The Year of Less

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”

“The Year of Less”, was written by Cait Flanders, is a story of self discovery brought on by a self-imposed challenge to simplify her life and live with less by going on a shopping ban for one year.

This is not a how-to or a log of how her year went, but more of a tale of experiences and discovery.  The actual challenge of not buying anything for a year takes a back seat to the story of how and what she learned about herself and how she lived her life during that year.

It was incredibly entertaining, well written and motivational.  The writing is relaxed, honest and almost conversational.  She shares both the highs and lows that she experienced during this challenge, just as amazed as the readers as to how the challenge forced her to look at herself in a different light and from a different angle.

Her experiences are relatable and it is easy to put yourself in her position while you read the book, even when she refers back to past challenges that she has overcome from relationships come and gone, to drug and physical abuse and sharing the experience of the impending divorce of her parents with her siblings.

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It is a great look into priorities, and a deeper look into the ways of life that have been adopted by most of society due to advertising, social media and trying to achieve the ideal unachievable lifestyle force fed to us on a daily basis.  It challenges the status quo and questions our feelings that we need “this” to get “that” and be a certain “type” of person. 

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I thoroughly recommend that anyone read this book and then take a look around their living space to contemplate what they own and why.  Did they buy certain items for themselves or for the themselves that want to portray.  How much of other people’s perceptions influenced your spending habits and feelings of need.

Borrow this book from your local library, read it and reevaluate yourself and your habits for the better.  

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Moselle River

Family Bike Ride

Another perfect weather weekend calls for another family outing.  A short drive from our current house lies the Moselle river, and what we found to be the perfect length biking loop.

Being along the river the route is mostly flat and paved, an easy ride that the whole family is able to enjoy.  Located among the towns of Bernkastel and Kues is a 10 mile loop that traverses down either side of the river.

This easy ride afforded us lots of opportunities to venture into the towns and explore a little further off of the beaten path.  It is also an excellent trail for any of those wine lovers out there as the mountains on either side of the river are covered in vineyards.  Riding down one side of the river we pass a new winery every few hundred yards it seems. 

On the Kues side of the river we are even able to ride our bikes directly up to the front doors of Schloss Lieser, Schloss is similar to our word for mansion.  This enormous mansion and accompanying winery and restaurant has a very gothic look to it.  Built in the 19th century, this historic castle has been fully restored and renovated into a luxury hotel.

After exploring Kues a little bit, we continue our loop down the river and cross over to the Bernkastel side, pedaling back up the river is a much more relaxed path.  While the Kues side ran along between the river and the town, the Bernkastel side ran between the river and vineyards.  Traffic is lighter, both car and bike, and the pace is relaxed.

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Returning to our starting point, we lock our bikes back up to our bike rack and take a walk through the town.  The old cobblestone streets and timber built houses never seem to get old.  We stop at a corner pizza shop where we can sit in the window and people watch while we enjoy an early dinner, followed up by some ice cream at an outdoor cafe with live music.

Tired from the day’s ride, but happy for the change of scenery we head home.  Another day out and about, well spent.

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The Imperfect Environmentalist

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”

“The Imperfect Environmentalist” written by Sara Gilbert is a coffee table book full of environmentally conscious alternatives to daily activities.

I am not one that would typically promote a book written by a celebrity, a non-author celebrity that is.  I find that celebrities typically view things from a privileged, oftentimes, unrelatable or un-achievable point of view.  That is not the case with Sara Gilbert and “The Imperfect Environmentalist” though.  This book was a quick read, entertaining collection of environmentally friendly tips and tricks that I found really interesting.

I do definitely consider it as a coffee table book in every sense of the word though.  To read this from cover to cover is repetitive and tedious.  Because each topic is meant to stand alone, each entry will often remind you of the same points.  GMO for instance is a Genetically Modified Organism and VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds and I will never forget it since I read about those on every other page.

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Seriously though, Sara Gilbert has put together a very well written collection of thoroughly researched and relatable situations in which you can improve your environmentalism.  Divided into easy to reference sections such as food, cleaning, transportation and parenting, you will find yourself flipping through the pages again and again.  

Even adopting one or two small changes can make a big difference.  If each of us just changed one thing to improve our impact on the environment, we would live in a different world than we do today.

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I typically recommend that your first place to turn for a new book to read is your local library, but on this occasion I would recommend having a copy of this book on hand to be able to reference from time to time.  Just seeing it around the house could be enough to flip that switch in your brain reminding you to pay attention to your impact, or recenter your intentions. 

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One Less Car on the Road

Committing to Commuting

Whether it was our choice or not to take the leap and make the plunge, it is done.  We have removed one more exhaust spewing, chemical dripping, money pit from the road. 

Like most families that I know we were a two car family, and it made sense for us once upon a time.  My wife and I both worked full time and we lived in an area that did not have public transportation readily available and also was not bike friendly.  So when we moved, we automatically defaulted to the two car situation that we were so accustomed to.

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As time went on and we settled into our new situation we started to reassess the need for multiple cars.  My wife is not working while we are abroad, besides her side hustle, that is (check it out here), and the public transportation and bicycle infrastructure in our area is well established.  The more we looked at it, it was actually my full time work schedule in the same office, at the same time, five days a week that was less demanding of having a car on location than her side hustle was.

I recently completed a bike build as well, where I took an early 2000s Mongoose Wal-Mart bike, stripped it down to its frame and rebuilt it back up into a respectable cruiser style bike (check it out here). Just to add another little nudge, our house is less than one kilometer from a train station.

Still I dragged my feet, the hardest part about making the change would be to change our routines and our convenient, comfortable yet wasteful habits.  As if the powers that be were alerted to my hesitation, the decision was made for us.

My car went from never giving us a problem, not even an inkling that something was amiss, to suddenly broken down on the side of the road and two days later pronounced D.O.A. Dead On Arrival by the garage mechanics.

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We could have ignored all of these ever so subtle hints, ran out and threw a bucket of cash into another convenient conveyance, or we could adopt change and step out of our comfort zone for the betterment of ourselves and the environment.  As if the title didn’t give it away, we chose the latter.

Nevertheless, we still weighed the pro’s and con’s of being a one car family and commuting.

Pros 

  • Commuting is better for the environment, and reduces our carbon footprint. 
  • Bike riding is a healthy form of exercise.
  • Vehicles are a drain on your finances.
  • We could save around $700 a year on car insurance, $1000 a year on fuel and roughly $200-$300 estimated per year on maintenance and that is probably a low estimate.
  • Train commuting is safer than driving, trains don’t often run into other trains because the driver was texting his buddy.
  • Bike commuting is safer than driving, yeah accidents happen involving bicycles but nowhere in the realm of car on car accidents.

Cons

  • If our one car breaks down, then we have no car.  This is bound to happen eventually.
  • Cold, rainy and snowy days are not fun days to ride a bike to work.
  • I would have to get up a little earlier and I would get home a little later.
  • Dependent on the trains running on time. (Who am I kidding, this is Germany the trains are always running on time).
  • I would need to buy a commuter train pass for around $800 for the year.
  • I would not be readily available during work hours in case of an emergency.

So there it was, all laid out on a piece of paper in front of me.  The benefits were clear benefits and there was no disputing them.  I found myself explaining away some of the con’s.  Yes, cars break down and if we only have one then we would have none.  On the rare occasion that this does happen though, you are typically stranded no matter how many cars you own, also a few forced days at home while the mechanic repairs it or while you are on the market for another car doesn’t seem so bad when trains and walking are so readily available.

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The commuter train pass costs $800 a year, but I am saving at least $2000 a year by not having a car, so that is a no brainer.

Not being available in case of an emergency is the only one that really gave me pause.  As I sat back and thought about it though, I couldn’t come up with a single instance when I needed to get somewhere instantly.  I was commuting, I wasn’t stuck, I was just at the mercy of the train schedule, I may not be able to get somewhere as fast as if I had a car, but I wouldn’t be too far behind it.  Between the trains and my bike I could literally get anywhere if I had to.  Also, unless the emergency involved my wife, we did have another car and my wife was likely to be near it.

So it’s settled.  I have committed to commuting.  I will let you know how it goes.

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Rhine River – Ring Ticket

Still staying within the confines of the Covid lock down, we have managed a few day trips for a change of scenery.

We are lucky enough to live within driving distance of the Rhine river here in Germany and a lot of the touristy attractions have begun to open up.  One of which caught our eye is the Rhine River Ring Ticket.  An afternoon tour that runs through three towns located on the coast of the Rhine river; Bingen; Assmannshausen and Rudesheim.

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Joined by some friends of ours, we started our day tour in the town of Bingen with a short walk on the bank of the river to the boat dock.  Medium sized cruise boats make continuous loops between the three towns that I listed and all you have to do is catch one of them at your port.

We took our first cruise boat from Bingen to Assmannshausen, a short 20 to 30 minute ride at an interior deck table, enjoying the views from the river.  The upper, open air deck was full due to only half the seating being open in order to maintain social distancing standards.

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Hopping off the boat, we explored the small town of Assmannshausen and wandered the old country cobbled streets and took photos of the timber built houses lining our way.  Stopping at an outdoor cafe, we enjoyed a quick, relaxing, delicious lunch before following signs to the next leg of our tour.

In order to climb to the top of the hills lining the riverbanks we boarded a sesselbahn, a ski-lift as we would call it.  At the top of the hill we followed a nature path with incredible views to the Niederwalddenkmal, an enormous monument constructed to commemorate the founding of the German Empire in 1871.  The kids enjoyed the view, posed for pictures and climbed on the foundation a little bit.  Continuing down the trail we stopped at another conveniently placed cafe with a view for some refreshments and ice cream.

At the end of the nature trail was a kabinen-seilbahn, an enclosed gondola, that we rode down the hill into the town of Rudesheim.  The lift leads us right into the Altstadt, or old city section of Rudesheim where we are surrounded by some more timber built and “Harry Potter-esqe” cobbled streets.  Here we find some more sweet snacks as we wander along winding our way through the streets towards the port.

At the port we find our boat waiting and this time we are able to find seats on the top deck.  There we are served some drinks as we soak in the beautiful afternoon, the castles along the riverbank and rest our legs.  The boat pulls into port right back where we started.

As we walk a little further down the coast in Bingen we arrive at a biergarten, and decide to have an early dinner before heading back home.

All in all, a relaxing day out and about and a well needed change of scenery with good friends.

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Financial Freedom Update #5

June – 5 Months

5 months in and we are still kicking!  Markets are fluctuating, but we are holding strong and still earning some passive income.  This month we put some more money into our high interest savings, something that we can let sit and compound.  We also put a couple extra thousand into our investment account as well.  You’ve got to get it while it is on sale as they say.  When the markets dip is the best time to buy.

Without further ado, on to our account and performance update:

Betterment High Interest Savings and Investments:

Actual Investments to date: $29,010.39

Passive Income Earned to date: $71.90

Current Balance: $29,610.88

Performance to date: +$600.49

All of the losses from the original market drop at the beginning of the COVID epidemic have now recovered and we are seeing our accounts on the plus side for the first time. Very exciting!

Supplementary Retirement Accounts:

Thrift Savings Plan: $113,778.06 (+$2,558.00 from last month)

Vanguard 401K: $14.939.71 (+$375.92 from last month)

With the markets rising, so too are our supplementary retirement accounts.  The TSP is still being contributed to bi-weekly, but the 401K is just riding along at a steady investment amount, pluses and minuses solely based on market performance.

F.I.R.E. Account Balance

$158,328.65

This is an increase of $11,975.66 from last month ($8,000 physical investment, $3,975.66 account performance increase).

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