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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Best Vegan Restaurants in Western Massachusetts

Alisha McDarris
Glazed Doughnut Shop in Amherst is a tasty option for vegan and gluten free donuts. Look at that raspberry donut! 

Western Massachusetts may be known more for its outdoorsy vibe that its vegan food scene, but don't let the ski resorts and backpacking trails fool you. Western Mass still serves up some quality vegan cuisine. You might have to drive a little farther to find it, but the destination will often be worth the journey in more than just food.

1. Flavours of Malaysia (Pittsfield)

This Malaysian/Thai restaurant isn't as cheap as picking up a sandwich from the deli, but the portion sizes are large and the food is good. With prices around $12-$18 per dish, they are definitely shareable, but be aware that in order to not be charged a "plate sharing fee," you'll want to order an appetizer, too, which can still total under the magic $20 mark.


2. Pizzaria Paradiso (Northampton)

Our favorite pizza joint in Northampton, this restaurant offers large pies with vegan cheese. Josh and I have shared a small before, which costs around $10, and we've shared a large before, which costs around $20. It simply depends on how hungry we were at the time. Either way, after you enjoy your pizza, take a stroll around this quirky town for an evening of free entertainment.


3. Woodstar Cafe (Northampton)

Another Northampton staple, this coffee shop makes good espresso and tasty treats. Sandwiches, too, but we go for the sweets. Vegan cupcake flavors usually come in twos and bars and cookies are also available. Bring your laptop for a quick work sesh.


4. Haymarket Cafe (Northampton)

Also in Northampton (by now you're probably starting to realize this college town is real crunchy granola), this vegetarian cafe is the spot for a delicious tempeh burger. Oh, and the best freaking chocolate peanut butter cake I've ever had. And my mom's a baker! Lunch is under $10 and they serve breakfast all day, too!


5. Glazed & Sweeties (Northampton)

These two separate storefronts just down the sidewalk from one another offer two of my favorite things: donuts and chocolate. Glazed offers several vegan and gluten free varieties of donuts and Sweeties offers candy and chocolate for the discerning (or desperate) chocoholic. At only a couple bucks, either place offers an affordable treat.

6. Evolution Cafe (Florence)

There's not much in Florence, but there is a vegan cafe! Serving breakfast and lunch every day and dinner Thursday-Saturday plus Brunch on Sundays, it's a pretty big hit with the locals. It's just west of Northampton and offers sandwiches, soup, daily specials, noodles, breakfast sandwiches and even smoothies and baked goods.

7. The Black Sheep (Amherst)

While neither vegetarian nor vegan, this deli sure does impress with the handful of veggie sandwiches on the menu. Try the East Meets West if you love peanut sauce as much as I do. Sandwiches are around $7.50-$8.50.

8. Baba Louie's (Great Barrington)

Sometimes you just want pizza. This pizzeria has vegan cheese. So order yourself a pie for dine in or carry out and feast on everyone's favorite food.


9. Starving Artist Creperie and Cafe (Lee)

For breakfast and lunch (and crepes!), this art gallery and cafe offers some tasty options and the chance to peruse the gallery while you wait for your meal to arrive. There's also live music on Sundays and tasty pour-over coffee.


10. Spice Root (Williamstown)

If it's Indian food you want, this is the place to get it. They have a separate menu with their vegan options, so don't forget to ask! Then walk off your meal by perusing the shops and galleries in the artsy little town.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Must Have Tiny House Appliances

Alisha McDarris

When it comes to filling a tiny house with appliances, size, weight and function play a big part in selecting what items will be taking up precious space in the kitchen and bathroom. 



Unfortunately, small appliances are both hard to find (meaning used appliances are going to be few and far between) and often more expensive than their basic full-sized counterparts. Plus, they're rarely on sale when buying them new. Take a stove for example: a new decent full size stove on sale might run you around $250. But if you want an apartment sized stove you're looking at something closer to $400. Not cool. Throw in a preference for electric or propane and you've narrowed your options even further. So what's a tiny house builder to do when trying to save a few bucks on big ticket items like refrigerators and washing machines? Well, I can tell you what we did and maybe you'll have the same luck when you head out appliance hunting!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

First Timer's Guide to Flying

Alisha McDarris


So you're about to embark upon your first adventure that doesn't require filling up the tank and loading the car with snacks. Bravo. You're doing it. And whether you're flying across the country or across the world, flying for business, pleasure, or missions, it may feel like there's a lot more to consider when choosing air travel as opposed to, say, a train or automobile. Probably because there is. But there's no need to stress about it. It might take a bit more planning and prepping, but with these tips for flying for the first time, you'll handle it like a champ, I'm sure.


Planning and booking your flight

I find planning and booking air travel to be the most stressful part of the journey. I'm always afraid I'll miss a good deal, forget about an important event, book on the wrong day, or some such other nonsense. So when you're ready to purchase those tickets, follow these tips to save money and sanity:

  • Check search engines and airline websites and check them in an incognito tab. I'm told multiple searches can cause prices to rise the more you search, so search for flights incognito to prevent that. As for flight search platforms, I forgo sites like Priceline and Kayak for Google flight search and Skyscanner. The list of airlines included is often more comprehensive and they allow flexible search options. When you figure out what airlines are the cheapest, go to their websites to book or see if they are having any sales or specials coming up. 
  • Search for one-way tickets in addition to round-trip. Especially if you try different airlines, sometimes you can get a better deal by flying there with one airline and back with another. It all depends on your destination and time of year.
  • Be flexible. The more flexible your travel dates, the better deal you'll most likely get. If you're traveling for business or spring break you'll be stuck with whatever is available, but if you can postpone your flight for as little as a few days you can often save big bucks. Also choosing not to fly during peak seasons and over holidays can save you some money.
  • Check then double check your schedule. And not just yours, but your family's and anyone else's who will be flying with you. Make sure you won't be traveling over any important dates or missing and events that you'll regret later. I once booked a flight and realized the next day we'd be gone during a good friend's wedding. Doh!
  • Purchase a cancellation option. If you're worried about having to change or cancel your flight, purching flight protection may offer peace of mind. Price can vary from airline to airline and some even offer it at no extra charge, so check your airline's policy.
  • Just click "purchase." Stop vacillating and just buy the tickets already. If you're not sure if you've found the best deal, hand it off to a travel agent. They don't charge to help book travel and sometimes they can find options you didn't think of.

Packing

Josh and I are master packers. The last time we traveled we only had a carry on each and neither of them were even full. You don't need as much as you think you do and packing less can save tons of money.
  • Only pack a carry on. Forgoing a large checked bags can save as much as $50 per bag on budget airlines when flying domestically. Usually international flights will let you have one free checked bag, as will more expensive airlines, but if you're trying to save, less is best. Some airlines, like Allegiant, won't even let you have a roll-aboard, only a "personal item" like a backpack or small duffle. Read the airline's baggage policies to find out then follow our packing tips to get the most out of your budget ticket.
  • Pack two bags in one. By which I mean stuff a structureless reusable shopping bag or ultralight pack (or even a hefty trash bag) inside your backpack or laptop case. That way, when you arrive at your destination you can remove your clothes and necessities, place them in your packable spare bag, and use the personal item when walking around town without having to leave your other effects strewn all over your hotel or hostel room.
  • Pack only what you need. Then remove half of it. Seriously, you don't need that much. You think you do, but you don't. Just trust us.
  • Pack multi-functional items. Especially if you'll have access to a washer and dryer, pack items that have multiple functions. Leggings for ladies work as pants or sleepwear. A tank top can be used for going out or working out. A button up can be worn on it's own or as an extra layer in cooler evenings.
  • Use the outside of your bag, too. thread your jacket through the handle of your backpack, stuff snacks in the pockets of that jacket, clip a water bottle to the zipper pull, wear your hat, carry a book or tablet in your hand. Just because you can only have one bag doesn't mean you can't make the most of it.

In the Airport

AIrports are large and confusing places, but usually well mapped out with decent signage. Only once have I gotten so utterly turned around in an airport that I had to ask for directions. And in my defense, Josh got lost in the exact same place in the exact same airport two days later. So yeah, that was an exception. But fear not the sprawling airports that are LAX, JFK or (said with a growling snarl), Charlotte.
  • Ask an employee. Josh and I both hate talking to strangers (Okay, people in general), but when in doubt, airport employees are super helpful and can always point you in the right direction. And if they don't know the answer right off the top of their head, they'll go to a computer and find out. Just make sure to smile and say thank you!
  • Flight boards. Everything you need to know about your flight is on those giant TV screens located in every hallway and gathering place. Find your flight on the board and it will tell you if it's on time, when it starts boarding, when it takes off, what gate it's in, and more. When it comes to locating that gate, signs are posted everywhere pointing travellers to their destination. 
  • Security. It's the worst part of flying. Most airports have those stupid naked scanners that it's been reported have done nothing to increase safety, grumpy TSA agents, and rules that change from airport to airport (do I have to take off my shoes or don't I? Watch in the basket or on my wrist? Take my laptop out or leave it in the case?). The one thing that's fairly universal is liquids. Nothing over 4 ounces can go in your carry on and any liquids under that size (like travel shampoo and such) go in a quart-sized clear plastic bag like a Ziploc or similar and you're usually asked to take it out of your carry on, so pack it near the top.
  • Get there early. But not toooo early. I don't think there's anything worse than showing up and having to sit in the terminal for two hours waiting to board, but that's just me. But you should plan to arrive at the airport at least an hour before boarding (not take off) for domestic flights and an hour and a half to two hours early for international flight to give yourself enough time for check in and security. Longer if you'll have to go through customs. You don't need as much time if you're not checking bags and have already printed off your boarding pass (or are using your phone), but don't push it. Most of the time you won't be allowed to check in less than 30 minutes before your flight's scheduled departure.

On the Plane

When flying budget airlines, especially domestically, expect there to be absolutely nothing to keep you entertained. Some airlines don't even offer free snacks or beverages anymore. So come prepared so you don't get cabin fever on a three hour flight to Miami.
  • Pack snacks. Preferably ones that don't make a mess or have a strong odor. We had to rush from flight to flight one time but were starving so we grabbed some Chinese real quick. We only managed three bites before we had to board and I'm pretty sure everyone on the plane hated us for making it smell like sweet and sour sauce. Stick with granola bars, fresh fruit, or trail mix. My personal fave is vegan jerky.
  • Have a book or movie on hand. I prefer paper books, personally, but load your phone or device with something to read (or listen to) and a few of your favorite movies or episodes. It'll help the time go faster if you're like me and can't sleep on planes. Don't forget your headphones!
  • Comfort is key. Neck pillows make look like an old lady accessory, but holy crap do the make a long flight more comfortable. A thin blanket or sweater also comes in handy on cold planes and if you do plan to sleep, an eye mask isn't a bad idea either, especially if you have a freaky peculiarity like sleeping with your eyes open, which I totally don't have...

Now you can take your first flight with confidence (and maybe only get turned around once or twice in the airport). Is there anything we didn't mention? If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tiny House Update: Moving into the Tiny House (With Photos!)

Alisha McDarris
Our tiny home, parked in it's new home and ready to be touched up after it's long journey.

Our first week in our new tiny house was a crazy one. A good one and a crazy one. The weather was sunny and beautiful, the sky was blue, I was in tank tops and flip flops again (which is all I ever want), and we were out of my parents' house after 5 long months of preparing and building (love you mom and dad, but you get it). We were home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tiny House Update: Moving the Tiny House (Austin or Bust!)

Alisha McDarris
Our tiny house all packed, hitched and ready to go in Troy, Ohio.

Moving day! It seemed like it was such a long time coming. I mean, there were times we just laid in bed, mentally exhausted from measuring and mismeasuring and nailing and renailing and researching and re-researching, listening to my parents scream at the Cincinnati Bengals in the living room, wondering if we would ever make it to Austin. Then, all of a sudden, the inspection was over, the VIN plate was in, and we were calling Horizon Transport to schedule our pick up. We were moving the tiny house to Texas!

But we weren't going alone. There was a hot minute that we considered renting a full size, one-ton pickup truck and having my dad tow it to Austin for us, but we quickly decided against it. More or less. We kept the option on the shortlist, but we had pretty much written it off by the time we found Horizon Transport. For one, they knew what they were doing, my dad didn't. Secondly, they had relocation plates and insurance to cover anything that might go wrong during transport, and we didn't. But maybe most importantly, if we hired a company we wouldn't have to worry about the tiny house for the entire 1,250 some miles between Dayton and Austin. The last thing I wanted was additional stress watching it try to clear bridges and low hanging power lines.

Before we booked Horizon, we searched high and low for every possible option, each with varying levels of success. Uhaul doesn't have vehicles that tow anything over 10,000 pounds, Enterprise and Herc did, but they charged per mile over 75-100 miles per day (yikes!) and they didn't allow one-way rentals, so someone (my dad) would have had to drive it back. Blech. We tried local companies, but the few that did have such large vehicles had them contracted out to the city for snow removal. Winter in Ohio, ya know. We also posted a Craigslist ad, which generated scads of interest, but they either charged way more than a professional company or were freelancers, which made us nervous. I mean, this is our home we're paying someone to move! Our last attempt involved placing a listing on uship.com, which allows companies or towing professionals to bid on your "project." I didn't like it for one main reason: You couldn't speak with bidders in person, only via message on the website.

I liked Horizon Transport for one main reason: They were wonderful on the phone (and I hate talking on the phone). From the very first phone call they were super helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. I was initially transferred to Rich who gave me his direct line, which I called several times over a month or so to ask questions, get clarification, offer more info, and eventually schedule our transport. Some of the other similar companies I called either never called me back or only replied with vaguely uninformative emails. Plus they were all more expensive.

So Horizon found us a driver (Dru), gave us his contact info, scheduled the pickup and drop-off, and we were set! We got to talk to Dru about the trailer and route beforehand, decide on a time for him to come get it all hitched up, and that was that. He was super friendly and all the way to Texas he kept us updated on the progress and the condition of the tiny house (good all the way). Except the lock on the sliding glass door apparently didn't keep shut, so Dru had to tape it closed somewhere along the way. We should have put a block of wood behind the door to keep it from sliding open. Our bad. We'll know what to do next time. In any case, the trip was entirely stress-free (partially because we didn't follow the house) and I couldn't have been happier with the whole process.

Josh and me with our Horizon Transport driver, Dru, in front of a safely delivered tiny house in Austin, TX.

And God bless him, Dru had a challenge when we got to our destination. We didn't know what the driveway/yard looked like when we selected the spot, but it couldn't have been a trickier sell. Two of the three driveways into the yard were impossibly steep, but paved, and the third was partially gravel and partially mud. Now, that may not have been a problem except that it had hardcore stormed the night before and not only was most of the yard and third drive a mud pit, there was standing water in several strategically obnoxious places. Dru examined his options, we all decided on which drive provided the best chance of not bottoming out, and I covered my ears as the back of the trailer scraped the driveway for a few very long seconds. Fortunately nothing was damaged, we'll just have to touch up some paint to keep rust at bay.

Navigating the muddy sinkholes in the yard in Austin.

Then the mud played its part by getting the trailer and Dru's 4WD stuck and after several attempts to get both moved to a less squishy spot of earth, we gave up and decided to leave the tiny house where it stood until the ground had a chance to dry out a bit, maybe in a week. So as I write this the trailer is sitting in a slightly sunken, mostly level, awkward diagonal angle to where it should be, waiting to be eased back onto its proper site and stabilized (let's just say the dishes on the shelves did not appreciate how much the washer vibrated the house).


We backed it up until we couldn't back it up any more. There's no fighting mud after a storm like that.


But we're here in Austin, back eating delicious vegan food, catching up with friends, and loving the home we built, our little Serenity. So we're happy.

All in all the towing took two and a half days (we drove it in two in our little Prius) and cost $1,960. A chunk of change to be sure, but renting a truck and doing it ourselves was only a couple hundred less, didn't come with insurance, but did come with a whole lot of stress and inexperience. Not worth it.

Have any questions about relocating a tiny house? Ask in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tiny House Update: Inspection!

Alisha McDarris


The week of our tiny house inspection was an emotional and stressful one. Not only did we have the inspection to prepare for, but we had to have it weighed, totally roadworthy, and nail down transportation so we could get this thing to Austin. Plus we had scheduled a tiny housewarming at the end of the week so we could show it off to friends and family so the inside needed to be mostly complete, too. Weigh day was Wednesday, the inspection was Thursday, and the housewarming was Friday, so from Saturday I was continuously counting down hour by hour, running through all the things we had to get done. There were some late nights, speedy trips to Menards, and it was all hands on deck. Fortunately, we had an extra pair of hands for those last two weeks. After returning from Australia we convinced my parents that they needed to sign up as Help-X hosts and we thanked God for sending their first helper when we needed so much extra assistance. We couldn't have done it without Joris, a Frenchman more than happy to work for enormous slices of my mom's cheesecake.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roof Venting in the Tiny House

Alisha McDarris

Venting the roof of our tiny house was a point of much research and deliberation. We'd look up what we were supposed to do, think we had an idea, then come across someone who said the complete opposite. We had heard roof venting was absolutely necessary and not so much. So we dug deeper, asked some people who knew a lot more about roof venting and building than we did, and came up with this: Yes, you need to vent the roof of your tiny house.

But why? And how? Well, first, whether or not you vent the roof of your tiny house largely depends on the shape of your roof and the insulation you are using. Our tiny house roof is a simple slanted roof and we used fiberglass insulation and as it turns out, in those situations venting is absolutely necessary. The most definitive text we found on the subject was this website. It's based on conventional building principles, but the facts remain. We double checked with some guys at our local building supply store and they confirmed our suspicions: yes, vent.

But How?! Lots more research later here's what we came up with: yeah we have a bathroom vent fan and a kitchen vent fan, but those aren't keeping all the hot air being pushed upward every day from creeping into the cavity between our ceiling and our roof sheathing, causing mold, mildew, even rot to form. No good. So the solution for us was baffles. Or vent chutes. Whatever you call them they keep the fiberglass insulation from pressing directly up against the roof sheathing and they allow air to flow all the way from the lowest point in the ceiling to the highest. And on that highest point we created a protected gap between the exterior walls and the roof drip edge that allows that warm, damp air to escape so it's not trapped up there forever, wreaking havoc on our wood and ruining and our ability to breathe uncontaminated air.

Baffles are super easy to install and really cheap. We purchased polystyrene chutes for about $1.68 a piece and placed them in between every roof joist all the way from the low to the high point of the roof. They are held in with about 3 staples each and the insulation just goes in right after. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Creating the actual vent openings on the outside of the roof line was a bit trickier. Metal vent grates would make it hard to attach the drip edge and wouldn't keep out bugs. We found a sort of plastic woven mesh that's supposed to keep leaves out of gutters which we considered using, but it was going to be a bit more expensive and we'd have to cut it. What we ended up with -- and this was Josh's idea -- was a cheap, short, long strip of corrugated plastic that we could easily cut to size. The corrugations allow air to flow through and a bit of weed mat attached via spray adhesive keeps insects and debris from getting into the ceiling. Slide that stuff under the drip edge, screw it down, and we have our roof venting solution!



Friday, December 30, 2016

Tiny House Update: Christmas Day Paint Job Destroyed

Alisha McDarris

Ok, maybe not destroyed, but definitely damaged. Here's what happened. We saw that it was supposed to be above 35 degrees Fahrenheit for over 24 hours, which is what our exterior paint said it needed to be in order to cure. It also said it would dry in a few hours. All wrong. But we didn't know that when we set out to paint our tiny house on Christmas day.




As it turned out, it was above 35 for over 24 hours, but it was humid, so the paint was still wet to the touch 16 hours later (the next morning). And then the unthinkable happened. It rained. It wasn't supposed to rain for another 6 hours! We checked the weather forecast eight times to make sure! But as is often the case with weather predictions, they were wrong. So it rained and we watched gray paint literally run down the side of the tiny house from the kitchen window. And then we yelled and threw things and moped around the house all day and went outside when it stopped raining to hose the grey rainwater off the trailer and the driveway. We sulked and bemoaned our waste of time and materials. It was a far cry from how good we were feeling on Christmas, just a day before, when we spent a few hours with brushes and rollers and our parents and got to stand back and gaze upon a tiny house that finally looked like ours. The tan siding was gone and a beautiful grey stood in its place. I was thrilled. that lime green front door never looked better.

So naturally we felt terrible. My parents had helped, we had all spent several hours Christmas day outside working on it, my dad was sore. And we felt like all their work was for naught. So in addition to feeling like we wasted time and materials, we felt guilty for wasting my parents' time. But they didn't complain, so that went a long way toward making us feel less guilty, but not less cranky.

But it's not all as black as it seems. Only two sides of the tiny house were damaged by the rain since the wind and wet only come from one direction out here. And of those sides, only one will need completely redone, and it's one of the small sides, so that's a blessing (though it is one of the lap sides, which are a pain to paint). The other side just needs touched up a bit. Unfortunately, at this point it may have to wait until we get to Texas, cause we're not holding out for another warm front in January in Ohio. At least we tried. All we can say is we tried.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tiny House Update: Plumbing and Electric Rough In

Alisha McDarris

Ah, plumbing and electric. Such necessary components to a modern day build. At least for our tiny house. And prior to the last couple of weeks, I knew almost nothing about either. I knew how to flip a breaker and fix a leaky faucet, but that was about the extent of my experience. I can now say that I possess slightly more knowledge on the subjects than I did last month. But just slightly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tiny House Update: Windows and Doors

Alisha McDarris
Josh is excited to finally have the front door installed. And yes, we know our house wrap is on upside down.

Oh windows and doors. I love them. Except for when I have to install them, and then I hate them. Ok, maybe not hate. But they are annoyingly time consuming with the flashing and the rough openings and the trim.

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