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Vegan Family Moves into Cheese Factory

A month ago we moved into a cheese factory. At least that was the house’s first function. Over the years the first floor changed from being the place farmers dropped off their milk to the town garage, a horse stable, a cabinet maker’s workshop, a fitness studio and a custom bicycle shop and now it is the home of Angie’s Yoga and Art Studios. The second floor is the primary living space complete with a wood stove and beautiful woodwork. The third floor was a cabinet maker’s showroom with a gorgeous view of the back yard and is now my Recording Studio. After a month of moving all of our stuff, plumbing, scrubbing, painting, polying, cutting, installing, framing, and putting up molding, we are finally at a place where we can sit back a little and enjoy our new home.

Our third house. It is not the little solar home we envisioned maybe a year ago. It is like we landed in a space that was designed for us. It is like it said “I’ll be your walls if you’re willing finish me and keep me up.” We could never be truly happy in a tiny house, or even in a space that was “just a house”. We have too many space needs. Where would Angie run her teacher trainings and yoga classes?? – Right!! She’d have to rent a space, drive to it, and be restricted by the rules of owner. Where would Angie make her beautiful handmade paper and macrame Art?? Where would I record?? Oh sure I have set up in closets and basements, but that sucked – and where do I keep my gear?? What we wanted was a space that could comfortably hold all of these things and our family. That would be functional for all the elements of our lifestyle. The fact that it is on a main road, has a nice manageable yard that is perfect for gardening with two brooks on either side (a dream Angie has had for years), wood heat, a “basement” that is perfect for our root cellar, and an attached garage is all bonus. It is all the things we wished our previous houses could have been.

When we sold our home in April, we did not know where we were going to land. We had nowhere to move into. None of the houses we saw were right for us.  This house, the cheese factory, was not something we had even looked it. It was a leap of faith to put everything in storage and move in with our parents (thank you Dennis and Maria) while we looked for the right house. Those four months taught us a lot about what we value and the value of faith. That when you put your mind to something and you’re willing to work tirelessly for it and you have the support of your family around you, the right things will come along. For us it came in the form of an 1890’s cheese factory in Brownsville, VT. No, we didn’t downsize……..we upsized the dream and…..

A vegan family moved into a cheese factory……..

 

 

 

 

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Minimal

We took Isabella and Ellessia to see the Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, at the Wilbur theater in Boston this past weekend. Isabella has watched their documentary many times, often requesting it as the movie for our family movie nights. We have been reading their blog for a couple of years and much of what they talk about we have tried to adopt (especially their perspective on debt).

Minimalism, at least the way these guys talk about it, is not necessarily about getting rid of your stuff. It is not about deprivation. Instead it is about making room for the important aspects in your life by getting rid of the stuff that is taking up space. That “stuff” may or may not be physical “things”. What I love about their message is how intentional it is.

All too often when we begin something thinking “it” will make us happy, “it” doesn’t. That “it” is the “secret” to happiness and “it” isn’t. Maybe “it” is a certain salary, clothing style, a car, shedding a few pounds, adding a few pounds, a new phone, a new house, starting a meditation practice, finally going to yoga, taking a trip to a paradise location, becoming a minimalist. Too many times achieving these “things” does not make you happy. “I got rid of all my stuff, why am I still miserable?” How ironic is it that our Declaration of Independence states that our inalienable right to the Pursuit of Happiness may be exactly what makes us UNHAPPY. Looking inside of ourselves and figuring out what makes us truly unhappy, facing it, and making changes is at the heart of their message.

Josh and Ryan talk about making conscious decisions and living with intention and their message resonates with lots of people. There were over 1,000 people in the Wilbur Saturday night to see these two guys talk about how they arrived at this place and time and answer some questions. They recorded the whole show live like one of their podcasts (which are great!!) Hopefully, it will be available soon. The highlight for us was meeting them and giving them a big hug as a family. I am pretty sure Isabella and Ellessia were the youngest members of the audience.

The quote both girls took away as their favorite came from the lightning round where the Minimalist give tweet sized answers to audience questions. The question asked had to do with a family member, spouse, or partner who is unwilling to adopt a minimalist lifestyle.

 

“People don’t mind change, they mind being changed.” Joshua Fields Milburn

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh (Hall)

 

 

 

When it rains……

Faucet Aerator

This Summer was dry in New England. Many towns were under water use bans and restrictions as water tables got very low. Living in the country, we do not have town water, we have a private well. And like many well owners this Summer, we experienced the shock of turning the water faucet on and having the water trickle to a stop. There are a series of things you check when you are responsible for your own water. Did the well pump die? Is the pressure tank filling? Is there a toilet running? Is something leaking?

You take the well cap off and drop ice cubes down the well and time how long it takes before it goes “plunk”. This tells you how much water you have. God I love math! You make phone calls to the well company and ask important questions.

We shut the well off and waited a few hours to see if it would come back. It did, a little. I shut it off again and I bought many gallons of bottled water. We used our rain barrels for flushing toilets. We did our laundry at our parent’s house. We talked about fracking, we talked about digging a new well, and we talked about money.

We danced, sang, prayed, and made offerings to the well.

The problem was actually really simple. There was NO RAIN and little Winter snow last year. Think of it like a bank account. If you are constantly spending faster than the money is coming in, then eventually you will hit zero or worse. That was what was happening to the water tables, we were spending in a time when we should have been saving.

Water was refilling just not as fast as we were using it, so some changes needed to be made if we were going to continue to enjoy things like showers. Our shower heads were pumping out water at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). I did some quick calculations. 2 Teenage girls taking a ten minute shower each (yes that is too long but let’s be real) is 50 gallons of water in 20 minutes. Even Angie and I doing a quick 5 minute shower together is 12.5 gallons. Add our already low flush toilets that flush at 1.3 gpm and you have some serious water use. That isn’t taking into consideration doing dishes, which we do by hand (that’s another blog post….), and laundry!!!! 100 gallons a day easy. That’s typical for a family of four. (National Average is higher but here is fun calculator you can try for yourself)

I went online and found low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads. They weren’t fancy but they had adjustable flow rates from 0.5gpm to 1.0gpm to 1.5 gpm. For $11.00 I changed all of the faucets and shower heads in our house. Angie and I are ok with the 0.5 gpm shower and you can’t beat 2.5 gallons of water for a 5 minute shower. The girls like the 1.0 gpm or the 1.5 gpm and have learned to take significantly shorter showers. And with the faucet aerators, even something as unconscious as rinsing out a bowl or dish uses very little water.

We have had plenty of rain and snow this Winter, so local water tables should be refilling nicely. But just because you are flush with cash doesn’t mean you should go on a spending spree. I think that is why it is difficult to convince people to be more conservative with natural resources. If you look around it seems like there is plenty. But the pendulum always swings back the other way and the lean times will come. It is best to have something in the bank, or in the ground, when that happens.

Changing ingrained habits can be hard and take time, so investing in conservation tools seemed like the best immediate option. Our water use compared to a year ago is significantly less. Of course we have sold the house but you can bet where ever we end up next, we’ll be installing these simple devices to reduce our water use. And the new owner will hopefully benefit from our conservation efforts.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

Moving Trash

 

We are in the process of selling our house. A lovely time when everything you own is wrapped carefully and placed in boxes. It is a time of sorting and packing and for us moving most things into a storage facility. It is also a time of discovering all the things you forgot you had. It is a time to practice non-attachment.

If you know Angie and I at all outside of this blog, then you know we have been culling our stuff for years now. Last week, as boxes started to pile up all over the house, we realized we grossly underestimated the amount of storage space we might need. Luckily, because storage is hard to come by, we were able to find something that would allow us to put all of our stuff in one big room.

The trips have begun and a dear friend has been there to help with his truck. What a blessing this was as not everything can Fit in a Honda Fit. * However, I have managed to fit an incredible amount of stuff into our Fit!!!!

With all of this packing and moving there must be some trash. There always is with moving. So far we have thrown away 5 of those white kitchen bags filled with detritus. This is the broken stuff that can’t be donated or recycled that ends up at the bottom of drawers or forgotten in nooks and crannies. Mostly there is tons of recycling: primarily metals and paper.

The big trash/recycling items we had to deal with was our chicken coop, two old bed frames that have seen 3 generations of children sleep on them but had finally reached their end, a tire, and some basement rugs. We have some paint that we are storing in a garage until a hazardous waste day comes around.

This was the last weekend that I could get rid of any trash and recycling before we have to take it with us. We are taking enough with us, we don’t need to move any trash.

 

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Josh

How I Spent $99 (The Art of Not Buying v.1.5)

 

We always do our taxes during my school’s February Break. It is a complicated endeavor that can take hours and accountants are expensive, so we do it ourselves. If it was just my teaching income, then we could fill out the 1040ez. However, I am also a gigging musician and songwriter, and Angie is a fine artist who teaches yoga in two states and out of our home. Last year, I considered buying Turbo Tax to speed things up. Upon investigation it became clear I would need to buy the pricey $99 version of the program. Seems like a lot of money for forms I can print for free, I still have to enter all the data, and there is always a learning curve with new software.

I was looking at several hours worth of work now matter how I sliced it. My decision hinged on the fact that Turbo Tax is a one time use program. That $99 was only good for that year’s taxes. I ended up deciding that I would do the taxes myself and as a reward, spend the $99 to upgrade my recording software from Studio One 2 Professional to Studio One 3 Professional. Coincidentally, the upgrade costs $99.

The way I looked at it, I could spend $99 to possibly help me do something miserable once (taxes) or I could spend $99 on something that would definitely give me real joy for years. From my perspective, it was money well spent!

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh

The Art of Not Buying

It is 6 am. I am sitting down at the kitchen table with my green smoothie and I open my personal email. Along with potential gigs, updates from the various blogs, and notifications regarding my daughters’ school, I receive teaser emails from companies I have accounts with and interact with regarding my music and recording.

These emails usually read something like:

 

“Limited Time Only get 75% off select Plug-ins”

“Unlimited Album Submissions 50% off until April 1st

These offers are tempting and the countdown makes it a race against the clock to score a really amazing deal.

I have even noticed companies starting to send follow up emails asking things like “Are you forgetting something?” with a reminder that I looked at a particular product.

Days like Black Friday, coupon shopping, and websites like gilt.com work in much the same way. The feeling of “getting a really good deal” paired with “you have to act right now to get it” is hard to resist and businesses know it. Certainly, I have taken advantages of “special codes” and “today only deals” but Angie would agree that I am a horrible impulse shopper. It is like I practice “The Art of Not Buying” even when it is something I want.

Here’s an example – the audio company, Waves, makes a SSL plug-in for recording programs that accurately models the sonic characteristics of an SSL mixing board for $749. Many of the songs we hear on the radio were mixed using this plug-in. A few weeks ago they were selling this very plug-in for $249. That’s right $500 off but you gotta buy it before this day…there was even a clock counting down the hours remaining to snag the deal.

I looked at it. I dreamed about how it would make my recordings sound incredible, however I didn’t buy it. It is not because I don’t think the program is valuable, I believe it is. The reason I didn’t buy is simply because I knew that what I wanted was a dream and having this plug-in would not make that dream a reality. In the same way that owning pairs of sneakers worn by famous basketball players wont make me better at basketball. You can’t buy practice and dedication or persistence and drive and those traits certainly do not come with a “Buy Now For 50% Off” tag.

Being convinced of this truth, I close the email. I do a virtual walk away. This gives me time to consider the purchase and ask important questions like Can I Afford This? For something expensive like the SSL plug-in, I would discuss it with Angie before hitting the buy button. We have an agreement to discuss big purchases before committing to them. Sometimes sharing the WHY you want something with another person, especially someone who does not want the thing, is helpful to remove the shiny gotta have it quality from the deal. If after all of that I still choose to buy it, then it usually ends up being something I use frequently for a really long time. It is like trading up on the quick high of impulse buying for the long term satisfaction of purchasing something that gives you real joy.

 

Thanks for reading,

Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But That’s Too Easy

Our world is facing some pretty major problems. At least that is how it looks whenever I end up on social media or watch a documentary. Some of the problems we face are directly related to our consumption habits. To survive and thrive we have to consume, everything does. We need to consume resources for our food, clothing, and shelter. A goal of zero-waste is to avoid unnecessary consumption.

So when we go to the grocery store and we buy our food and the food gets bagged in those single use plastic bags, we have just unnecessarily consumed significant resources.

 “Each year the United States uses 30 billion plastic and 10 billion paper grocery bags, requiring approximately 14 million trees and 12 million barrels of oil. Each high quality reusable bag you use has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.” 
Plastic Bag Facts – Rensselaer County Legislature

The same thing is true when we go to the clothing store, hardware store, sports store, beauty store, music store, book store, outdoor adventure store, yarn store, art store, pet store, the mall, general store, or Co-Op…Any time something is purchased at any store and put into a single use plastic or paper bag we have contributed to the unnecessary use of resources. It’s like leaving a light on in a room no one is in or letting the faucet run all day.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration states that Americans use 19.4 million barrels of oil a day, so single use plastic bags is a drop in the bucket. However, it is an unnecessary drop when we consider how easy it is not to use single use plastic or paper bags.

Let’s break it down into 5 steps:  (This assumes you are using a car to get around).

1) Put 1 to 4 or more reusable shopping bags in your car.

2) When you go to a store take the reusable shopping bags with you.

3) Put your purchases into the reusable shopping bags.

4) Bring the bags back to the car.

5) Consume purchases and return bags to the car.

Each person will have a slightly different way of doing this. Angie, for example, keeps 3 very thin reusable bags in her purse. I’ve seen people on bikes, the bus, the subway, or walking using their own bags. Some people even make their own bags.

What about you?

Share your way with us in the comment section.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

Begin With Less

Hopefully we are selling our house. Moving has the potential for creating an awful lot of trash. When we sold our first home, we had accumulated 10 years worth of stuff in our attic. The old and broken stuff we thought we would fix or need someday seemed multiply year after year in that attic. The house we bought did not have an attic and we were glad. It forced us to start shedding.

And shed we did. But even so, we packed our current home with tons of stuff. And then we went to India. Seeing the incredible poverty but simple and joyful life with essentially none of the trappings of our lives changed the way we looked at our possessions. We began shedding again.

Books, book cases, CD’s, DVD’s, a wardrobe, end tables, entertainment center, tools, kitchen utensils, appliances, electronics, clothes, and toys. We all made the effort to fill bags and donate or sell the things that were clogging up our lives. This wasn’t trash it was just stuff. Stuff we didn’t need but could be useful to someone else.

As we prepare for what is in store for us in the coming months and the future years, we are looking around at things we need in our current situation but probably wont need where ever we end up. Identifying those items is tricky, as you cannot really predict the future. Will I need a chainsaw and all of the items necessary for a chainsaw and its maintenance? Will I even be spitting wood? I have no idea yet. But I am not attached to it so if I can find a good home for it that isn’t mine, I will.

Furniture is a little easier as space becomes the deciding factor. Over the years we have come to place significant value on empty spaces and the peace of mind they bring.

So we are not sure what the future will hold and how much of our current possessions will make it into our next phase of our lives. One thing is for certain; the next phase will begin with less.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

 

That Sounds Like a Lot of Work

I have heard this a few times in discussions about zero-waste. Our experience as a family would actually suggest the opposite is true. It turns out to be less work over-all, saves time, and quite possibly saves money.

Let’s take a look at my favorite super easy, time, work, and money saver:

The Travel Mug

The purpose of the travel mug is to carry beverages of all kinds when you are anywhere that is not home. Why do most Americans leave home each day? To go to work! Most Americans drink coffee and single use coffee containers are a ubiquitous sight at the work place. Therefore, they are also a significant source of trash. Even if you clean it out and recycle it (raise your hand up if you do this with every recyclable single use container), it is still a drain on precious resources.

Making an effort to use a travel mug, even one or two days out of the week, would significantly cut down on the amount of single use containers a person throws away. Just go to your favorite coffee shop and ask them to put your coffee in the travel mug.

Although I personally do not drink coffee, it is possible to brew outstanding cups of coffee using a Bodum (French Press), fill your travel mug, compost the grounds, wash out the Bodum, and be on your way to work. Angie did this for years before quitting coffee. We still have the Bodum for our coffee-drinking guests.

This saves you time = waiting in line at the drive through or in the café (who’s got time for that?)

Saves you money = the cost per-cup is significantly cheaper.

Work = yes, you are doing the work, but it is less work over all when you figure in all the effort needed to produce and deliver the single use container in the first place.

Easy = Just buy a travel mug appealing to you and use it.

I use a Kleen Kanteen. I love it because it is stainless steel. I can drop it and it wont break. It keeps my beverages hot or cold all day. Its price tag may seem expensive but when I think of it in terms of cost per use, it is a bargain compared to single use containers.

Thanks for reading,

Josh

 

 

5 Tips for Going Zero-Waste

1) Commit to reducing your trash. Start Today.

We found the easiest way to do this was to examine what was in our trash. This may sound gross, and my students at school all looked horrified when I said this to them, but I literally empty our little trash can out on my studio floor to go through it. I wouldn’t do this if there was food or anything rotting in the garbage. But since we compost and wash the plastic wrappers that get thrown away, food waste is not part of our waste stream. The only things in the trash are plastic wrappers that can’t be recycled.

2) Compost food waste.

We keep a bowl on the counter for vegetable scraps. We have a compost tumbler that we take our compost to when it needs to be emptied. We empty the tumbler once it turns to soil and use it in our gardens. We are vegan so we do not have meat or dairy waste. It is possible to compost meat and dairy but it is usually not advised due to critters getting into your compost. However, where there is a will there is a way.

3) Separate your recycling from your trash.

We use separate bins – glass, plastic, and paper.

After that you may want to create a container for recycling plastic bags, cereal bags, and Ziploc style bags that can no longer be reused. We have found local grocery stores that have bins for collecting this sort of recycling.

4) Use reusable shopping bags, produce bags, and your own containers as much as possible.

This may mean setting up your car for shopping in advance with a shopping bag, a few smaller bags, and a jar or two. This may mean changing the brands you regularly buy. It may mean changing grocery stores to ones that are friendlier to bulk shopping with your own containers.

It is amazing how much waste single use beverage containers make. Even committing to using a travel mug will make a significant reduction in your waste stream. So much of our waste is made while we are away from home. Try bringing all of your daily waste home and analyze what could be done instead.

5) Loose the guilt. It takes time to make lasting changes in a lifestyle and there will be failures along the way. Don’t let them bring you down.

I have never met anybody who consciously wants to damage the Earth. Often our habits are so engrained we are unaware of their impact.  When we take a moment to analyze our habits, it gives us the necessary insight to make Earth Friendly decisions. Over time, we create new habits, new shopping patterns, and a less prepackaged life.

Thanks for reading,

Josh