Our Daily Bird 59: A place to call my own

It seems that many minds are turning to thoughts of home, place and space during these long winter months. Birds may need to to find shelter and not every one may want what are arguably some of the brightest and happiest houses known to birdkind. A few birds  may enjoy a more modern design and that's where ChrisJob at the Curbly blog helps out with a mid-century influenced birdhouse complete with design plans and how-to videos so your fine feathered friends can practice their unhappy hipster poses in fine minimalist style.



12 things you might like to know before heading off the grid

Michelle Buchanan (@michisle) read Jordon's Small Living post and sent us the story of her family's experience with off-grid living. Originally posted at Michelle's blog,

In 1994 my partner and I, fed up with the way society was going, headed to the woods with our little boy. We’d hoped to collect a group of folks to buy land with, but in the end it was just ourselves. We bought ten acres of raw land in a remote bay on Quadra Island and a converted school bus. We insured my old van and headed out.

We spent two months in the bus, parked in a little clearing that the previous owner had made, sketching out cabin plans and buying materials. The van was our tool shed. In September, the rain and hail came and we retreated to a hotel room at the south end of the island. Four months later we moved in to the bones of our small, cold, unfinished cabin. We were in heaven despite having to carry water daily, as we had no plumbing.  We had no insulation in our floor and were burning wet wood. We bathed in a tub outside, used a makeshift outhouse, and washed our clothes in town. But the lack of comfort and convenience didn’t seem to matter so much to us then.

in the garden our first year at the cabin

our first summer in the cabin (photo: Michelle Buchanan)

Eventually, we built a pump house, an outhouse, a chicken coup, a shed, and dug and fenced a garden. We upgraded the cabin and added to it and over the years built a house, a goat barn, an electrical shed, a wood shed, dug and fenced more gardens, and cleared more land. We did this alongside our other projects, work, homeschooling our son, gardening, foraging some, milking goats, tending chickens, making cheese and yogurt, and preserving the rest of the bounty. Between the hard work there was a lot of play, at the many beaches, along the trails, around campfires, and wood-stoves.

I miss many aspects of that lifestyle, but, some things, I don’t. I don’t miss the tremendous amount of driving I did, getting supplies, and getting my son to and from activities. I don’t miss the type of work that has to be done, right now, and only now, like feeding animals, preserving food while it’s fresh, and keeping the wood-stove going. I don’t miss the power outages,  and the ferry line-ups. All in all, however, I chalk it up as having been an amazing experience.

Yet now we’re back in civilization, well, more so than we were, I find that it startles me to hear others pining for retreat, and their earnest rally to grow, hunt, and forage for our own food, to raise chickens, and to compost, while also debating the virtues of various types of animal husbandry. In all seriousness, I wish such folks well in their ventures, my heart is with you (though my back may no longer be). I know that you carry the light of human survival in these dark, and likely to become even darker, times of global warming. That said, here are some things you might want to know before you run for the woods. I’ve listed twelve things, one for every year I lived remotely.

Raw land doesn’t come with a driveway. Sometimes it doesn’t even come with a road. And if it is water access only, it may not come with a dock. Consider this when choosing your location. You will need to bring things in with you, food stuffs, tools, building supplies. Will you be carrying it in on your back? If you barge it in, how will you get it to shore? Wheel-barrows are very useful items in this in this regard. You can hire an excavator to build you a driveway, keep in mind you’ll need a lot of gravel.

Water doesn’t come out of a tap. I know you know this, but do you really? Until you install some sort of water system, you will be packing buckets of the stuff daily. You can dig a shallow well, but, like the creek water you’ll want to boil it so you don’t get beaver fever (and yes, that requires fuel). You can get a deep well dug, that’s the cleanest, most reliable option, as the other two can dry up in warm weather. A deep well will set you back a thousands of dollars. You’ll then need a pump and pump house to get it out of the ground. Yeah, you’ll need electricity for that. Of course, there’s no guarantee that there will be water where you’ve dug. Then there’s the whole septic issue, but you don’t want to hear about that, really, you don’t. The cost is about $10,000 for a septic field. Yes, outhouses are fine. They’re cold in the winter though, and you need to move them every so often, a very yucky job. Composting toilet? I’ve never known one to work as they’re supposed to.

To eat game or your own livestock, you have to kill it. Unless you’ve been raised by indigenous hunters, you will probably need a rifle if you want to hunt, and have some practice using it. A sharp knife is a good thing to have too, should you have to slit the animal’s throat, and of course to clean it and cut it up. A butcher knife works well for cutting chicken’s heads off. Know this too, that goats are difficult to slaughter. They really put up a fight.

Solar power will provide just enough energy for lights, electricity runs along power poles, and hand saws suck. Power poles cost thousands of dollars each to install on your own property, and you need to have power poles to the lot to get power. Oh, but you’re going off-grid, right. So that means you’ll need a gas-powered generator. No? Solar? Okay. Count on using considerably less power than you do right now. Be prepared to monkey wrench daily, put out a great deal of moola for the panels, batteries, and controller, and go to bed early when it’s dark (to conserve what will be your highly valued power). Muscle power you say? See you in 20 years when your doll house is done.

Cell phones don’t work everywhere and there is no internet unless you build it yourself. You might be looking forward to becoming unplugged. You might be looking forward to getting away from it all. Now. And while we’re on the topic of now, you might want to research how to install a wireless system, because you won’t be able to look it up later…without any internet. In terms of choosing your location, you’ll need line-of-sight to someone who has an internet connection. Yes, you can get satellite, but it’s pricey, and not so great if you’re connecting to a Virtual Private Network.

There is no one to take your garbage away but you. That’s right. Live with it in your landscape or take it away yourself, those are your options. You’ll need a secure place to store that garbage too while it’s piling up to take to the dump…then there’s the recycling, you’ll need a place to store that as well between trips to the depot. And don’t be thinking that you’ll just throw you’re old bread and bones and egg shells into the compost now you’re out in the bush. You don’t want to be feeding the bears and wolves now, do you? They’re not the best neighbours.

Shelters, even wood sheds, take a long time to build. Much longer than you’d think, especially when you’re building them yourself and you’re not terribly experienced.  Of course you’ll need a shelter pretty quick, but don’t count on being able to build your cabin in a summer while you live in a tent. It will take longer than that, it just will. And don’t forget that all your tools, building supplies, and firewood all need sheltering too.

Modern chickens don’t reproduce, and to get goat milk you need a buck to freshen your doe. Go figure about the chickens, I know. It’s crazy. But it’s true. You can get these little chickens called Banties that are closer to natural stock and will go broody, which means they’ll sit on eggs until they hatch, unlike the commercial kind. Their eggs are really small though, so, ideally, you’ll want both. Chickens also need a lot of protection from predators (more building). Goats, the global animal of self-sufficiency, need to be protected too. They also need to be freshened every couple of years (go ahead, look it up), but you really don’t want to have a buck around that long eating grain and being a stinky pain in the ass. God I hate male goats. Never turn your back on one. And you don’t want to be inbreeding them either. So the freshening issue can be tricky if there aren’t a lot of goats around.

Livestock needs grain to live. It’s how they get their protein. So get planting if you want to live off grid. You’ll need a few acres, yeah, of cleared, fenced land.

It takes a great deal of firewood to heat a home. And like I said before, hand saws suck. You will need to use a chainsaw as you will be cutting truck loads of firewood every year. You will need fuel and oil for your chainsaw. You will need to know how to sharpen and maintain your chainsaw. Oh, and making sure you know how to use your chainsaw safely is a good idea too, as you’ll want to reserve the brain splitting for zombies (that is why you’re out there isn’t it, because you know they’re coming).

Forest floors do not a friendly garden make, and not everything you plant grows. You’ll need a pick-axe if you’re going to cut into the land by hand even after getting a machine to pull out stumps. You can blast the stumps out yourself, but you know, write a will first. It’s arduous, slow work. Count on a small garden to begin with. Of course, you’ll need to fence the garden too, to protect it from the deer. It should be six to eight feet high, depending on the size of the deer in your hood. My advice about gardening in these parts is don’t fight nature too much, grow what grows in your micro-climate, and plenty of it. You’ll learn to love kale, I mean, really love it. You will. Oh, and prepare for slugs. Armies of them will descend upon your tended plot.

It’s nice to have friends. Yes, for all the obvious reasons, and more. Off the grid, you will need each other in many ways, to share work, tools and supplies (there are no corner stores or hardware stores in the bush), to share information with, to have fun, to look after each others children and elderly, to look out for each other if you’re injured or sick, and most importantly, to keep each other from going crazy (though you’ll likely drive each other crazy too, much of the time, being isolated out there, together).


Our Daily Bird 58: Put a Bird on It!

One of my favourite art blogs, My Love For You, recently shared this little morsel from the new television show Portlandia. (If you've spent any time at all browsing Etsy, you will understand.)

Income tax season is coming right up, so make sure to visit the Hedge Society next week when I post my tutorial on chickadee appliqués to brighten up your return! You'll make a Revenue Canada employee smile.


Small Living

The Boston Globe covers a class from Green Mountain College that built a 8x12 cabin for under $2000 using all reclaimed materials.

According to the Globe:

Students settled on a rectangular building with one low corner to create a curved roof that rainwater can pour off of and be collected. A sloped back wall helped make the home feel more spacious and a loft, furnishings and lighting fixtures were also designed and constructed by students. Sheep wool was even added for insulation into the window casing. Construction took two months.

Can you really live in 96 square feet? Well, according to this house tour on Apartment Therapy, a family of four and their dog do quite well in this 180 square foot cabin situated in British Columbia's Gulf Islands.

Like a lot of small projects, economics played a big role:

We started off with grand plans. We thought we'd take out a small loan and pay a local company to design and prefab a bigger cabin right away. We even went so far as to have the plans fully engineered (we still have them; they're awesome). The entire thing cost us about $3,000. But then the economy started to deflate and we realized we didn't want to have a loan hanging over our heads. That's when we decided to start over with a new, more modest plan and DIY the whole thing, with the help of our aforementioned awesome friend Stefan.

Initially, we made the deck way too small. It was only 4 by 10, and it made the cabin feel claustrophobic. We realized that we needed to expand the outdoor space so that we could just throw the doors open and have one large 10 by 22 foot area.

Here is what they learned:

Even out in nature, kids need toys. Don't get me wrong. Our boys are happy to do their fair share of digging, playing with sticks, pestering insects, throwing rocks and whathaveyou. But after a while they want to kick back and chill out with a pile of Legos. We've built up a discreet stash of toys for these occasions. We've also realized that even kids need their own space, which is why our next project is a sweet little playhouse in the trees.

The purging is neverending. Things creep over to the cabin from our home in the city, and every so often we have to do an audit of what gets to stay. (In fact, John wanted me to point out that the Ikea Bekvam stool you can see in the top photo has been brought back to the city. That's how ruthless we are. Even poor little stepstools can get cut.)


Our Daily Bird 58: The Bird Dance

If you ever attended a wedding in the 1980's, I guarantee you know this song. Though originally written by a Swiss accordionist in the 1950's, "The Bird Dance" (aka "The Chicken Dance") was resurrected by dance-hall band, The Emeralds (who just happen to be from my hometown) in the late 1970's and became a ubiquitous staple of weddings, parties, and elementary school music classes (at least in my neck of the woods). It's been enduring enough to spawn a Chicken Dance Elmo, so maybe the kids are even still doing it today.

For your enjoyment, here's an incredibly awkward performance of it on The Lawrence Welk Show. Of particular note is the increasingly off-time clapping as the song progresses. Is it bad dubbing or a spectacularly poor collective sense of rhythm? You be the judge.


The Lost and Found Photos of Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier: 1926-2009I came across this story by clicking through a bunch of links on Twitter, and now can’t remember the tweet source, but what I found stuck with me. From the 1950s through the 1990s, Chicago nanny Vivian Maier took over 100,000 photos of Chicago streetlife.

Her negatives were auctioned off to Jeff Goldstein at a furniture and antique auction. Goldstein says, “From what I know, the auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments. I didn’t know what ‘street photography’ was when I purchased them.”

Goldstein kept returning to her work as his own interest in photography started to grow, and he eventually tried to look for Maier - only to find an obituary notice that said she had passed away just a few days earlier.

Maier’s photos, many of people, are so evocative of a lost world. Plus I think it’s brave to figure out how to secretly or not-so-secretly take a photo that shows people as they really are. That’s when faces look most interesting. (All photos from



Our Daily Bird 57: Harper's Red Cardinal

You'll have to pardon the little Hedge break. I was in Tofino, BC watching waves crash into rocks and couldn't bear to interrupt all that with blogging. The sound of waves are firmly tucked into my memory for those long winter's nights and we are back with all the good things that Hedgies have to offer.

We started Our Daily Bird with some Charlie Harper and there is so much to pick from his work, it is inevitable that Harper's birds will land here from time to time. I have also been listening to Mile's Davis' Blue in Green and this hip red guy seemed to fit that mood.

Poster Cabaret has these available as small canvas murals. If you are looking for some more affordable art work, Poster Cabaret also has a nice selection of posters from artists like Bianca Gomez, Amy Ruppel, and Frank Chimero.



The Daily Shave

I hate shaving and am always looking for a way to improve it. Saskatchewan is dry (we invented the term dry cold), wind swept, and my skin is always irritated. To deal with this I am always using some skin conditioner which means that I smell like aloe or something else all day when what I really want to smell like is The Old Spice Guy (Who knew? Marketing works). A couple of years ago I thought I came up with the perfect solution, I would grow the bald man ponytail and a lumberjack beard. Not only would I not have to shave but I would always have a place to store my wallet and cell phone. Well, Wendy vetoed that idea (she won't let me rock the mullet anymore either) and I was back trying to find a way to improve my shave.

One of the things I asked to get for Christmas was a shaving brush and some shaving soap. Jon Armstrong  mentioned it to his wife Heather Armstrong (creator of Dooce) a couple of years ago as a great Christmas gift and I was wondering if there was a good alternative to smelling a like I lived in an aloe plant every time I shaved.

On Christmas Eve I opened my stocking and found a Wilkinson Sword shaving brush and soap. Later that night I tried it out -  running some hot water, getting the brush wet, lathering up some soap, lathering up some more, getting a little carried away with it, making a mess, cleaning the mess up, and then realizing I had left the hot water on the entire time and had fogged up the mirror. By this time Wendy was mad that I was wasting water, Mark had to go to the bathroom and all momentum was lost.

Fast forward to Christmas morning and I tried again - this time with less mess and pretty good results. The brush helps hydrate the shaving cream in order to form a thick rich shaving lather. Using a brush to lather up helps get the shaving cream up under each whisker which results in better, smoother shaves.  At that point my face cried out in a chorus of joy. It felt good, really good.  Not only that but I didn’t smell like a plant and over the next couple of days I realized I didn’t need to use any after shave skin conditioner either. There is something to be said for kickin’ it old school. Now if I can only find my Zubaz pants and my Tony Hawk skateboard.

Since I was reinventing my shaving time, I decided to see if the razor needed an upgrade.  Now I know a real man would get himself a straight edge but I like my Schick Quattro Titanium and my jugular veins enjoy not being nicked up.  After looking at some Gillette products and seeing that a blade is now over $3, I went cheap and picked up a M5 Magnum five blade razor. Its blades cost  half the amount that the Quattro blades do and are a fraction of the Fusion Pro Glide blades. I thought to myself, “How bad can they be?”.  Well it’s not as good as the Quattro but it’s not horrible either. I got a better shave then my old  Gillette Sensor 3 razor but it wasn’t as comfortable as my Quattro. For whatever reason I have found that many razors included in the original case are of lower quality than the replacement blades (which has never made any sense to me) so I won’t make my final decision for a couple weeks but unless things change, I will relegate the M5 Magnum to my dopp kit or to the cabin.

Next week’s old school trick? Downgrading your web browser.


Good Music: The Joe - Float or Flail

I first met Joe Gurba - aka The Joe - around 6 years ago as a fresh-faced kid with a streak of geek and a love of hip-hop music. Back then he was pushing his rough, but engaging debut album and performing for church youth groups. Since that time, Joe has transformed himself into a sharp slinger of intricate, and sometimes surreal wordplay, an indie music warrior, and a tireless champion of fellow artists. To get there Joe went subversive, working the indie rock scene from the bottom up. He played every show he could find with whatever bands would share the stage. He began promoting shows as Robot Human and joined with friends to found the Old Ugly Recording Co. whose roster includes rising local indie acts like Mitchmatic, Doug Hoyer, and Kumon Plaza.

Between 2006 and 2008, Joe wrote and recorded Float or Flail, a slick collection of electro-beats, crisp bleeps and bloops, and creamy synth washes that perfectly match his seemingly endless poetic energy. Sadly, the album was shelved until Joe could raise the necessary funds to free the master recordings. Three years later he's succeeded and his labour of love is finally seeing the light of day. Joe has expressed some mild embarrassment about releasing the album so late as he feels that he's grown beyond it as an artist and a person, but there's nothing to be ashamed of here. From rapid-fire fun jams like "Spaceman", "What Not", or "On My Right Shoulder", to the contemplative spoken-word flow of "Sorry If It Singed You", Joe's lyrical prowess is indisputable. He displays a complete mastery of vocabulary which he pours into a frenetic torrent of truly unique metaphor, simile, and pop-reference. Equal parts party and genuine poetry, Float or Flail is entertainment that both feeds your mind and bobs your head and Joe has made it's 15 tracks available to the world for a mere $7.50. I heartily encourage you to check it out.


Our Daily Bird 56: TV on the Radio


Lost In La Mancha: The Un-making Of A Film

The making of things can be a tricky business, particularly in the arts. Birthing a vision relies on a myriad of tiny steps which, when executed correctly, add up to a glorious whole. Support must be rallied, resources put in place, collaborators found, experts hired, and schedules arranged. It's a careful dance between chaos and order that can lead to great things, but when fate sticks out it's foot and trips up momentum, it can bring the whole works to a shuddering halt.

In September of 2000, acclaimed director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) was ready to begin filming his long-dreamed adaptation of Don Quixote. The actors were hired, the sets prepared, the costumes sewn, the storyboards drawn, and independent financing was fully secured. Along for the ride were documentary film-makers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, chronicling both the giddy anticipation as pieces fall into place, and the careful dance of negotiating the obstacles that arise. The excitement, however, quickly gives way to a mounting despair as a flash flood wipes out equipment and sets, the lead actor falls seriously ill, and the ensuing delays threaten to derail the film completely. Fulton and Pepe are there for it all, capturing the footage they eventually assembled into Lost In La Mancha - a film they came to call a documentary of the "unmaking of" a film.

Click to read more ...


How to make a poem


2011 Calendars: papercraft and yetis!

Get your paper and scissors out and add calendar every month from The Curiousity Group.



Our Daily Bird 55: Idiots and Angels


Imprint interviews with Bill Plympton, creator of Idiots & Angels:


This haunting, “cartoon-noir,”  animated feature is about a morally bankrupt man who wakes up one morning to find wings sprouting from his back. The wings make him do good deeds and thus follows a tale about the battle for the human soul. Here, Plympton talks about the making of the film and his love of animation


Into 2011: Making stuff and small.




This year's theme came to me as I watched Mr. Rogers videos with Tiny Niece. We were both fascinated watching people make stuff, soothed into relaxation by quiet narration and gentle piano music. There go some painted red wagons, some fortune cookies, canvas sneakers, and bright yellow crayons. As I watched all this industry , I realized that the factories in these videos probably don't exist anymore, everyone laid off and all the cookie dough and crayon wax shipped overseas in search of a bigger profit margin.

It's easy to wax nostalgic about manufacturing gone by and forget pollution, bad labor practices, and Red Dye No. 2. But in the middle of it all, there is the making of things, the creating of something with hands and the help of machines that contribute in their own small way to someone's daily life. As Frank Sobotka said on The Wire, in the least Mr. Rogers way possible: "You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket."

So I think this year at the Hedge we will continue, in our own small way, to talk about making stuff - soups and calendars and music and communities and books and a life. If it was good enough for Mr. Rogers, it's more than a good path for us. We hope you join us.


And we're back/Our Daily Bird 54

The little Hedge Society that could. We begin with birds and notebooks and letters. It makes my former magazine publisher heart sing...

BIRD - IdN 100th issue from Hardcuore on Vimeo.



And to all a good night...


 Out the west coast window of Hedge Society Central.



My Christmas Eve Song.

The McGarrigle Christmas Hour
Kate and Anna MCGarrigle ( and Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Emmylou and Beth Orton...just get the whole CD, and look up a bit o' history on the McGarrigle family at the same time.)

>> Play "Counting Stars"
(just for a few days in hopes you'll get the whole album)

Every year around Christmas or New Year's, the big black phone tucked into the cubbyhole of our yellow kitchen would send its loud bbbbb-ring into the house late into the night. We'd all wake up as mom ran for the phone knowing that it was my uncle, loudly talking about eternal life and Jesus while mom tried to calm him down. He was always half in tears and more than drunk. Being drunk was his thing, his lifelong thing.

The song Counting Stars reminds me of him, gone now to lung cancer. My last memory holds a thin man sitting in a low-rent apartment hooked up to an oxygen tank, a necklace of plastic tubes on his stained t-shirt. This spoken word piece reminds me of him and other hims and hers that might be "in damn trouble again" as Christmas rolls around. I listen to this song and try to send hope along. I hope they're all counting the best kinds of stars as the chorus sings and the pianos play. I hope when they call  - all drunk and thinking of Jesus - that someone picks up the phone.


Outside my window...

...and a 10 minute from my front door, a moment from last Sunday evening:

False Creek seawall, Granville IslandQuiet, calm, and bits of bright.

...And closer to home, outside and inside the windows to the balcony garden...

Greens & Berries

Silvery light


Reindeer, Really

At my house, we have our very own Max, but with less energy.