The One Trick to Living Longer (No Diet Required)

By Alastair Ong | May 27, 2016 | 1 Comment

I have a friend who moved out of New York City about a decade ago.  After a particularly wonderful morning when I was walking the dogs around my pond on a beautiful spring day I called him up.  Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I cannot believe how wonderful it is to live close to nature.
Henry: Yeah, fresh air and green is awesome.
Me: I can’t believe that you did not try to get me to move sooner.  It’s like you’ve been keeping a secret from me.
Henry: Well when it comes to moving from the City, you’re ready when you’re ready.  Before then, you’re just not ready.  I just never felt like you were ready.  Think about it Al, if I had asked you to consider moving five years ago, what would you have told me?
Me:  Hmm, yeah, maybe you’re right.

If you live in a city, ask yourself if you are ready to move to the country. Chances are, you are not.

What Henry was getting at, was that city slickers are super geo-centric when it comes to where they live. In fact, this goes so far as to Manhattanites being so geo-centric that they poo-poo those that live in other burroughs. I was one of those poo-pooers believing that Brooklyn was for younger Y geners that could not afford Manhattan rent prices.  If Henry had asked me to consider moving to the country five years ago, I would have probably responded with, “Why would I want to do that?” all the while thinking, “Are you friggin’ nuts?”  I would justify my reasoning by the same reasons listed in my first post under “Things We Think We Will Miss”

My buddy Todd, who also lived in New York City sent me a great article from the Washington Post.  The article documents a long-term Harvard study funded by the National Institutes of Health called the Nurses’ Health Studyand.  This study found that people who live in “greener” areas, with more vegetation around, have a lower risk of mortality.  For those of you who want to slog through the actual study, click this link to download the 32 page study.

The study determined that people who had the most vegetation within 800 feet of their homes — had a 12 percent lower rate of mortality from any non-accidental cause than people living in the least green places. Specifically, they found that the relationship was strongest for deaths related to respiratory disease, cancer and kidney disease.

This Wasshington Post article then lays out a few theories for why this is.  One that rang my bell is known as the “biophilia” hypothesis, which was proposed by renowned biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. This theory embodies the idea “that we evolved as a species embedded in nature over most of our existence as a species, and something about that nature contact still resonates with us,” Frumkin said. “Something about contact with nature is soothing and restorative and thereby good for mental health.”

I have read multiple articles over the years that found the benefits of living by nature.  In fact, it is hard to find an article that does not list spending time in nature as a partial and potential cure to depression.  But living in nature increasing my life span? Sign me up.  From the researcher, “If we had a medication that did this — a medication that prolonged life, that addressed very different unconnected causes of disease, that did it at no cost and with no side effects — that would be the best medication of the decade,” Frumkin said. “But we don’t have a medication like that except for this ‘vitamin N’ — nature.”

 It is still too early to tell whether living in nature is improving my mental health, but I can say that I love waking up and seeing wildlife like birds, geese, ducks, deer among our pond and greenery of the forest around us.
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Lots Of Wonderful WildLife – All of Which Would Love to Eat our Dogs as an Afternoon Snack

By Alastair Ong | May 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

No farm blog would be complete without a description of the neighbors or their farm dogs. I was not sure what to expect. On the one hand, we are located in Connecticut, not far from Westport and maybe 30 minutes from Greenwich, home of multi-billion dollar hedge funds and private equity houses.  On the other hand, we were in a rural environment and images of hillbillies making you “squeal like a pig” were hauntingly not far from my mind.

Dogs

Iggy, Bella and Mini – our farm dogs.

Having raised seeing eye dogs, I have always been a bit peeved when folks call their dogs “Rescue Dogs.”  Rescue Dogs are dogs that rescue humans – like those human sniffing dogs that smell live humans after an earthquake or other natural disaster.  The proper term for dogs that have been rescued are Rescued Dogs or Rescues.  We have three small farm dogs that are all rescues.  Our oldest is the newest member of our family – a Toy Yorkie named Mini.  She’s the little thing on the right. She was given to us by a close friend of mine named Allen and HJ.  Apparently HJ’s mom developed allergies to dogs and had to give her up.  Our second eldest has been in our family the longest, named Bella – a Boston/Rat terrier with a severe and too cute underbite.  You can see her in the middle of the photo. Iggy is a Maltese/Yorkie or a “Morkie” on the left of the photo.  Being the only boy, I have dubbed him, “daddy’s boy,” and have dreams of him fetching my slippers and being able to grab a beer from the fridge.  So far, we’re lucky that he poops outside.  Okay, I can dream. . . .

Iggy is a runner.  Whenever we take him for a walk around our property, if you even for a moment lose focus on Iggy, he’ll be gone across the street onto our neighbors yards.  Our neighbors all have dogs, and Iggy, like daddy, is a playa’ and wants to play. He regards property lines like Genghis Khan did in Eastern Europe.  Iggy was my method to meet my new neighbors.

Immediately adjacent to our property, lives Chris and Rich.  They have three dogs, and are in a word – normal.  Rich is a firefighter and committed to his family and Chris is a dog groomer.  As Iggy ran about their yard, I spoke to this very nice couple about Easton.  They had moved from a nearby city, Westport, and felt that they were moving out to the boonies – so she understood if this was a huge change from NYC City Slickers.  Chris told a story about her first week here, she saw guys in camo carrying guns and she thought that there was an incident of some sort, before realizing that our land abuts some hunting land.

Sharing a love of farm dogs, Chris also warned us that a neighbor spotted a coyote or a wolf carrying another neighbors Maltese’ lifeless body in its mouth.  She started rattling off the wonderful wildlife that lived in the area – bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, eagles, hawks – all of which would take one of our farm dogs as an afternoon snack.  She warned us not to leave our farm dogs unattended, especially at night.  Apparently, in the pine trees between our property, live a family of giant owls 3 feet tall with 7 foot wingspans.  I have always found owls a bit freaky, but giant owls scare me.

Iggy the runner likes to cross the street to visit the neighbors in front our house.  Now this is a country road.  There is not a lot of traffic, but the traffic that does come through drives very very fast – probably faster than a Morkie can react.  The couple there is also very nice.  Vicky likes to pick Iggy up and walk him to our house.  Nice now, but after a dozen or so carries, I think it will get tired very fast.  Note to self – our house came with an invisible fence.  Maybe I should buy into those collars that keep our dogs (read: Iggy) on our property.

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The Top Differences Between a City Home and a Rural Farm

By Alastair Ong | May 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

When you live in a cosmopolitan city like New York City you don’t think about things that you need to think about when living in a rural setting.  When looking for a home outside of the city, I did not even know what I did not know.  Having settled in I am quickly learning what I did not know.

Top Differences Between a City Home and Farm Life

Cooking Fuel.  In NYC, we had gas stoves.  On the farm, cooking is done with electricity.  I grew up with electric stoves (the old kind where a downloadcoil would get red hot).  I thought I would miss cooking with gas.  Our stove in our new home, however has this very sleek glass top that heats very quickly.  Additional bonus is that it super easy to clean.  I am considering changing to an induction cooktop as I understand it is very efficient and heats faster than a gas stove.

Water:  H2O is not something you ever think about in NYC.  You turn on the faucet and clean (and good tasting) water comes out.  On our property, water is fed by a well.  No, its not what you’re thinking, we do not need to pump a handle a la Little House on the Prairie to get water.  water-faucet-628x363-TS-87177313There is an electric pump that feeds water to a very high tech ultraviolet carbon filter.  The water is fed by underground aquifers that are like underground rivers and supplemented by reservoirs.  If these aquifers get polluted, there goes our water supply.  From my time canvassing door-to-door for the Long Island Citizens Campaign, I know that New York City also used to get their water from aquifers, until the city overdeveloped and the aquifers were no longer viable.  Now, New York gets its water from reservoirs and aquifers from upstate New York not unlike the ones around me.

Heating oil.  After about a month living in the new house, the hot water stopped working.  I was in the shower, happily scrubbing and then suddenly the shower turned into a blast of icy cold water. Unless you’re living in an apartment owned by a slumlord, this never happens in New York.  I mean,  I did once live in an apartment, where if you flushed the toilet, the shower ran cold for a few seconds, but hot water and heat are carefully regulated in New York City. I learned that my house had run out of fuel.  My house runs on “heating oil” and has a tank in the garage that needs to be filled like a car. When we moved in, we got about 30 or 40 flyers in our mailbox advertising fuel.

I called one of the cheaper suppliers and a oil truck came out to our house uncapped a pipe in the front of the house, and brought what fuel truckresembled a fire hose and began filling our oil tank.  I learned that “heating oil” is really diesel gas.  The price for heating oil is about half that of diesel at a gas station.  If you are anything like me, you are asking, “why not get a diesel car and run it on home heating oil to reduce your transportation costs?”

The guy manning the fire hose filling my house launched into a chemical engineering lecture about the differences between the two fuels, about detergents in diesel gas meant to optimize car engine performance.  Then as it appeared that he was about to tell me the dangers of using home heating oil in a car, he interrupted himself said, “you know, its really the same sh*t, I’ve been putting it in my pickup truck for ages now and it runs exactly like it should.”

He did say that home heating oil is dyed red to indicate that this diesel fuel had not been taxed by the transportation agencies and if a trucker was caught using home heating oil, that the fine was $400 per gallon of tank capacity. The fine is not worth the savings, and this is why home heating oil is not used commercially.  Note to file, next vehicle is going to be a bio-diesel wagon, which will be primed with home heating oil.  If you are particularly knowledgeable about the chemical composition of fuels, I’d appreciate a comment about the potential dangers of using home heating oil in a car.

Cable providers/Internet.  In NYC, you are largely in the world of Time Warner Cable.  Verizon Fios and its super fast fiber optic technology is gaining ground, but you can always opt for DSL.  In Easton, there is only one cable provider – Optimum (a division of Cablevision).   We have an extremely fast internet package (100 MB down/50 MB up) but the bundled cable package for television was obscenely expensive.  We are considering Direct TV which uses a satellite dish to beam television to our homes.
the-real-reasons-people-dump-their-cable-providers

Okay, now the biggie – Cell Reception.  When in NYC, you can have any of dozen or so cell providers that run on the networks of AT&T, Verizon, T-Moble, or Sprint and they ALL work.  In the town of Easton, the local government seem more concerned with preservation of a rural environment that business, commerce, safety and communication.   While I do think that there are cell towers in the town of Easton, I think the number of cell towers can be counted on one hand.  I like to tell folks on their first visit our house that the difference between a third world country and Easton is that third world countries always have cell service.

Easton Cell Towers

Cell towers at our home in Easton, Connecticut. Note the blank area on the bottom of the map. From www.cellreception.com

Check out the map above.  See the hole without any red dots?  Yeah, that’s my town.  I have investigated solutions to be able to get cell reception.  My first solution was to buy a WeBoost signal booster.  However, after correspondence with their fine customer service reps, it appears that a WeBoost is appropriate when you have one or two bars of signal and want to amplify it.  At my home, zero, nada, ziltch, no bars.  So then I started looking into femtocells.  Femtocells plug into your router and somehow with the magic of technology give a cell signal from a router signal.  The main problem with femtocells aside from the cost (~$500 each) is that they are tied to a specific network.  My wifey is on AT&T, I’m on Project Fi (T-Moble/Sprint) and my sister-in-law on Verizon.  Our temporary solution: calls via wifi.  We receive calls while at home on wifi.  Once we leave the range of our router, though, calls don’t get choppy, they get chopped.

Which brings me to the topic of landlines.  We are not currently aware of any provider that serves landlines in our area. I’d like to use a word my good friend Stephen always uses, “redonkolous.” I have written a blog that analyzed the cost effectiveness of different wifi calling devices and the cheapest was the now popular-via-informercial MagicJack.  Although it was cheap, the quality of the call sucked.  My wife was seriously considering paying an exorbitant monthly fee to have a Vonage-like call service bundled to our internet service.  Instead, I told her to try out a new device I had bought called the Obihai.  It is very easy to install and the device works with SIP systems and Google Voice.  A few minutes after setting it up, I tested it and was really pleasantly surprised at the call quality.  If you do not believe me, try calling me: 203-828-0288.  Really, call me.  Say hello.  Do it now. It gets lonely out here.

 

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Seven Tips To Ease Your Next Move

By Alastair Ong | Apr 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

I could drone on and on about how much I hate moving.  Is there anyone that likes moving? Moving to a new place can be exciting, but the actual process of moving is so painful and labor intensive.  I pride myself on delegation, and I find it very hard to delegate moving of your personal belongings.  

I went to boarding school from a young age,  and am accustomed to moving out of my room/apartment each year at the end of the year.   As I got older, I stayed longer and longer in each apartment, accumulating more crapola making each successive move harder and harder.   I bought our NYC loft almost 20 years ago, which made this a move filled with a lot of stuff.   I had read Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up your apartment and your life and began to apply her principals.   Even still,  this move was a bear.

Prior to this move, my last move was out of a Kafkaesque apartment.  It was called an “efficiency” (read: tiny) because it was maybe 350 square feet.  I had my bed on a raised loft and my desk and sofa under it.  My ironing board converted into a dining room table that seated a dozen people that ran from the bedroom to the living room. The move from this tiny apartment was amazing to everyone because of the stuff that we were pulling out of every nook and cranny.  At that time, I promised myself that I was never going to move myself again –  that the next time I would hire moving professionals.

As it turns out, I did not make good on my promise.   Although I had many friends offer to help me move, I declined their help.  My thought was that it was a good friend that would offer to help, but to be an equally good friend, I must refuse their assistance.   Moving is a no win situation.  It is a ton of work, stressful,  labor intensive, and no way to repay their generosity.

Fortunately,  my wifey’s friends, A and R came to help us the night before our move.   They stayed up all night helping to pack our crap into boxes and even stayed the night so that they could continue helping us pack up our stuff. We also hired two workers to help us with the heavy lifting.  We could not have moved without the assistance of A and R and I have told A that in her next move, I will be her moving slave to be used for as long as she needs or wants me.

IMG_20160312_131642

Post move photo of our new garage.

A full 40′ container and a few drives later, we are now in our house,  although the basement and garage is full of our stuff and boxes.  I suspect that we will be living out of boxes for the next few months.


Seven tips for your next big move:

  1. Move like you are downsizing.   Moving to a larger space will be much easier than moving to a smaller space.   In either event, it is far easier getting rid of your stuff than moving it.
  2. Start one month in advance and sell your stuff on eBay and craigslist.   eBay for the small stuff and Craigslist for the big stuff like appliances and furniture.  I used new apps to try to sell some of my stuff like Wallapop and they really did not work that well.  A lot of interest, no takers.
  3. Err on the side of overselling/over-donating/over-throwing away your stuff.   If you really  need it, you can buy it again.
  4. Hire movers. At a minimum, hire day laborers who will be happy for a C-note to do your heavy lifting.
  5. Pack everything into a box and consider selling everything that does not fit in one. Boxes stack and are much easier to fill a truck with boxes than odd shaped items.
  6. Label every box.  I carried a big Sharpie marker wherever I went during the move.  Even jotting one of the items in the box will help you remember what is in that box.
  7. Don’t forget to change your address for your mail, your banks, credit cards, and online accounts such as PayPal and eBay.
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CITY SLICKER TO FARM DWELLER – THE INTRO

By Alastair Ong | Jan 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Our Journey moving from Manhattan to a Connecticut Farm

We currently live in midtown Manhattan, about two blocks west of Times Square.  Both my wifey and I have lived in New York City for twenty years each.  We are scheduled to close on a piece of property and a house that sits in a farming community in Connecticut in less than one month from today. The property that we are moving to is gorgeous.  The house sits on a piece of property that has a creek-fed pond stocked with wide-mouth bass, a potting shed (for wifey) and a barn (3 tractors!) complete with a wood heating stove and an upstairs man cave (for me!)

Like all big changes in life, we are filled with emotions ranging from slight discomfort to complete terror.  For those of you who know us, fear does not motivate us, and we look forward to the challenge of uprooting ourselves.  I am specifically starting this blog before we move so I can capture our expectations and obstacles before they happen.  Let’s get into the lists.

What We Think We Will Miss:

  1. 24/7 Convenience.  Being able to walk one block at any time of the day or night to grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s a slice of pizza and pistachio gelato.
  2. Online Delivery.  Seamless web has thousands of restaurants of every conceivable ethnicity deliver meals to our apartment within 15 minutes.  We did a search of Seamless at our new house and there were three restaurants.  Peapod, Fresh Direct, Amazon Same-Day Delivery and Google Express all allow quick and convenient delivery that we have grown accustomed to.  Making a cake and forgot the vanilla, no problem.  Whip out our phones and a few clicks and 15 minutes later, it will be delivered to our door.
  3. Visiting friends.  Many friends from my past and present have a reason to be in New York City.  It is easy for them to visit us and to stay with us.  Although we will have more rooms in our new house, fewer people will have a reason to visit us.
  4. Access to new Restaurants and Trends. Is a description even necessary?
  5. Opportunity Costs.  I’ve never been to the Statute of Liberty or in the Chrysler Building.  I can count the number of times I have been to a museum in the 20 odd years that I’ve lived in NYC.  The point is not the number of times that I have been, but the fact that AT ANY TIME, I could go.

What We Will Not Miss:

  1. Homelessness, Pan Handlers and Crazy Folks.  I remember a time I was walking down a NYC street, and a crazy woman jumped in front of me, blocking my passage.  She started to grab the corners of each eye with a dirty finger, and pulled them to slant her eyes.  She started chanting, “ching chong Chinese person, ching chong Chinese person.”  I did the only thing that I could, and grabbed the corners of my eyes and rather than pull them to make them slanted, I pushed them to make them more rounded.  I chanted, “whitey wide-eyed woman, whitey wide-eyed woman.”  Although this was a funny experience, we will not miss these encounters.
  2. Rude and Annoying People.  I remember a time where at a Starbucks, a woman ordered a Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Upside Down Double Blended One Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet with Ice.  She paid with pennies counting them slowly with no regard for the line forming behind her.  Amazingly when she got her drink, she returned it because it was not hot enough.  I know the name of this drink because she kept repeating it over and over again like she was the Rainman of coffee.
  3. Tourists.  We’re as hospitable as they come, but living so close to Times Square, we get to see tourists at their worst.  What is with the crowd that swells after a Broadway play?  They take up the entire sidewalk, half of the street, and feel that they own the city.  I am one of the few New Yorkers that drives a car.  Yeah, in New York City, you can jaywalk – but if you are standing in the street, be prepared to be run over.
  4. Litter, Pollution and Urine Smells. Do I need to elaborate?
  5. Traffic and Street Closures.  Enough said.

What We Look Forward To:

  1. Nature. I was reading an article for one cure for depression: being outdoors in nature. Although NYC is famed for having a large park in the middle of it, my day-to-day, I see grass maybe once per month and can count with one hand the number of trees that I see on a daily basis.
  2. Sunlight.  Our NYC loft has a wall of windows, but faces North and is on the ground floor.  We miss the sun and look forward to getting more of it
  3. Space.  Although our NYC Loft was big for NYC, it is so small compared to an average sized home.  More space means more crapola.  I had originally asked whether wifey would like to move to a tiny home (I was thinking <500 sq.ft.).  Wife did not even need to think about it before responding negatively.  Having a garage and a barn to have my tools rather than regulating them all to a bucket in my closet will be great. I know that wifey will love a room devoted to her crafts.
  4. Growing Plants.  Because our loft has little light, growing plants have always been a challenge.  I have resorted to rigging a sunlamp directly over my aquaponics tank to grow a miniscule amount of herbs.  My plan is to convert a large Intermediary Bulk Container into a large aquaponics tank.  Tilapila on the bottom and herbs and plants on the top.  The fish poop provides nutrition for the plants and the plant roots filter the water for the fish.
  5. Raising Animals.  It is illegal to have farm animals as pets in New York City.  I look forward to raising chickens, dwarf goats, and pygmy piglets to add to our two puppies.

These are some lists that we expect to miss and expect to gain.  Keep posted to find out how it turns out – subscribe to www.cs2fd.com or www.farmdweller.com.

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