Off Grid Islander

Living off the Grid on a west coast island


After all heathens

This is my fifth winter here living full time and our 34th year as a visitor. I am going to describe a little about basics of our life, living off grid as I see it. Some of what I will tell you may seem self evident but you would be surprised at some of the questions we get.

First of all we are not here because we have issues “with the man”. Most of us don’t wear Tarzan loin cloths and none of us skin rabbits on our porch. By and large we are here for the privacy. With the property at a very reasonable cost in a part of Canada with the most unreasonable of land costs we own 2.5 acres of land with 180 feet of waterfront. By growing a lot of our own food, relying on the sun for power and a well for our water E and I live a rewarding life on a small pension.

We don’t need any more things. When we added the “nice to have” pond and greenhouse to the property, it was with scrounged left overs from others’ projects.  Kathryn’s living room window is in my greenhouse, Marys solar panels power my pond. Cheryl’s pond liner lines it and  Jan’s toilet is in my bathroom! 

You learn quickly that repurposing something already on the island is infinitely better than carrying something new over. No one brings something onto this island that isn’t necessary.. Cause it is a lot of work.

While the land is comparatively cheap here, it is a lot of work to keep up the lifestyle with which we have been accustomed. We have most of the comforts of city living with slight modifications and careful management.  It’s a choice.

We have television with satellite. We had to exchange our TV from a 46″ plasma 140 watt power hog to a 42″ LED which uses 28 watts. Choosing any appliance or tool requires research into the power draw. I blew my  Cuisinart electrical panel twice. After spending  $100.00 each time to fix it, I broke down and bought a new low wattage Kitchen  Aide. I read a lot of data to find the one with the least power demand. Our freezer is very tiny so in the winter we fill it with meat. We augment our meals with the canned fruits and veggies for our garden and make our own bread. I need the Kitchen Aide to do that as my wrists would not be able. Most of our other appliances went to the kids.

We have a basic propane stove. There are no power draining clocks or doodads on it. Small is better as you don’t need to heat a space larger than the food you are cooking..In the winter we do the majority of our cooking on the wood stove. Soups, chillis and sauces simmer for hours for free.  We think twice before we decide on a menu in the summer when the wood stove isn’t going. Slow baking ribs for hours on a summer BBQ using propane might be a second choice to five minute steaks. Every time you carry the propane tanks over you think of new ways to go without.

On demand hot water is awesome, but again requires propane. While I run the water in the sink to get it hot, I fill the kettle and put it on the stove. The next time I will already have hot water on the stove and won’t need to use the propane to wash the dishes. In the summer I use that jug of water for the dog dish or plants. We have friends who only shower together  (They are married) to save water. My vigilance has been eased about water consumption as we now have storage for 5000 gallons but I am mindful of the propane it takes to heat it. 

Blow drying of hair and flat irons are beauty aides best left off the island. Unless it’s 2 pm on a hot day and solar power is limitless their usage is risky. I find guests don’t often understand the subtleties so it is easiest just to say no. We have a friend whose guest blew their inverter with a curling iron…. Bill to fix … $3000.00.

All of us have tricks that we use to ease the work load and areas that we don’t mind spending extra time or money. I for one have no problem drinking my wine from a box and my beer from a can. My hands look like a sharecroppers and my wardrobe options are stained, torn or covered in holes from battery acid. But, most days we are usually clothed. We aren’t, 

after all, heathens


No one was naked

I used to work for a big blue company who sent their employees travelling on business a great deal. There were many jokes that you couldn’t go on a ferry, or to a restaurant or a movie without running into a fellow employee. They were my clients. While travelling on business they earned a lot of mileage points back in the days when the mileage programs first began. When my clients weren’t away on business they were off spending their points in exotic lands. Most were young and single.

One of them, let’s call her Kelly was vacationing on a topless beach in Greece when she went to the beach bar for a refill. After paying for two drinks she turned to find a senior marketing Manager from said big blue company standing behind her.. Luckily she had bought two drinks. Unfortunately for Kelly, it was a small world.

I have planted a few of Marion’s plants in the driveway rockeries. Normally when planting divided perennials I would cut back the leaves so the roots would focus on settling in and not waste their time on sending energy to the leaves just yet. My thinking today however flawed, is to leave the leaves on and see if the deer nibble. Perhaps they will find the plants distasteful and not return in the spring…. It’s an experiment……

E, is trying to bring some batteries back to life. Our friend had an Arbutus tree land on her solar panels last winter. The panels were destroyed but it seems to have also affected her batteries. He brought them down to our place while we were gone to see if they would be helped on our charger. He thought he would contact her when we got back with an update on how much it’s going to cost her to have lights at Thanksgiving.

While we were in town we had some time to kill while we waited to take our daughter to dinner. We returned to our favourite beach in Vancouver to reminisce about our misspent youth and watch the sea and mountains. Kite boarders entertained us off shore…

To our great surprise,  Ann walked past us to then sit on a log on the beach. Our dear friend whose solar panel batteries are plugged into our charger. When we islanders have to leave our little paradise we are still drawn to the shore. Fortunately, in this case of a small world exemplified, unlike my friend Kelly,

no one was naked


Another fifteen years

We go to see the transplant clinic twice per year. This fall, we were there for the results of blood work, more thorough testing will be in the spring. E takes very high doses of harsh drugs which prevent rejection of the new heart. These drugs can cause lots of dangerous side effects much like those horrible drugs on TV. You know like the ones you can take before having a good time with the wife but may cause death…

The biggest risk is to his kidneys… And for E to keep the disease away which caused all the problems in the first place, (Giant Cell Myocarditis)  he has to stay at higher dosage of the drugs than normally prescribed. But (and it’s a big but)           after seventeen years E still shows no signs of ill effects. None.. It was explained to us yesterday that the likelihood of long-term survival at this point is dependent on strong kidney function. Other than a propensity for kidney stones there is nothing else wrong with his kidneys. After seventeen years of these drugs it is rare.

We got home last night just before dark. We caught The 3:15 ferry and got through our door at 7:40 pm… Just before dark.

Today, I am checking the big book of plants with the names of all the plants from Marion to see which ones are deer resistant. Those, I will try to plant on the edges of  driveway before the frosts come. It is an experiment at best because the deer rarely read the same book as me and will often nibble on that which they are not meant to nibble.

It’s pouring rain so planting won’t  happen today. We downloaded the new Louise Penny book while we were in town so I might just have to take the day and read it. Mom said it’s her best yet and didn’t want it to end…!

We are home for the winter and our list of chores is long and getting longer. I’m not concerned,  it will all get done. We have nothing but time.. When E got sick in 99, there were only 63 cases of his disease, most diagnosed in autopsy. His Doctor, experimented with E and not only saved his life but proved the new protocol for treating the disease successfully… Wrote a paper or two about him… His parting words to us yesterday were, “with your strong kidneys, there is no reason not to expect

another fifteen years”


 Romantic will do

Our visit to the city where we both grew up continues. We visited with my Mom as soon we got in… As a daughter who has  a great Mom will do.

We had a lovely visit with our ex-neighbours who have a gorgeous garden, a beautiful wine selection and a natural flair for hospitality. We left with a car filled with perennial divisions for my island garden. Marion shared her favourites with me.. As most kind gardeners will do.

I had my hair cut and braided. As a woman who hasn’t seen a hairdresser since Christmas will do.

We saw our favorite dentist, hygienists and office staff for a crown and a six month cleaning. As a well-trained patient will do.

We are now in a Starbucks drinking coffee…. As all Vancouverites will do, as we wait to take our daughter to dinner.. As all loving parents will do….

But the highlight!   We just came from Queen Elizabeth park where we placed our lock on the new love lock statue. As all the hopelessly

romantic will do                                         img_2186



Carry my size

There is nothing worse than having your car battery die in the ferry line up.. Well I guess there is… War,  locusts, Trump, but for today, in my little world, it’s the dead battery. Nice deckhand at the terminal came by and gave us a jump so we wouldn’t miss the boat.

No, hell hasn’t frozen over. I’m not going to the big city voluntarily. We are heading to the city for E’s bi annual check up at the heart transplant clinic. The timing is perfect. We like to hear confirmation of his good health before we begin another winter on our little island, and we get to see my Mom on her 95th birthday. 

It is always quite surreal when we walk into the clinic. Months spent visiting various practitioners both before and immediately after his transplant are memories which rarely come to mind. Today, I remember sitting in the heart biopsy waiting room in 1999 and there was a man beside us who was six years post transplant and I was so excited.. Six more years with E.. Imagine that?….  Yesterday, I remembered how he needed a nap every day for the first ten years post transplant.. Now, living on the island we are able to pace ourselves. We can blend our lifestyle with our physical and mental limitations.

Our schedule is packed. In 48 hours we will manage to put a fair amount of miles on a car which usually sits in parking lot dust for 28 days a month. So, as E got a new heart in 1999, the car will get a new battery. But first I have to go shopping at the ferry gift shop. It is literally the only place I have bought clothes in four years cause Canadian Tire doesn’t 

Carry my size



On a bra

It rained last night. First real rain in a long time. My friends who have no well but catch rain water are happy, my plants are happy, my dog not so much.. It’s 12:25 pm. and he hasn’t been out yet today. When I suggest he might like to shake his leg he looks up at me briefly and then he put his head back under the blanket.

Have to admit the weather makes me kind of lazy too. E is already on his second project of the day. Our truck crapped out on the other side of the island and Brad offered to take a look at it with him. Brad is our resident truck guru…our truck is a year younger than our 25 year old daughter and could pass for twice her age… They have their work cut out for them.

We have been watching a massive house be constructed this past year on the island in front of us. As I procrastinated in choosing a job off my todo list I noticed a ton of smoke coming from the newly finished monstrosity. It wasn’t a structure fire but a giant burn pile. It is to be expected, but I am always startled when burn season starts up again. While I snooped with my binoculars on the house…..what jumps up on the water in front of me but a dolphin. Two, then six … A few of them playing quietly in the middle of the channel.

So I took my binoculars out to the perch and watched them for maybe 45 minutes. The big white boats coming through the narrows eventually scared them off… Tim Three (we have had to number our Tims)  had five whales beside his boat in the channel in front of our house yesterday, I missed them. All of these sightings bode well for an entertaining winter ahead.

I think I need to add a specific item to my todo list. Item – watch the nature channel. Because when there is wildlife out front no other task is accomplished . I drop everything or in today’s case don’t pick up anything and just sit and watch as the the nature channel unfolds before me. Life is too short to worry about the forty apples rotting in the kitchen drawer (long story) or the unfinished quilts and the jumble of research for my book.  It will all get done. We are likely to get a few more rainy days this winter.

I have company coming for dinner tonight so have opted to do nothing else today. When I entertain it is pretty casual. Living on this island it’s a big event if I put

On a bra


a week night

E used to play hockey in a recreational beer league. The ice rink was five minutes from our house. He would leave at 8:45 pm on a Monday night for a one hour game and get home around 1 am. There was a lot of bs’ing over beers in the dressing room post game.  He took some time off when he got sick in 99 but returned to his Monday night ritual six months after his transplant. He eventually had to quit not because of his heart but because of his aged back… There had been a lot of groaning on Tuesdays.

Do you remember in elementary school on a Friday afternoon when the teacher would come in and announce that everyone was going to change desks.. pack up your stuff..I used to love those days, mostly because I had the faint hope that I would finally be able to sit beside one of my friends.. never happened. I always had to sit beside someone I couldn’t laugh with.

Well, today I am the teacher and my garden plants are the students, and everyone is moving desks. No one is safe… I explain patiently to all of them that the change will do them good as I essentially tear them away from their soil mates. I explain they will make new friends.

All summer I have watched their colours and behaviours as the sun and shade took turns lighting their leaves. I knew that come September I could experiment with new partnerships, different companions. So, it is September and I am back in the garden, my happy place, having such fun moving everyone about… Only spring will tell if my ideas are valid.. if they are, awesome.. if not there is always next September. It is the great thing about gardening.. nothing is set in stone… I did this every September in L and eventually found the perfect spot for all of my plants.

Tonight, is knit night. A  winter activity of the full-time women on our island. We gather at Anne’s with a project we might be working on.. knitting, sewing, weaving.. whatever.. we sit and talk and relax.  Even without the men the topic often turns to systems.  Septic, solar, water, because pink or blue, systems are relevent to us all…


I haven’t begun any of my winter crafty projects yet so will go to Annes empty handed. Ultimately, like E’s hockey league, it isn’t the knitting that is important its the conversation and the opportunity to drink on

a week night