not come straight at us..

Nothing more dangerous on this island as the first storm of the winter.. The tree roots which spent a summer in dry earth, are now hit with a deluge of heavy rain, followed by two days of crazy winds.. There will be trees down. Many of us work during the year to remove the potential murderers before they kill us… No one wants to take a tree down, but sometimes it is a necessity. E will travel with the chainsaw in our truck for the next couple of days to clear the road if necessary.. The island beaver is likely to have some help from the wind on his project.

No one is on the water that doesn’t have to be. I understand even the ferry is sitting off of Tsawwassen unable to dock. E and I and the dog are snuggled by the fire. I have my marine radio on to listen to the brave souls who are out there.. Apparently there is a kayaker missing.. What the hell was he thinking??

My contribution to the island raffle prize quilt was, I thought finished. I noticed this morning that I had sewn one of  my three squares to the back, backwards.. Sigh.. It’s a problem apparently. So I tore it all out and it is sitting on the kitchen table until I gather the will to go back and start it again.. I will be buying a lot of raffle tickets for this years prize because despite my contribution the quilt is going to be gorgeous. (The perfect greyish one is Mary’s)

We felt no guilt at 1pm when we felt the urge for a wee sip of something. It is, after all why we have it in the house.. For days such as these. Huge white caps in front of us and waves crashing on the rocks below me as I sit in the window seat which hangs off the rocks.. Thanks to those who have called to see if we are still on the right side of the water…we are safe and well and will remain indoors, dry and storm watching until such time as the wind blows us off the cliff and 

sends us afloat


Paid more attention

We were at a dinner party recently and the topic of the night (after we gave our septic system updates) was first jobs. There were four couples ranging in age from 59 to 82. We weren’t allowed to say babysitting or paper delivery. A wide range of income strategies were admitted. We had everything from a rabbit pellet hunter (sorry Barb) to a garbage man. Of course, as we moved around the table and each described their first employment there were the accompanying funniest job anecdotes. It was an excellent topic for a dinner party with a group of people with a wide range of backgrounds. 

For the record, my first job was as a waitress at the planetarium. I had to wear a mini skirted sailor suit with pantaloons peaking from underneath and refer to the supervisor as my first mate. E was a short order cook on the evening train from Vancouver to Winnipeg. 

Today, E is in town running errands and I am at home hiding from the rain. I have our first pot of soup of the winter on the stove. I attempted homemade French bread and made some biscotti for dessert. I was thinking as I kneeded the bread that the next time we eight meet for dinner a good topic would be what was our defining moment. For example was a Doctor’s defining moment when he saw Markus Welby or when he asked the girl next door for a peak… 

I think my defining moment was October 4th, 1980 when E made me dinner on our first date. My life was never the same. True neither of us had particularly interesting careers or personal accomplishments. In fact all we really wanted out of life was kids, a family. If we could raise three kids who didn’t hate us or end up in jail that was legacy enough. Life did end up a little more interesting than we bargained on with the whole heart transplant thing but by and large it’s been pretty routine and yet awesome. 

We can’t always talk about septic systems here so it’s good to have some backup topics for dinner parties. I don’t remember as many details about my defining moment as I would like. If you had told me that when I walked into his basement suite on Kits point for dinner that fall night my life was going to change forever I would have probably 

paid more attention. 


Trump gets his

Oh how I look forward to October 1st. The fire ban is finally lifted and I can clean up the mess which accumulates around the property over the summer. Old cardboard, Arbutus leaves, twigs and fallen branches are finally dealt with. The ashes from this burn pile will be used as fill between the large boulders along the driveway. I can’t used Arbutus leaves in the compost as they are toxic. The next burn pile can deal with the November leaves from the Maple trees and Garry Oak. Those ashes will be welcome in the compost.

We woke to rain this morning, so coffee shop at Anne’s was inside. When we came out, the sun had broken through and our scheduled indoor chores were set aside for the burn pile. I wore through yet another pair of gardening gloves. I can not tell you how many pairs I have worn through since we got here. Women’s gloves particularly size small are ridiculously poorly made. Men’s are so much sturdier. It drives me crazy that the glove bosses feel my gardener hands are only picking posies.

We had lunch on the perch, it could have been the middle of August. Tonight I am going shopping on line for new work gloves. I am going to see if I can find where 

Trump gets his.                  dscn0474


They are heavy

I think I have mentioned before that when I first met E’s Grandma from Burnley, England, she asked me what my name was… I told her my very Scottish sounding name. “That’s a silly name ” she said.. “What’s your middle name?” I told her my very ordinary non Scottish sounding middle name. “Fine” she said. “I will call you that”…..She was raised to not like Scotch Presbyterians  and thought us all cheap. Every Saturday she would write on the the grocery list “Don’t buy Scotch Brand” the house brand for Safeways back in the day.

Living in the city we would watch the morning news, the afternoon news, the dinner news and the 10 pm news on TV. We had two newspapers delivered (Vancouver Sun and the Globe), E loved his New Yorker subscription and I had Gardens West. In the winter we still watch a little TV when the sun goes down, the view hidden and our books finished. E likes his hockey and I am fond of Madam Secretary. We have a lot of movies and TV shows which we download in town and watch on demand when the weather grows gloomy.

Data is expensive here and is our major expense. You would be shocked, and appalled to know how much we spend to stay in contact with the world and keep up on the news.  Our property taxes are almost nothing.. $485.00 and will go down to $100.00 when E is 65. I rationalize our internet costs as equivalent to our massive property taxes in the city.

Yesterday we went to town to fill propane tanks. We took four, forty pound tanks and a twenty. We left two more on the drive to take next time.. Let’s pretend those tanks are filled and I can give you a total of our off grid fuel costs this year. Take into consideration that we are mindful of our power use, but not crazy. 

We don’t have a lot of appliances but what we have are unplugged when not in use. We don’t sit in the dark, but all lights are turned off unless we are in the room. We have laptops, cell phones and an iPad but they are charged during the day when the sun is out. If it can be cooked on the wood stove, it is.  Today, I am roasting my Cinderella pumpkins on the stove for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.oct-19-001

We have a washing machine which we try to run on sunny days and we dry our clothes on a rack strung from the ceiling. When I am quilting and need to iron.. I do it on a sunny day.. You get the idea..

Our costs are getting lower as we modify our lifestyle. We have added 3000 gallons of water storage bringing our total to 5000 but still need to run the Kubota 7 KW diesel generator to fill the tanks.. In the summer with our new solar panels (1000 watts) and the water tanks full, we use very little diesel. Filling those water tanks in the winter is our major use of diesel. We have a plan to work around the generator for pumping water next summer.

Propane  – Filling our tanks at the Husky in Ladysmith, the current cost is 99 cents per pound.  When we were first here we paid double that to have it delivered to our door. Our propane use is pretty fixed as our fridge is 1.5 pounds per day no matter what we do.. But we do try to cook on the wood stove when we can.

2012   $ 580 delivered for our first  7 months

2013   $ 840 delivered

2014.  $ 570

2015    $759. * no explanation why last year was so high.. Maybe my canning method (water bath vs pressure canner) ??

2016    $590

Diesel is at about $1.08 right now. The generator is full to the brim and it should do us most of the winter. Unless it rains every day for 6 months straight.

2012.      480 litres for 7 months

2013.       540 litres

2014.       670 lires.   *constantly pumping to water the garden

2015.       580 litres * pumped everyday to fill the new water tanks before the summer of 2016

2016.       480 litres. *fully functioning solar panel system and water tanks filled before summer

Everyone on this island has tricks for saving fuels and maximizing solar power. It is only a coincidence that quite a few of us have a Scottish heritage. It isn’t that we are cheap as much as that we hate carrying jugs of gas and tanks of propane.

They are heavy