Off The Grid

Living off the Grid on a west coast island


we ever lived

It was 11:15 PM, we were watching Sports Page, and our phone rang. E answered it and got a strange look on his face. He put the phone down on the side table and went into our bedroom and picked up the extension. A few quiet words spoken and I heard him call me “can you come here for a minute, please?”

I went in the bedroom to find E standing behind the curtain peeking out the window. On the outside was a man, dressed in black with socks on his hands. He was climbing up and over the lattice around our ground floor patio. Our upstairs neighbour had seen him watching us through our curtains. She phoned us, then phoned the police.

We had thought the location of our new apartment was perfect. A brand new condo complex, with a courtyard garden, just off Denman at the gates to Stanley Park. It was owned by a friend of my Moms, an investment property, she just wanted occupied. She charged us $220.00 per month rent. It was 1980 and the price was right.

We both played recreational soccer on Sundays so we would walk around the animal pens at Stanley Park before we left for our games. The park was empty at that time of day and we would have the park and the animal enclosures to ourselves. Evenings, we could walk around the seawall. Lost Lagoon was at our front door.

The condo was on the ground floor with the driveway to the underground parking beside our patio. One night, months after the incident when the neighbour called us, we came home after an evening walk at the sea wall. I don’t remember why, but instead of going through the front door to the complex we walked down the driveway with our beeper to go to our car in the garage.

At eye level on the driveway retaining wall, stacked in neat rows side by side were  2X2 towers of five maybe six skins of meticulously peeled oranges. They sat in varying degrees of decay at eye level from the driveway looking into our apartment. Someone was watching us, and they were fond of their citrus. We gave our notice, moved to south Granville and paid double the rent.

My daughter has been here for the last week. While here she had a deer at our front door, whales under our deck and a new puppy to cuddle… It was a great visit, and it was agreed this is a great place to live.

Over a glass of wine one night she reminded me of the creepiest story I had ever told her and the worst place

we ever lived

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Okay by us

After living here full time for six years and the reno almost complete, our life has returned to what could be considered routine. The questions begs, what are we going to do with our time, going forward.

Many on the island spend the winter months travelling to warmer climates. Renting accommodations with power and heating. A bit more warmth, or a greater variety of activities.

E and I watched a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain, listened attentively to our friend’s adventures, considered brochures and websites. We even renewed our passports. But we couldn’t come up with one place we would rather be than here, in the spring, summer or fall and there is not one place we are interested in visiting during the winter.

Our options are limited by our interests vs. E’s health. Heart transplant patients are unlikely to get medical insurance for the Galapagos and if an emergency arose kayaking in the Antarctic.. well we would be hooped.

So we renovate to create our dream house and tuck in for twenty or thirty years on the nature channel. We are forty minutes from a hospital and an hour from the transplant team. It works for us.

What we don’t need or miss travelling the world, we get from our family and each other. Our family has always included two dogs. Except for the last three years, since Bacardi died at thirteen, we have always had two dogs.. E and I each want one on our lap when we are reading by the fire in the winter. My dog Sami is twelve.

Today, we picked up the newest member to the family. You will be able to find him, I am sure, firmly attached to E’s hip. Like Bacardi before him, a shadow following E around the property while he does his chores.

We needed another dog you see, because the truth is.. we are going no where and that is

Okay by us


incredible, he smiled

People who specialize in taking pictures of events have the advantage of knowing when the event will take place. They can set up their camera carefully, in the perfect position for optimum quality. Want to take a picture of a sunset? Sunsets, you absolutely know what time it will occur. Want a really good picture of a sunset? Set that camera up on a night when there are a lot of clouds. Many clouds make beautiful sunsets. But taking pictures of the happenings here on the nature channel is a hit and miss adventure.


E has had a miserable time of it for the last two days. Peaceful hours sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a townhouse could start to sound appealing. The combination of the skins doctor’s blow torch on his keratoses, (keretoses are a side effect of the drugs he has to take), a giant boulder landing on his finger and a particularly ugly boat trip in the wind brought him to the deck yesterday afternoon with a beer in his hand, and a sigh as he slumped in his chair. The heavy 75 sunscreen freshly slathered on his face, was caught in his two-day growth of beard giving him a Santa kinda of look, if Santa looks exhausted.

But then we heard it. The unmistakable sound which we have learned to discern, even if necessary, through the roaring sound of waves. It had been a particularly windy day yesterday. My daughter and I had listened to the waves beneath the deck all afternoon while E had gone to town. But then we heard “it”. But “it” sounded so close.. They are rarely so close.

We jumped up to go to the railing and there, right below our deck, were the three whales who have been hanging around the area for the last two months. Two adults and a baby. If they had spouted we would have been soaked. So close! Whale visits tend to rarely happen when my daughter is here. Yesterdays was as good as it gets.

The camera, of course was nowhere near us. The whales had given us no notice of the impeding arrival. You can’t plan on their visit. Although, it helps if you have a deck hanging over the water and keep your ears open for that unmistakable sound. You can’t set up your camera for the perfect moment. It’s a hit or miss photo opportunity. Yesterdays was a miss.

We returned to our seats on the deck. E, still with his sore finger, aching bones and sore scalp, had a smile on his face.

“Incredible”, he smiled.







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an awesome team

We are a finely tuned machine.

Seven bowls with premeasured sugar line the back of the counter . Two large sauce pans share the stove next to a small pot filled with heated lids. Seven packages of Certo sit with a pair of scissors beside the lemon juice. Wooden spoons, measuring spoons and wet cloths are lined up beside the stove…

Thirty jars are washed and are set in cake pans on the two shelves in the stove at 200 degrees. Another eighteen are washed ready for their turn.

The strawberries arrived at 12:30. Our friends kindly brought them up from the southern tip of the island by boat, at a substantially less price than in our closest town.

Our daughter got to work hulling and slicing the berries. E ran one saucepot and I the other. I was five minutes behind him so we could take turns at the canning station which was set up on the breakfast bar. If we needed an extra hand to stir a pot while we were filling hot jars with jam, our daughter stepped in.

Two hours later we had forty some odd jars of strawberry jam with a few berries left for dessert.

One flat equals 10.175 pounds (12 quarts) @ $38.00.

7 batches of jam equals about forty-eight assorted jars at about 1.00 each (including sugar and Certo).

I am a jam making control freak with

an awesome team

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free rain water

Careful for what you ask for they say.. All of my whining about unending rain in April.. Lord, what I wouldn’t give for a few hours of that sound on our roof.

We have kind of given up on our well. It just does not produce what we need or what we were used to at the other end of the island. Truth is, it’s been a couple of years since we have really had the water during the summer which we need.

So we bucked up and spent a bunch of money on a spiffy new rain water catchment system. E installed it. We are set to go… If you live off grid or are in any way interested in rain water catchment… carry on.. if not… we will see you tomorrow.

Our property is 2.5 acres with four distinct levels to it. A 60 foot rise from the house to the tanks at the top. The roof is 1200 square feet, give or take… Our understanding is that a 1000 square foot roof produces 500 gallons from an inch of rain. A potential of 20,000 gallons per year on this property.

The water goes off of the metal roof, into the gutters, down the four corner pipes and into one central entry spot to the new Wisy vortex filter. The Wisy  acts as a first flush diverter. Solely through the use of gravity the water spins in a vortex, 5% goes out a pipe over the cliff with the leaves and needles. The other 95% goes through a fine metal mesh filter and into a 500 gallon collection tank under the deck.

Once the tank is full,  the 120 volt, submersible transfer pump will come on. The water is then sent 400 feet up the hill to the water tanks. There are 2 X 1500 gallon tanks and 1 X 1000 gallon tank at the top of the hill. One level down from the tanks at the garden, there are 2 X 500 gallon tanks which can be filled separately from the house filtering system.DSCN5107


When we turn the tap on down at the house, water comes down the hill from the tanks to the studio level, mid-way. There is a pressure tank, 12 volt pump and particle filter at that stage. It then proceeds down the hill to the house where it goes through another particle filter, a charcoal filter and a UV light. The UV light is powered by our inverter. DSCN5114

The whole system is automatic and powered by the solar power system we installed in the fall… and gravity…

During the winter we have a lot of rain and an unlimited supply. We can add as many tanks as we want to this system in the winter and have the summer garden of my dreams with no worry about water.

We have been enjoying the fruits of the solar panel system we installed in the fall and appreciate how much money it will save us over time with the abundant sun we get here.

We are looking forward to appreciating the same reward

with free rain water.







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and start typing

I’ll preface with explaining last weeks dump of postings in your in-basket. My apologies. I was copying all of the blog into my hard drive and inadvertently re-posted a few old postings. The good news is all of the blog is now saved from pontential n’er do well Russian attackers. The bad news is,  I inconvenienced y’all.. Again, sorry!

On to important new stuff.. Ironically, one of the postings was about a previous attempt to quit drinking. Ironic, as I have just had my first sip of wine, indeed alcohol, in three weeks..

I stopped drinking three weeks ago, not so much as to “quit” but to make sure I could “quit” if I wanted. In this world of a cold beer after a long day working in the sun, followed by a G&T at gin-o-clock, Port at four, wine for dinner, followed by Baileys at the sunset, it is sometimes good to take stock and see if perhaps you might be drinking too much. Truth be told, yes I probably was. I certainly find it hard to write the blog without a glass of wine in hand.

When the kids were young, driving home from work on a Friday night I would rent two videos, buy six beer and a bottle of wine. E would drink three beer Friday, and three on Saturday and I would split my bottle of wine over the two nights. That was our entertainment… for years!!!

When on vacations, we were usually camping with the kids and we never took booze. While we were raising them, our time  was about them and at least one of us was sober at all times, usually both. At any given moment someone could have an ear infection and have to go to the ER in the middle of the night…We were fairly responsible parents..

But now it’s just us. E and I living a life which is essentially a working vacation. Hard not to open the bar, as the day progresses. But I have proved the point, and its my birthday this week and shit if I am not going to drink wine as I mark a new age…..Life is too short… I’m sure I will quit again, and again and probably again… I’m kind of an all or nothing kinda gal….

But I have sooo much to tell you.. We have had some major changes lately here on the nature channel and empowered with my wine glass in hand I can get back to my lap top

and start typing…








need more seed

Busy week. We had to go up island to get the new water tank and supplies for the rain water catchment system. It took E three days, two while swearing repeatedly to install the tank under our deck and then hook the pipes from our down spouts to the tank. So we are all hooked up and if it should start to rain at least the water can be captured in the newly installed 500 gallon tank.

Now he has to wire the pump, lay the pipes to the upper water tanks and then install three more filters…. no sweat….. 🙂

The garden is running smoothly now. Other than watering the vegies, there is nothing much else I have to do but wait for the bounty. In the meantime, I can sit in the flower part of the garden and enjoy the tranquility and aromas.  I will post pictures this week.

I have dragged the sewing machine out and almost finished a quilt for our granddaughter. Nothing fancy but nice to make something for her.

We have had a ring necked turtle dove arrive at our property. He has been around for four days… Not sure if this is where he meant to spend his summer. He looks a little lost.

We had four American Gold finch couples hanging around on the deck. Now they are teaching their babies how to feed off our feeders.. I am going to

need more seed

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vultures and whales

It was a great day here on the nature channel.

Seven years ago, when we first came down the lane to look at this house, we met our soon to be neighbour feeding dead mice (her cats had killed) to the baby turkey vultures. Now, that may seem like an ordinary occurence to you but we had never seen a turkey vulture, or a baby turkey vulture or indeed fed them dead mice.. We didn’t have that sort of ugly bird goings on at the other end of the island.

The vultures didn’t come back to their cave in the rocks after we moved here. We suspect it was because of the dog… Perhaps he wandered up the cliff to their hole in the wall and spooked them…

But they are back. This morning I tried to get a picture of them in the cave but they heard me coming and came out to greet me…

Fun facts about turkey vultures

When a turkey vulture feels threatened, for instance, at its nest or at a carcass, they can launch their vomit containing powerful stomach acids up to 10 feet away!  Vomiting on potential predators isn’t their only gross habit; they also defecate on their legs and feet when they are feeling hot. This habit cools their blood vessels and kills harmful bacteria and parasites that might otherwise make them sick.

They are definitely the ugliest birds I have ever had the misfortune to see beside  my garden…But if they want to return here to have their babies, my neighbour will be here soon with, what I am sure will be, a plentiful supply of dead mice.

Left over from the renovation was a bunch three-inch ABS piping. E cut the pipes into 18 inch lengths with holes at the base.. I buried them between my tomatoes to see if I could have better luck getting water to the roots. I’ll try anything at this point to get water to the vegies…


E wrapped up his day pouring a cement step at the bottom of the stairs to the water.

Then, just as we had had supper and sat down to catch our breath, the same three Orca from last weekend showed up to feed in front of our house. They hung around for about an hour.. Just far enough out to frustrate my picture-taking..


I had lots of gorgeous pictures of flowers blooming in my garden to show you but they will have to wait… today it’s all about

vultures and whales


and a baby

When we have guests here on the nature channel we always hope the stars of the show will appear. We can usually rely on the otter, seal and eagles to cooperate but the whales are temperamental and show up only when they feel like it.

But whether they show or not… sitting on the new deck is more than pleasant with plenty to entertain…

We took the May long weekend off to enjoy a visit with our family. We usually save heavy lifting jobs for when our sons are here and they expect to be conscripted to hard labour. But for once, they were given, in fact we were all given the weekend off and we spent it enjoying a few hours with no chores!!!

I have been hesitant to plant my vegies until I was confident I would have water this summer. But we think we have a solution to our water issues so I was up in the garden at 8 am this morning to get the vegetables planted before the sun was too hot. Forty-five tomato plants, four zuchini, nine pumpkin, and a row of cucumbers were added to the peas, beans, lettuce, spinach and beets which were already in the ground.

We have ordered a rain water catchment system which E figures he can install fairly easily. The parts should be here early next week and if we give E a fairly reasonable work schedule, installed by the next week. With any luck there will be a heavy June rain at some point to fill a tank or two.

With our beautiful new metal roof it has become fairly obvious that capturing that free water is the solution. By the time the rainwater has gone through a German first flush diverter and then a vortex filter, then a particle filter, a charcoal filter and a UV filter it will be drinkable when it comes out of DSCN4681.JPGour tap.. We will get it tested just to be sure but we have every expectation that we are going to have water galore. One inch of rainwater will give us 500 gallons of water.

As we sat at dusk on the deck,  at the end of a perfect day with most of our family, we heard the magic sound we are always waiting for …. and there they were.  Three transient whales feeding in front of our house.. Two adults

and a baby.




a new name

The Swedes call it dostadning, death cleaning. The cleaning which happens after a relative dies and you have to clean out their house and dispose of all of their belongings. Except with this concept, you do it now, in your sixties… Simplify your life and get rid of all of, for lack of a better word, the crap which you have been carrying around with you for years. You thought you might need it, or should keep it for sentimentality… but you don’t. I don’t .. Time to get rid of it all!!!

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson, suggests it is now the time to declutter.. in the extreme sense of decluttering.

The house reno is under control when I can spend the whole day in the garden.  Time not spent desperately trying to hack back the over growth but to hang up bird feeders and take pictures of flowers. Hours sitting under the shade of the umbrella watching the fish and the frogs and the butterflies and well just listening to the deafening silence interrupted by the occasional bird’s song.

I honestly don’t think we spent one hour in the garden last summer. But this year we are under control and the property is, if not spotless, pretty darned tidy.. Tidy!! Can you imagine… after what this place looked like last year? For months and months we stepped over demo debris and reno materials and tools and tools and tools!!!! No more, it’s as clean is it is ever likely to be…

We have even emptied the studio out and death cleaned. We sorted the massive amounts of boxes which came from our house, and my Moms house,.. For months we couldn’t even close the door to the studio… Now, the boxes are sorted and all of the materials (tiles, flooring) we were able to save from the original house for a future bunkie are stacked neatly out of the weather.. Well, most of it….

We had our last burn pile.. It lasted three days. We burned papers which we found in the studio which we have been carrying around for years.. E’s Dads papers, my kids report cards, mortgage papers from houses we haven’t owned in this century…Receipts for dental work on a dog who died four years ago..

After living in such a state of disarray for the last year. I am done! Done with mess! Anything left on our property which isn’t of immediate use, beautiful, alcoholic, aromatic or made of cheese is no longer welcome.

Although this death cleaning concept is brilliant and my house is finally going to be decluttered. I admit the concept could use

a new name