Off The Grid

Living off the Grid on a west coast island


was at work

She answered the knock at the door. It was 11 am.

The baby fresh from her nap happily played behind her on the floor of the family room. One of her brothers was at pre-school and would need to be picked up at noon. She would pick him up in the family’s car using the driver’s license the family paid for her to get. Her other brother was in grade two at the french immersion school on the other side of town. His mother will pick him up on her way home from work.

Next to her, in the living room behind the glass door, the families new camera sat on the coffee table. Their new IBM computer on the desk behind the couch.

She had arrived the year before from the Philippines. Hired by the family to take care of their three children while both parents worked. Both of them often had to leave the house before six am for work.. Too early, to take the children to daycare and the costs of a live in nanny much less than full-time daycare for three children aged 2,4 and 7.

She opened the door. Standing before her were two intimidating middle-aged men in suits and ties. They showed no ID. She didn’t know she could ask for it. Her nanny training prepared her for medical emergencies and strangers in the park. These men scared her as they pushed their way into the house.

One man walked past the baby on the floor to look around the living room while the other distracted her with his words. He told her they were from child services and her employers had called them because they suspected she was abusing their children. These men didn’t stay long, maybe fifteen minutes, a lifetime. They had seen all they needed. They had seen what was worth stealing. They left her, hysterical, clutching the baby and sobbing.

Seemingly betrayed by the employers whom she had thought liked her. In fact, they had seemed to embrace her warmly into their family. She was desperate with thoughts that she would be deported in disgrace. Her family shamed. What would become of her? She had done nothing wrong!!!

It was 3:15 pm and I walked in the door with my eldest son laughing and happy. My four-year old and two-year old were playing together on the floor of the family room. My nanny was in the living room, eyes red and puffy… sniffling .. “Whatever is wrong?” I asked. Only a family death could cause such sadness.. How can I help? What is it? …

She replied “You don’t know?” as she glared at me with suspicious eyes. “No, of course not. Tell me” I begged.

So she told me the story. I had never heard of such a thing, and got on the phone immediately to the police. The first officer I spoke with told me that she should have asked for ID. Very helpful…(not). I asked to speak to someone more helpful. The next officer explained that even if someone, because it sure as hell wasn’t us,  had reported her for suspected abuse. A) They would have notified us and B) Child services would have visited when we were there.

I got off the phone and explained the procedures to my nanny but she could not stop crying and I could not convince her that I wasn’t in some way involved. So I phoned the police again and begged for a sergeant to come and check out my house and talk to my nanny. I also got on the phone and ordered an alarm system to be installed in our house the next day.

That evening when E was home, the sergeant from the local police arrived in full uniform and sat down and explained everything to us again. Eventually we got her calmed down and convinced that we trust her and the kids adored her…

It was definitely one of the most difficult days of being a mother who worked fulltime outside of the house. Over seven years we had three full-time Nanny’s. This story is about the one who stayed with us for four years. We were very fortunate to have such great care for our children when we had to be at work. I have complete empathy for our kids now as they try to sort out babysitting for our granddaughter. It is a busy busy time.

Two weeks after these mysterious two men visited our house, a neighbouring house was completely emptied with all furniture and valuables loaded into a moving van parked in the attached garage during the day while the family

was at work.

june 12th 2008 034

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E got soaked

My sister-in-law tells me that when growing up on Vancouver’s North Shore, if you didn’t play in the rain you would never go outside. Well, we had monsoon level rains today and it didn’t stop us from working outside. Work, play, it’s all the same……. Rain, what rain?

Yesterday, we brought over what will hopefully be our last load of lumber. E and I carried 1000 pounds of lumber onto the boat, off the boat, onto the truck, off the truck…..Very satisfying to think it should be our last….

Today, Craig built the framing for the deck on the perch, and the framing for stairs at the north end of the house. E laid the decking boards on the perch deck and the new stairway. The cedar kick boards for the railing have been stained but can’t be installed until they dry, just a little bit. Maybe tomorrow. Did I mention we are going to end up with 1200 square feet of decking on three different decks!!!!!!!!!! whooo hooo!!!

My job, was sous carpenter.. Is there such a thing? I brought needed boards to E and charged drill batteries and took away the wood scraps. I made pumpkin spice muffins (with cream cheese icing) for nourishment and kept the hot coffee coming… I basically just try to stay out-of-the-way and keep everyone happy. We all have our skills, and mine is not carpentry.

Thursday, we went to Costco for our six month top up of staples and meat. On the way we stopped at the garden store to spend my gift certificate from Anne. I picked out a Sir Thomas Lipton white rose for the (deer proof) deck. Planted in a container which I inherited from my Mom, it will make an excellent reminder of her, as it overlooks the ocean, on a summer eve, with the scent filling the deck.. Thank you Anne, it means a lot.

I was looking at Muskoka chairs (Adirondack) for the perch deck, at Canadian Tire, but they were $179.00. Too much!  Then we went to Costco and the same chairs were 49.00!!!  Score! They will fit nicely on the new wee deck off the guest room.

Whew, aren’t we all so glad not to be talking about system problems any more. Our problems are currently all resolved and E and I are moving forward. It’s all terribley exciting. I figure the deer proof deck should be finished by the end of the weekend and then I can get to what I like to do… plant stuff!!!

Getting proper rain gear has been on my shopping list for six years, but we have yet to buy any. My friend Hil, tells me there is no such thing as bad weather just bad gear…Well, we had rain today and we have bad gear,

E got soaked




what about yours

We had a new neighbour visit us yesterday.. He has the smartest plan I’ve ever heard for a new resident.. He is visiting his new neighbours for information on all of the individual systems we use and what we like or don’t like about them.. So many of us come to the island without a clue what we are doing and don’t ask for advise.. or worse we ask but don’t follow the suggestions.

Sure, all of our properties have different advantages or limitations. But I would like to invite you to tell us what system or choices you made that you are really happy with or one system which you wish you had done otherwise. How about just one.. Your favorite system or choice or the one thing you wish you had done differently.

You might have had to catch rainfall off your roof as you have no well, but what filter system did you use? Do you like it? If I recall correctly for Mary, she loves her huge pantry.

I will start us off.. At our other property on the island the only thing I would have changed and what drove us absolutely mad was the open stone fireplace. A fireplace is useless in this environment. You need an airtight wood stove if you want to keep your house warm. That house was always freezing.

I don’t like the airtight stove opposite the view window as they often are. Placed in the centre of the room for efficiency purposes.. I want the fireplace, the view, the TV, and my book all within easy viewing from my favorite chair… I had to fight with the powers that be to get our new fireplace where I wanted it.. and I know it isn’t the most efficient placement… but the house is warm enough and I can see the fire and my view without turning around…

I’m tired tonight. We were building the new deck railing in the freezing hail and its difficult for me to put my Bailey’s down.. So this is your chance.. Enough about my house and it’s systems,

what about yours?


we had problems

Over the last few months we have dealt with many problems with our water system. Solving each problem, one at a time. We never had any difficulties with water pressure or the on demand hot water system until we began the reno..

First we had the pressure tank issues which E was able to correct in the fall.

Then, we couldn’t get the hot water to come on correctly until we realized we hadn’t yet cut the vent into the utility cabinet above the tank so the sensor activated an automatic shut off process.

After storing eight hundred gallons in December, January,  we discovered in February that we had not been successfully pumping water into the tanks for who knows how long and they were again empty.. You have to understand the tanks are a long way from our house, to keep an eye on them takes a hike up a long hill and frankly we are busy….. (lazy?)

E pulled the pump and discovered a broken wire inside the pump.. Fixed that… We gained a few hundred gallons in the tank and carried on with our business..

Then, last week we had no water in the house.. Water in the tanks and half way down the hill at the tap by the studio.. but nothing at the house. Was the pipe clogged with muck  from the recently pumped water, was it broken? Before we began the ordeal of laying new pipe down the hill from the studio E had the brilliant idea to cut into the water supply at the bottom of the hill before the pipe went under the house. Water gushed out… A virtual Geiser shot up at the base of the path by the door.

Was the newly poured cement for our foundations pressing on the pipe or were the taps just old? I’m of the mind the pipes were crushed under the cement…E figures it was a problem with the old tap.. Not important who is right. I’m not petty like that… Me.

E installed a new pipe over the foundations and under the house. We had awesome water pressure in the house.. Tanks continued to fill. The kids were here for the weekend and we had no problems at all.. Showers all around.

After the kids left Sunday the water again stopped flowing. Nothing out of the taps. Checked the water tanks up the hill and again they were empty… The pump had stopped working, again, for who knows how many days. But we just been through all of the hassle of pulling the pump, fixing the wires and dropping the pump back in place..sigh..

So Tuesday, with great difficulty and a few friends we pulled the pump again…

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It took forever.. the pipe down the well seemed to be caught up on something and was pinched.. It didn’t come out smoothly like the last time.. We checked its function and it was working fine in a big barrel of water.. We tidied the wires and zip strapped everything neatly.. and dropped it ever so gently back down the hole…. I think with all of our fussing and efforts over the previous 48 hours we had over pumped. When we went to get water up with the newly dropped pump there wasn’t any…. Was our well useless?  What is the darned problem now? We left it sit for 48 hours while gratefully accepting water from our neighbours well…

This morning we pumped. Thirty minutes with E at the top of the hill watching the inflow pipe to the tank… Water!!! Thirty minutes of water came into the tank.. We are going to very carefully now pump fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening. Every day while keeping a careful eye on what is going on up there..

so….. in summary

The pressure tank wasn’t working because the settings were wrong. The on demand hot water tank wasn’t working because we hadn’t yet installed the vent above the tank. There was coincidentally a broken wire within the water pump. We pinched a pipe under the house when we poured the new foundations and we kinked the well pipe when we dropped the pump too quickly down the well once we fixed the wire.

Good Flying Grief, ….That surely must be it with the water problems. Time will tell if we have had as many solutions as

we had problems










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to come back

Trying out the pretty much completed second bedroom this month. Our daughter was here for a few days, then we had our son and his family this last weekend and our other son is coming for Easter.

The hardest part and by that I mean the only part I miss about city living is the distance from our children and granddaughter. We are fortunate in that our children love this island as much as we do and make the effort to spend as much time here as they can.

Our seven month old granddaughter was given a little taste about what is in store for her when she visits us when an eagle decided to feed in front of our window. Virtually a few feet from our breakfast table. It then perched on the rock at her feet. Her giggles turned to belly laughs at the sight of it.eagle.jpg

With the help of our son over the weekend, we got one tree taken down, another bucked and E was able to get the rest of the building supplies over to the island which we will need for the deck and it’s railing. Our other son will help E finish the deck weather permitting, over the Easter weekend. All of the kids like to help with projects when they come. In fact, all of our guests are conscripted when they come. Luckily, we have friends and family who like to pitch in and feel like they are participating members of the property. I think guests enjoy their visits more when they can look back and see their contributions over the years.

Normally, when guests are here they are included in the mornings chores for an hour or two before the days activities of kayaking, food and wine begin. We try to think of projects which our guests will enjoy. Some like to chop a little wood, or water the vegetables or fix a stairway, or wash some windows. We have lots and lots of projects on the list for this summers guests..The eaves troughs need to be installed, there is staining to do and lots of gardening..

Three kids and three visits in a month is pretty much all we could have hoped for when we built the second bedroom. You see, we don’t work our kids or our guests too hard. They all seem to want

to come back:)

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with our lives

I remember where I was the first time I felt my sons kick in the womb. I distinctly remember the moment my daughter took her first step. I remember what I was thinking the first time I noticed E, standing at the UBC Old Boys club house, beer in his hand, laughing.. Some moments survive in our memory, travelling with us through time, their importance forever with us.

It’s 8pm and I am sitting with seven of the women on the island. Friends. Once a week the women on the island who live here full-time get together to work on their annual creation to be raffled off at the AGM.  Alternating, one year a quilt, one year a knitted afghan, these projects are works of art. Nothing you could buy in a store.

2013 quilt (002)

These women are talented. I am not. They let me sit with them and pretend that I am one of them. I sit here writing in my journal, preoccupied with my thoughts as I am taken back to March 21st 2000.

At 9PM on  March 21, 2000 we received a phone call from BC Transplant telling us that we needed to get to the hospital because there was a new heart available for E. Driving down to the hospital, two girlfriends came with us. We were fully aware another family somewhere was getting a very different phone call. E’s bravery to walk into that hospital knowing the surgery ahead of him was beyond comprehension.

As he lay in bed that night waiting for the heart to arrive he was cracking jokes “You realize they are cutting out my second favorite organ tonight? “.. “If it doesn’t go well can you have the service at Splashdown.. take me for a ride down the slides in your bikinis”. To be honest, I remember little about that week. Days and days at the hospital with no sleep as we saw him through the operation and home to safety. It’s a blur.

But I remember the phone ringing and I remember where I was standing when it rang.  It’s hard not to travel with that memory at the back of my mind.

E is at home tonight working on the music for an upcoming Mexican party on the island. He spent the day today covered in mud working on the water system (this time it’s really fixed!!!)  I am sitting with my friends talking about wool, and wool spinning, drinking  and eating chocolate.

We will have a nice dinner tonight and open my last good bottle of red. But I believe it safe to say we remember the second we got the call, but we have taken that moment and happily moved on

with our lives




attitude on life

While E was at the hospital this week they gave him the usual questionnaire to fill out.. Are you depressed? Are you stressed? etc. He just says no to everything.. He never has had any stress or depression, impending heart transplant or not.. The guy never worries.

Back to the island. Back to work.

E headed up to the water tanks to clean out the smaller one.. He has made a vacuum contraption out of old copper piping attached to a garden hose. The tank was filthy… It isn’t now. All three tanks are open with the potential of 4000 gallons of water on the top of the hill. We are currently sitting at about 800.  Last week we were at zero. We are now pumping 15 minutes, once per hour.. Won’t take too long to get the tanks filled and we can put this nasty business of dirty well water behind us…

I went to work in the greenhouse (such as it is). Time to get the vegie seeds started and try to have some sort of decent garden produce this summer. We will put last summer behind us.. I planted a lot of tomatoes seeds..

8 X Roma Paste, 18 X Alisa Craig,  8 X Ruths Perfect Medium, 10 X Saltspring Sunrise Medium, 8 X Cosmonaut Volkov, and 8 X Pollocks Medium

Five Cinderella pumpkin and some basil. The peas are sitting between a damp cloth in the kitchen til they are sprouted. (otherwise the voles get them).. The garden is still pretty messy but I don’t have a lot else on my plate right now so I should be able to get things tidied up pretty quick.

E has just about finished installing a solar panel upgrade to our neighbours house and fixing all of our urgent system problems.. I’m hoping, if I ask nicely,  I can get a couple of days work out of him at the greenhouse. Won’t take much to have it finished.

There is a lot to do down at the house but we are taking a bit of time getting caught up on all of the chores that were neglected last year. We are in no rush.

As we were pulling out of the marina this week, I asked him if he needed me to roll up the plastic canvass so he could see out the back of the boat we were borrowing while ours was fixed.. His response… “Don’t bother.. Doesn’t matter what is behind us.. Just need to look ahead”

Pretty much sums up his whole

attitude on life

50 Bacardi







Especially, we remember

Good morning. It’s 8am and we are sitting at a coffee shop at Robson and Davie. We are here, because for eighteen years we always come here, on this day, at this time for coffee, before we begin our annual visit at St. Paul’s. Eighteen times we have driven the same route, parked in the same spot.. sipped coffee at the same table.. We aren’t superstitious.. but today we remember.

E had all his blood work done on the big island last week. As always, I peeked at the results on ehealth and there was nothing to worry about.. but I won’t relax until I hear it from the doctor.

First stop, xray, ground floor. This would seem a pretty benign test but I remember the first time E had an X-ray, it showed his heart to be the size of a soccer ball filling his whole chest cavity. That day, oblivious, I waited outside the lab in the chair when bells started ringing and nurses began hugging me with tears in their eyes… it was a long time ago. But sitting here today, we remember.

Next stop, 4th floor echo cardio gram … The echo test reveals the ejection fraction rate and the flow. If there is maybe a leak. How much blood is actually being pumped. It is never 100% a good ejection fraction rate is maybe 79%. There was a time E was at 13%. Doctor raved about the pictures he was getting. Said it was so clear he could see the stitches attaching the new heart in place. There was a time when they invited us to examine his old dead heart… we remember.

Next stop a quick ECG.. Again, the technician raves about the picture. Eighteen years? She asks… Wow, impressive she says.. All of the testing appointments run like a clock. We never have to wait.

Upstairs to the transplant clinic. The head of Cardiology, who used to preside over every step of E’s treatment was no where to be seen. Probably off saving someone else’s life. Instead, a twelve year old Doctor came into check on him and give us the results of all of the testing. There was a time when papers were written about E’s unusual case, residents came in droves to try to guess what was wrong with him. Now he is boring, normal, regular, a perfectly healthy guy… but we remember..

As you may be guessing. E is perfectly healthy. There is no reason that we won’t be able to have twenty healthy years on the new deck, drinking wine with friends and family. All thanks to science and the generosity of a family we will never be able to thank in person. But today,

especially, we remember

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Nations flag idea

One can log onto three different weather forecasting channels and get three different weather reports for our waters. They are all unreliable. We are often called for the water conditions from friends about to head here in their boats.

We have a few more things to install on the deck, once the railing is on.. We bought a weather station to project out off the corner of the deck into the wind..The weather station measures rain fall, wind speed, barometric pressure and of course the temperature. It is a very cool system which can hook into the internet on the weather underground. We will give you the coordinates and you will be able to go on-line to see the weather on the island here. First we need a railing.

The other thing I want is a big ass flag. My Mom’s friend Evie had a United Nations flag at her house and I always loved it. I had thought we might go a more traditional route and get the Maple leaf waving in the wind.. Haven’t thought much on where we will hang it but it’s best location will become self evident, I should suspect.

I heard on the news that Parliament changes their flags fairly regularly and you can put your name on a list to get an authentic Parliament Hill flag. I thought that sounded just about big enough for our needs and wrote to Ottawa to get my name on the waiting list.

Good News! I heard back this week and my name is indeed on the waiting list. They advised me that my name should make it to the top of the list in just seventy-eight ………….YEARS!

They were very excited for me as well can be expected but cautioned me to hold on to the reference number and to keep them informed if I should change my address.

I might want to rethink the United

Nations flag idea




I can do

Saturday, E was coming back from town on flat waters, under sunny skies, just past the narrows when the engine on our boat had a hissy fit. It made a loud ugly noise and stopped. He hadn’t hit anything to deserve the tantrum. The engine had just decided that it refused to go further until it sees the Doctor. Our dear friend, Tim came out to tow E back into the Cove. Then we had it towed to the city on Monday.

Boat Doctors are not cheap and we are still waiting for word on the cost to convince said motor it would like to go back to work. sigh.. Didn’t I just say we were working through our problems and most were under control.???

Although the well pump is now working, we disturbed the hole when we pulled and replaced the pump. Yuck and guck have joined muck floating in our well water. It’s a lovely brown colour when it comes out of the tap. Not to waste the icky water, we are pumping it into our two five hundred gallon garden tanks. At some point in the very near future we are hoping to fill the upper tanks with three thousand gallons of clear water for the house feed.. In the meantime we will head up the hill to our neighbours for a shower every once in while so as not to offend the wildlife..

While E deals with dead engines and muddied well waters, I have turned my attentions to setting up patio furniture and planning the deck garden. I have figured out a way to make the deck deer proof and am hoping to be able to have a few ( few???) flowers scattered here and there (everywhere!). This requires a lot of seed catalogue study and day dreaming on the deck. It’s a very strenuous job . With all the  work that E has to do with the grunge of the well water etc. I feel daydreaming on the deck in front of my new fire pit is arguably the very least

I can do..