3rd Quarter Progress to Goals

Before I dive right into a recap of our progress for this quarter, I wanted to catch everyone up on a few items (possibly) of interest. First, on Monday (10/1), our refrigerator finally arrived. We now have a complete set of matching appliances in our apartment. It only took 3 months to get them, but they are here now and that’s all that matters. The new fridge is huge (in comparison to the old one) so we should be able to make a few more meals ahead of time now. Yay!

Next up, my mom’s bathroom disaster is finally fixed. Angie and I decided to take charge of solving this problem and after much prayerful consideration, we opted to have the brand new floor replaced. We contacted some folks we met a few weeks earlier when we were looking for flooring. They were already aware of what was going on and gave us an estimate that fit within our budget. The new floor was installed in less than 2 hours, with no seams, no rips, and no pieces of missing plywood. In other words, they did the job right. Yay, again!

Not everything has been good news though. In the midst of all of this, my mom fractured her back again. She was opening the oven drawer and heard a pop in her lower back. An X-ray confirmed that she has 5 compression fractures of the lumbar and sacral regions. Needless to say, this has made her even more upset about not being able to do the things she wants to do. One of those things was a trip we had just planned to North Carolina to see her sister later this month. We have an appointment today that will determine whether she should travel. I’m hoping, for her sake, that the outcome is positive – even it means we have to postpone our trip for a few weeks.

With all of those things going on, you might think this has been a less than stellar quarter. In some ways, it has, but in other ways, we knocked it out of the park. I’m happy to report our progress toward our Better Me, Better World goals for this quarter.

Better Me

Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. 

Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.

July was a true no-spend month. We didn’t exactly plan for this but we did decide ahead of time to only spend money what was already allocated to various spending categories and the result – we didn’t have any out of category spending. I can’t say the same for August or September though. We averaged $220 in extra spending for those months, most of which went toward padding to our grocery budget and purchasing few tools for our woodworking projects.

Buy used when possible.

We’ve been shopping a lot of yard sales lately. Not only is it a fun way to spend an hour or so on Saturday morning, we’ve found a lot of great bargains on things that we had on our “need to buy” list anyway. For example, we’ve had sun shirts on our list for more than a year. I’m not sure if that’s what they are called but they are the lightweight, quick dry, long-sleeved shirts with SPF protection that you wear when paddling or swimming. We priced them at $30+ each at Dick’s Sporting Goods and decided we didn’t need them that bad. We found 2 at a church rummage sale on Saturday for 50 cents each. Score! We also picked up several glass jars to help with our transition to a plastic-free kitchen and some puzzles and yarn for those days this winter when it will be too cold to play outside.

Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.

We had 82 completely meatless days (out of 92). Though we tried, it was hard to avoid meat completely during our Grit, Grace, and Grub tour of the town. In total 11% of our meals contained meat.

Do something active 3 times a week.

We walked/hiked a total of 28.9 miles. I would say that was pitiful, except that it doesn’t count all of our walks to the grocery store and dumpster, the countless miles we’ve walked at the various festivals we attended this summer, or the handful of letterboxes we’ve traipsed through the weeds to get. I blame this miscalculation on the untimely death of my fake Fitbit. God rest its soul! We also went on 3 kayaking trips, went swimming 4 times, tended the garden, and practiced our woodworking skills. Dead Fitbit aside, this category is still very much a work in progress.

Better World

Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

Plan meals.

My mom recently asked, after seeing our calendar, if we ever got bored with planning meals. My answer – nope. I love knowing what we are having for dinner every night. It saves hours of conversations that go like this: “What do you want for dinner? I don’t know, what do you want? I don’t know and I asked you first.” We did really well with this again and even started something new – pizza club. On lawn mowing day (usually Tuesdays) we have a pizza for dinner. The rules of pizza club are simple – it doesn’t matter where the pizza comes from (restaurant, store, or homemade) but it can’t be the same toppings as the week before. I would tell you more but what happens in pizza club stays in pizza club.

Continue food rescue.

Our dumpster diving efforts were stifled by the summer heat. Food tends to rot more quickly when it’s 100 degrees outside (and probably 110 degrees inside the metal dumpster).  We did manage to rescue 14.8 pounds of food from the dumpster and 46 pounds from the Farmer’s Market, which was donated to the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Shop reduced-to-clear/quick-sale items first when grocery shopping.

Still doing good here too. I would guesstimate that 75-80% of the fruit we buy comes from the reduced-to-clear bins at Kroger. We have also found that our favorite dairy-free So Delicious yogurts often get reduced for quick sale. Just last night we lucked up on 4 of them at half-price.

Buy local foods.

I’m happy to say that we shopped local all summer long. All of our fresh produce came from our CSA basket or the Farmer’s Market. Though our CSA is over for the year and the Farmer’s Market is winding down, we continue to try to source as much local food as possible to can or freeze for winter. We recently attended the Tennessee Honey Festival to stock up on our honey needs for the upcoming hot tea season. We also added a nice selection of local jams to our pantry and several dozen ears of corn, a 1/2 bushel of peppers, and a 1/4 bushel okra to the freezer.

Grow a garden.

For a small garden, we had a lot of produce this year. The 3 pepper plants we picked up for free yielded over 100 peppers – jalapenos and Sweetie Pies. Our yellow squash was still producing up until a week ago when the rains rotted the last of the blooms. The cow peas (another of our freebies) are in their second season. The first produced 2 1/2 quarts of dried peas and snaps. Our tomatoes did well and we actually had enough blackberries this year to freeze 3 pints. We still have radishes, peppers, and peas to pick this month. Another thing that did well in the garden was Angie’s flowers. She had sunflowers over 10 feet tall and some of the prettiest bi-color zinnias I’ve ever seen.

Compost year-round.

Our composting efforts are still going strong, though sadly, Angie’s worms all escaped from the worm bin. A few days ago, I saw a post from the Tennessee Environmental Council for a program called Come Post Your Compost. It’s a yearlong program aimed at reducing food waste in TN by encouraging people to compost. We joined and if you live in TN, you can too! It’s free and if saving the world isn’t prize enough, there are monthly drawings for gift cards. Check it out at https://www.tectn.org/comepostyourcompost.html.

How did you do this quarter? Did you reach your goals? We’re there any surprises or setbacks?

A Trip to the Tiny House Builder

Back in June, our apartment manager offered us the option to upgrade our kitchen appliances to brand new ones if we re-signed our lease for another year. We had already decided to stay, and given that our oven can take 2 hours to bake a potato and our fridge is a throwback to the 80s, we jumped at the deal. Little did we know that as of this post, we’d still be waiting on those appliances.

After two months went by and no appliances, I started rethinking our decision to stay. The rent is too high, maintenance is lacking to say the least, and the last time Angie got in the hot tub, she got sick; so not even the amenities are keeping us here anymore. As I pondered options, I opened the file I keep on my desktop of tiny house builders and clicked the first one, a builder less than 4 hours from our home. I immediately noticed that they were now offering tours, so without hesitation, I booked one for mid-September.

In the weeks leading up to our tour, I rechecked the zoning laws in our county, rechecked the subdivision rules for my mom’s neighborhood (where we would like to put a tiny house), and rechecked our funds for making this idea a reality. All were a go. I also took some time to attempt to figure out Sketch Up, a 3-D drawing tool for creating scale drawings. That part was not a success so I borrowed a plan from another website and began adapting it to suit our needs. After that, I did extensive research on composting, incinerating, and dry-flush toilets. I had all but decided on the incinerator until I found out it won’t work with solar.

My attempt to design a very simple tiny house (based on Ana White’s Quartz Tiny House pictured above).

By the time our appointment rolled around on the 14th, Angie and I were ready to get down to some serious tiny house buying business. And then the Universe intervened…again.

First impressions are everything to me. If I learned nothing else from my mom’s contractor debacle, it was to always trust your gut when it comes to hiring someone to build or remodel something as important as the home you live in. When we arrived at the builder, we couldn’t find the door to the office and the woman with whom we had the appointment was not there. The owner of the company came out to give us a tour of the 3 units they were building. He was very cordial and answered all of our questions but I can’t count the number of times he talked about demanding clients, impossible timelines, lack of building space, and the madness of being busy all the time.

When I think of tiny houses, I think of slowing down, living with less, and doing only what makes you happy. Until that moment, I guess I didn’t realize that not everyone shares that philosophy. For some, building houses, tiny or otherwise, is simply a way to make money. Talking with the builder, I felt like I was back in the corporate boardroom again, blowing off steam with my fellow overworked colleagues between strategy sessions for the upcoming quarter. Needless to say, it was quite the opposite of how I expected the meeting to go.

Once we concluded that we were not interested in discussing our tiny house dreams with this particular builder, we simply decided to enjoy the tour. It’s not every day that you get to see a tiny house being built and definitely not every day that you get to meet someone you once saw on HGTV. And aside from his running commentary on the woes of operating a business (and dirt, for some reason), this guy was really knowledgeable and he did talk at length about solar power, composting toilets, and sourcing quality materials at a reasonable cost – all things we were very interested in. He even gave a few insider tips and tricks that were worth the entire drive alone.

We’ve thought about going tiny for quite a while now, and the truth is, for as much as I can picture what a tiny life would look like, I can’t quite settle on a tiny house as the way to get there. If you were to browse my internet search history, you’d find an equal number of searches for vans, RVs, yurts, converted sheds, shipping containers, houseboats, and probably any other unconventional housing option you can dream up. Last week, I even looked at a treehouse. Maybe I love the idea of going tiny more than the actual lifestyle itself. Or maybe, I just can’t decide the type of tiny that fits us best. I don’t know. It’s a puzzlement even to me. Hopefully one day, we’ll decide (or at least decide not to decide).

So no, we were not upset or discouraged by the turn of events that day. Just the opposite, in fact. We’re extremely grateful that it happened. Meeting with the owner of the tiny house company kept us from spending $35K on a tiny house that may or may not have met our needs. Instead of a new home, we left with something way more valuable – the renewed knowledge that where we live doesn’t matter as much as the memories we make while we’re there.

Speaking of memories…we took this opportunity to do a little camping and explore parts of TN we had never visited before. To read more about our adventure, check out A Pit Stop in South Pittsburg