Higher and Higher Speed

Buried in the early shock of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown was the exciting announcement on March 13 that areas of PEI with poor internet access would be getting proper high speed service by the end of June 2021.

We’ve been down this road a couple of times before and have been disappointed that it never came our way, but this time there are maps and lists and even talk of fibre op! We moved from dialup to 1.5 Mbps “high speed” at the end of December 2009 and that seemed like a miracle; 10 years later, it doesn’t seem as shiny and lovely. Here’s a speed test tonight:

That’s Mbps, folks!

For this “unlimited high speed internet” plus our home landline and my ancient phone plan (from 1999!) that doesn’t have any data OR texting, we pay $212.

Plan for our area.

If this promise of internet Nirvana wasn’t exciting enough, along comes Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink service, a plan to place thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit to make broadband internet available to the whole world by the end of 2021. Some of the satellites have been launched and are visible at night as a line of lights moving across the sky. They will be swinging by PEI tonight at 9:25 p.m., so I’ll be out having a peek at the future.

Bright Light

Now that we are racing to the summer equinox, the added hours of sunlight have been a big boost to our solar energy production.

Our 22-panel system was turned on in mid-November and struggled to generate much electricity at all. I certainly expected less output in winter, but it was almost none on some days. The panels were often covered in snow and ice, and as it is a roof-mounted system, there isn’t any safe way to clear them.

Last month things really took off and the electricity bill that arrived today was only $34, and there is even a 160 kWh credit that will carry forward to next month! Up until this bill, our net metering credit was for the full amount generated because it never came close to what we used; on our January bill, the credit was $3.74!

Our solar production since November 2019

The process to hook up to the Maritime Electric grid was a bit mysterious, and there wasn’t much explanation from them or my system installers on how the billing would work. All I knew was that we received a second meter to measure the outflow of solar energy from our panels into the grid, that amount would be deducted from the original meter that we have always had, and we would pay the difference.

I now see our net metering credit will only be for up to what we actually used from the grid and not the entire amount that went through our second meter. We will, therefore, never have a $0 bill, which makes sense as we would have to pay the service charge to stay connected to Maritime Electric. The credits will build up over the summer and be used up in winter.

April 2020 Maritime Electric bill

Our average monthly electricity usage since we moved into our house in 2002 was 605 kWh. It went up to an average of 850 kWh the first three months of this year with the addition of our EV (and I was driving to Summerside a lot), so to have it drop down again is really encouraging! I haven’t been driving much since March 13, so have only used 148 kWh to charge my Bolt EV compared to 459 kWh the previous month, which would explain some of the reduction.

The other drop in our bill is because the electricity from the panels goes through the house panel first and what is left over goes through our second meter and into the grid. Our solar system produced 897 kWh of electricity over this last billing period, and the second meter received 617 kWh, so we used 280 kWh of direct electricity that didn’t make it to the second meter, and that we didn’t pay HST on! I try to charge my car during sunny days to be able to drive on sunshine, and yes, I do sing a modified version of the Katrina and The Waves song when I’m doing it!

Solar production March 10 – April 9, 2020. Snowy days are pretty obvious!

So if you get a solar system in the winter, do not despair. Someday the sun will shine and you will see the benefits. As with everything these days, just hold on and things will be brighter.

Moving Day

I woke before sunrise this morning. As I write this, it is calm and cool as the sky begins to glow in the east. Sometimes on such a morning, when I step out on the back step to smell the fresh air, I can hear the roar of the ocean a couple of miles away, but today it was silent.

My mother, Vivian, told me yesterday that April 15 was the day her grandparents, Eva and Ernest Hardy, would move from their home in Freeland to their lobster cannery on the sand dunes that run along part of PEI’s north shore. My mother and her younger brother, Edgar, lived with their grandparents from 1927 until 1938, after their mother, Thelma, died of tuberculosis in March 1927. Their father, Wilbur, was unable to care for two small children and operate his farm and sawmill, so his parents took them in.

My mother’s description of the “moving to the Sandhills” day is like something out of a history book. It began with a horse and wagon drive a couple of miles out the Murray Road from their Freeland home, probably through lots of mud, down the Mickie Allen Shore Road to the water. They would row across the Conway Narrows in a dory, then walk down the beach of the Sandhills to the cannery, or perhaps take another horse and wagon that would already be over there.

You can walk across the Narrows at low tide at a couple of places, so the dairy cow would be walked and, where it was deeper and her legs couldn’t touch bottom, floated across . A pig would somehow be maneuvered into a dory, and Eva’s hens would be crated up and rowed over to spend the summer pecking at the sand. Their few articles of clothes would be in steamer trunks along with bedding, everything stinking of mothballs.

I’m thinking of my mother as a tiny four year old on that first cold April morning 93 years ago, waking up next to her 20-month-old baby brother. They would hear Eva making breakfast: oatmeal porridge, beans, bread and butter, tea. Hear their grandfather and uncles in other shanties or perhaps heading out in their boats to fish for bait that would be salted and used for fishing lobster over the following months. 

Less than a month after her mother had disappeared slowly and painfully and she had to leave her father and home, my little mother was waking up on a straw-filled mattress basically right on the ocean, at sea in more ways than one.

Only one of two photos of my grandmother, Thelma Rose (Hutchinson) Hardy, taken on the Conway Sandhills, 1922.

Barter

One of the ten jillion articles I’ve read in the past week asked if bartering is ready for a comeback. I’m not sure where the writer thought it went, as I believe most of us trade our skills and gifts with others all the time. The transactions are not always immediate and direct in the “I’ll give you these magic beans for that cow, young Jack!” kind of way, but the kindness of friends and neighbours is certainly a form of bartering. It’s the kindness currency.

I had a late-evening call this week from a friend who said her iPad had restarted and now wouldn’t let her Pad. A storm was predicted and she was anxious to reconnect to her Ontario family. I tried to walk her through a recovery over the telephone, but an onsite visit was necessary.

The sanitized iPad was waiting in her porch, along with a container of Lysol wipes. A bit of fiddling got her back online. I headed off into the night with a wave through her window and a homemade gift to thank me. An excellent barter within the kindness economy that raised the Gross National Happiness by one connected person and one protected person.

Collections

Caroline Weaver owns CW Pencil Enterprise in NYC, home of the tempting quarterly Pencil Box subscription (which makes me almost want to break my “no new things” rule!). She, or one of her staff members, shared some collections discovered during shutdown cleaning and sorting, something I’ve been doing as well in a quest to find order in this upside-down time. The cat and veggie paperclips are too perfect.

My own tiny 6″ ruler collection. I recently found the bottom one in a pile of travel brochures from the 1970s.

April 1, 1920

I was a regular reader of UPEI’s Island Newspaper site’s “This Day In History” feature when I first became aware of it in 2014 (probably through Peter or CBC Radio, two of my main sources of cool PEI news!), but I let the habit slide after a couple of years. Each day the site highlights the issue of the The Guardian from 100 years before, and there is always something interesting, even if it’s just the ads.

I have been reading it everyday again for the past couple of weeks now that I have more time, and it has been more fun as I am now seeing people that I actually knew in the paper. The young adults of 1920 were in their sixties and seventies when I was a child.

The first person mentioned in the April 1, 1920 issue that I knew was my great-aunt Dorothy MacDougall.

Aunt Dot would have been 19 and had just been married the year before. She was a lot of fun as an older lady, and I imagine she was a pretty sparky young woman, too! Her older sister and probably her best friend, Gladys, was my grandmother. Dot’s grandson, Gary, was the editor of The Guardian for 20 years and retired in 2015 – he, as all of her grand and great-grandchild did, called her Ga.

On another page was a wedding announcement:

Angus was one of the contractors for the hospital we used to have in Tyne Valley, Stewart Memorial, that served our area from 1951 – 2013. The hospital fundraising foundation still exists and I have been its secretary since 2014. We are trying to acquire the old hospital building on behalf of the community with the intention of turning it into a community care facility; our board chair is Hilton MacLennan, Eva and Angus’ grandson.

Both Dot and Gladys worked at the hospital. They were also members of the hospital auxiliary, as am I, as was my mother, as was Eva, and Eva’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, and Ruth’s daughter, Aleah. Aleah was a nurse at the hospital and cared for my father, Harold, when he lived there in the long term care wing for the last four years of his life.

At this time of social distancing directives and upsetting news, I’m deriving an enormous amount of comfort from getting lost in the past, of connecting the Dots and Evas, as it were! I know the deep, complex connections I have all around me are precious and rare, even in this interconnected age. I am wrapping myself up tightly in this long, warm tapestry of family and friends on this rainy April evening, and thinking of Aunt Dot, with her beautiful red hair, boarding the train to go to Summerside.

Valued Member

We have subscribed to both of PEI’s daily newspapers for as long as I can remember. This morning we only received The Guardian and a letter explaining that the Journal Pioneer has been “combined” with The Guardian. Most of our neighbours only receive the Journal as it has always been the paper for the western end of PEI and The Guardian for eastern areas, so they will be very surprised and possibly upset by this change in routine.

I also found out this morning that I am now a member and not a subscriber, which I suppose is to give me the sense that I was part of this business decision and approve it, rather than being a customer who paid for a service that I’m not going to receive.

In the Saltwire Network CEO’s letter, they say their advertising revenue dropped by nearly two-thirds almost overnight, so they have been forced to temporarily lay off 40% of their workforce, including journalists. Instead of publishing nearly three dozen papers today across Atlantic Canada, they published four.

Other than being quite a thin paper, today’s edition doesn’t really seem much different from recent ones. Both of PEI’s dailies were already carrying heavy amounts of content from the other Saltwire Network papers and the Postmedia Network and were starting to look like each other, save for different local advertising and obituaries (one of the big reasons we kept The Guardian). When you read one, you had almost read the other as much of the local content in each was shared.

We were already seriously considering dropping our subscription to The Guardian this spring because the price for each was closing in on $400 a year. My mother does not use digital technology so receiving the newspaper is a big thing for her, but the content duplication was becoming very obvious and we couldn’t justify spending nearly $800 a year anymore. I think that decision has probably now been made for us, despite the assurance that this is a temporary measure.

When the Journal Pioneer stopped being an afternoon paper many years ago and moved to morning delivery, and since both papers have been owned by the same companies for many decades, I was always amazed they didn’t amalgamate the two publications years ago. This time of crisis could be the time this decision is finally made. I’m sad that other than the concern I feel for those who will lose their jobs, I just don’t care.