Book Review: Wide-Open World

John Marshall’s life had been tracking a predictable middle-class story line—a house in the suburbs, married to the same woman for 20 years, two teenage children—yet he sensed that something was amiss. There had to be more to life than what he was experiencing.

Rather than resorting to skirting around the edges of change, or even making a myriad of resolutions that are akin to a magic talisman or lucky rabbit’s foot—losing weight, joining a gym, or even finding a different job—Marshall’s prescription called him and his family towards something  much more radical.

Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, is the story about Marshall and his family spending part of 2010 traveling, volunteering in various places on what became a global odyssey. This experience broadened Marshall’s and his family’s perspective by taking them outside themselves and their comfortable surroundings.

By all measures, Marshall was successful in his work. An award-winning television personality in Maine, and at the time (2009), he was serving as a creative director at a Portland television station. And like many American men, Marshall had been socialized to ignore his intuition and tamp down his feelings. That left the usual default of work and digging deeper into his career.  Traca, his wife, was also experiencing dissonance. She sought meaning in yoga, shamanism, and Reiki therapy. Meanwhile, his two children, Logan, 17, and Jackson, 14, were immersed in the daily routine of high school, friends, and his daughter especially—the pull of the virtual world.

"Wide-Open World," by John Marshall
“Wide-Open World,” by John Marshall

A short yoga vacation with Traca to an ashram offered Marshall a glimpse of what might be possible. On the flight home to Maine, four words were on his mind:  a year of service. What would that look like, and was it even possible? They were about to find out.

Not to make light of the logistics, but they weren’t as challenging as most people think. In fact, Marshall does a great service to readers, by walking them through some scenarios at the end of the book. Ultimately, it’s about letting go and giving in to the possibilities. Soon, the Marshalls would be on their way, on a vacation trip different than any typical family vacation—this one built around service and volunteering.

The initial stop on their itinerary was the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, an animal orphanage in the jungles of Costa Rica. It’s clear from the start that Marshall and family aren’t in suburban Maine anymore.

Marshall never comes across in his narrative as some kind of super-righteous, holier-than-thou moralist. Instead, he lends his own experiences to his readers, pointing them towards new possibilities.

At each subsequent location, Marshall along with his wife and children were engaged in volunteer work for a part of each day. In Costa Rica, it was feeding abandoned animals, raking paths, cleaning cages and helping out with tourists who visited on day tours. After their chores and activities were done, the family had the remainder of each day free to explore their new surroundings.

From Costa Rica, it’s on to New Zealand and work on an organic farm; next, a primary school in Thailand where they teach English to local students in Bangkok; then, an orphanage in India.

All good things must come to an end. After six months, it’s back home to the life they’d left behind in Gorham. Marshall is honest about what the return was like. All four family members were changed, but this didn’t mean that the return landing wouldn’t be somewhat bumpy.

Each family member learns new things about themselves during their time away. For John, it was time to face realities in his life that he’d been putting off and hoping, perhaps magically, that the time away might heal. This was also true for his wife, Traca. Jackson and Logan found meaning in serving others.

For anyone contemplating a radical life-change, and wrestling with the realities of making it happen, Marshall’s book is a great place to start.

When purchasing John’s Book we hope you’ll consider one the many local booksellers.

Longfellow Books

Gulf Of Maine Books

Nonesuch Books

(if we missed your favorite bookstore, please let us know and we’ll be happy to add it to the list)

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Understanding Your Electricity Bill

There are two parts to your electric bill - supply and delivery. But what else gets factored into it?

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Energy Efficient Solutions for Farms

With already diminished returns-farms are doing all they can to keep above water. Be it the largest agricultural operations or smaller New England family farms, there are some energy efficient solutions to help with the bottom line.

More and more, farmers have increasing energy needs to run their farm operations. When you consider how much energy is needed to heat and ventilate facilities, keep animals cool, maintain the proper temperature for dairy and moisture level for grain, and countless other farm functions, looking into energy-efficient solutions could be a wise investment.

The first thing farmers should do is get a good sense of how much energy they are using. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers tools to help farmers and ranchers identify energy conservation tactics that can reduce their costs through the use of high efficiency equipment and energy conserving practices. Farmers can also go a step further and request an on-site energy audit by contacting their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office. This will give a more accurate assessment of how the farm can improve its energy use.

Heating and Cooling Costs

Energy saving equipment can make a big impact, especially in states with extreme temperatures. Northern farmers typically need heated water fountains for their animals, for instance, but making a switch to super insulated fountains can prove to be an economical choice that uses less energy. In hotter climates or times of the year, ventilation fans are necessary to keep animals cool. Changing to a high efficiency fan is estimated to reduce operating costs by up to 60 percent, according to the NRCS. Along those lines, a High-Volume Low-Speed (HVLS) fan can be more efficient than a high speed circulating fan for helping regulate temperatures for animals.

Lighting

Farms that make the switch to better energy efficient lighting will also save money on operating expenses. The NRCS estimates an 80 percent savings after a lighting upgrade.

Refrigeration and Drying

For dairy farmers, proper refrigeration is a must. If equipment is old and outdated, it could be using up way more energy than newer models would. Similarly, grain farmers have to keep moisture levels low using heated air from grain dryers; an upgrade to an energy-efficient system can help farmers save. According to Agriculture.com, farmers may qualify for a USDA REAP grant to help upgrade systems that increase efficiency by 25 percent.

Big Changes

Some farms benefit from more drastic approaches, according to ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture. For example, switching to conservation tillage will reduce tractor fuel costs, and improve soil and air quality. (Purdue’s Conservation Technology Information Center lists additional benefits.) Another option to consider is converting to irrigation systems. According to NRCS, “a 10 percent improvement in water-use efficiency could reduce annual diesel consumption by 8 gallons per acre, saving about $18,000 on 1,000 acres.”

While the up-front costs to make some of these upgrades and improvements could be substantial, energy conservation tactics often pay for themselves time and time again within a few years, and are ultimately better for the farming business as well as the environment.

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Making A Difference and Saving Energy With Cloud Computing

U.S. companies using cloud computing could save $12.3 billion in energy savings and 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 savings a year by 2020. Why hasn't your company taken advantage of this yet?

More and more companies are shifting their IT infrastructure to the cloud rather than using servers, a move that can help reap tremendous savings in carbon emissions and energy costs. In fact, a study by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) found that U.S. companies using cloud computing could save $12.3 billion in energy savings and 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 savings a year by 2020. The firms interviewed for the study anticipated reducing costs by as much as 40 to 50 percent.

The study also analyzed the business impact of transferring human resources to the cloud and found that it could achieve payback in less than a year. Beyond reducing their carbon footprint, cloud computing saves companies in other ways like avoiding up-front investments in infrastructure, improving time-to-market and improving automation. Cloud computing offers additional business benefits such as greater flexibility and scalability and easier upgrades.

As a Rackspace white paper points out, the key to achieving the benefits of cloud computing is proper vendor selection. Here’s a look at several factors to consider when choosing a cloud computing vendor:

  • Pricing model: The white paper recommends looking for a cloud computing vendor that bills cloud computing infrastructure on an hourly basis, because spikes tend to last only a few hours. Companies would not reap as much savings with a cloud computing vendor that charges by the day rather than the hour. Some cloud computing vendors also charge users a setup fee for provision (and even de-provision, in some cases) to offset their costs, so try to avoid vendors with high setup costs.
  • Security and compliance: Whether you’re used on-premise servers or a cloud-based solution, you need to do your due-diligence about the vendor’s security protocol. If your business is subject to standards such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), you’d want to choose a vendor who complies with those standards.
  • Performance: Cloud computing offers a high level of reliability but it’s not infallible. Look for a provider who can offer you a strong Service Level Agreement (SLA) covering factors like host failure and network availability.
  • Support: Your in-house IT department may not have the bandwidth to offer around-the-clock support, so find out what level of support you can expect from your vendor. With the global economy, outages at any time of day are inconvenient and cost you money.

Cloud computing has the potential to save your business energy and money, but it’s important to select your cloud computing provider carefully to ensure the right fit for your needs.

 

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Capitalists with Heart

Frozen Pizza with Purpose: American Flatbread

Pittsfield, New Hampshire-based American Flatbread and its sister brand Rustic Crust are successfully putting pizza and healthy in the same sentence, thanks to their commitment to using real, organically grown, non-GMO ingredients. But that isn't all that makes them special.

“Food is important. What we eat and how it’s grown intimately affects our health and the well-being of the world.”

That’s according to George Schenk, the founder of Pittsfield, New Hampshire-based American Flatbread. With lofty ideals like that, it’s hard to believe his company is in the frozen pizza business.

Then again, American Flatbread and its sister brand Rustic Crust are successfully putting pizza and healthy in the same sentence, thanks to their commitment to using real, organically grown, non-GMO ingredients.

Being in the good-for-you pizza business isn’t without its challenges, when one considers that 70 percent of foods currently found in grocery stores contain at least some genetically modified ingredients, according to Rustic Crust CEO Brad Sterl, who has dubbed himself a “Crust Crusader.” However, his company thinks it’s worth the effort to use real ingredients from the wheat crusts to the fresh herbs and vegetables, even to the cheeses made without rBST growth hormones.

What’s not added: Artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. From its Sundried Tomato and Mushroom Pie to its Vegan Harvest featuring dairy-free cheese, the company’s products are consistently ranked among the most delicious choices in healthy pizza, and can be found in supermarkets, health, and gourmet stores across the nation.

Baked in New England, But Sharing a Slice of Goodwill

The company has put down roots in New Hampshire since opening in 1996, and as such, often gives back to the communities it serves. Some charitable events its hosted include a make-your-own pizza event for students at Boston’s Perkins School for the Blind, and a fundraiser for Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman. American Flatbread also isn’t afraid to fire up its pizza oven truck to spread some wholesome pizza cheer and nourishment when it’s needed in other states. For example, it’s traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to provide pizzas to veterans and their families during Lt. Dan Weekend, and it made the trek to Rockaway Beach in Queens, NY to offer up a meal to those who were recovering after Superstorm Sandy.

But, most importantly, the company took care of its own when it counted the most. When a fire ripped through Rustic Crust’s production facility in March 2014, it took weeks to find a temporary facility while it began rebuilding. Through the ordeal, the company continued to pay its 100+ employees. During the ground-breaking for the new site in the fall of 2014, which is 30 percent larger than the original facility, comprising 27,000 square feet, the company used it as an opportunity to honor the New Hampshire Police, Fire & EMS Foundation. That event also launched a national campaign, The Rustic Crust First Responders Recognition program, which supports service workers across the U.S.

For American Flatbread and Rustic Crust, becoming a leading brand in natural frozen flatbread pizzas is only one ingredient for their success. Standing up for good health, caring for its New Hampshire workforce, and delivering care one pizza at a time equates to recipe perfection.

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Electricity Maine Featured in WMTW TV story about Electricity Rates

Emile Clavet, co-founder of Provider Power, the parent company of Electricity Maine, was interviewed by David Charns of WMTW TV Channel 8 (Portland, Maine).

On March 5, 2015, Emile Clavet, co-founder of Provider Power, the parent company of Electricity Maine, was interviewed by David Charns of WMTW TV Channel 8 (Portland, Maine).

The focus of the story was how Electricity Maine plans to respond to the new standard offer (the default rate which began on March 1) for CMP and Emera Maine customers.

The new standard offer rate is good through December of 2015. For the first time in many years the standard offer does not cover consumers during the colder winter months, when energy prices are highest. The Maine PUC will put the standard offer out to bid again the fall, another new rate will begin on January 1 and last for a 12 months. The new rate will include energy costs associated with next winter.

Auburn based, and Maine owned Electricity Maine offers an alternative to the standard offer, with longer fixed terms than the standard offer that already factors in the colder winter months.

“Right now, our rates are longer term, because like mortgage interest rates, when they’re low, you want to lock in,” said Emile Clavet.

Electricity Maine’s rate is just under 10 cents per kilowatt hour, for a 18-month term.

“The smart thing to do is have a longer term, low average fixed rate so you can have peace of mind and budget certainty,” said Clavet.

In Massachusetts where the utilities default rate is set twice a year, consumers pay very high rates during the winter months. This winter National Grid customers paid 16.182 cents per kWh, EverSource (NSTAR) 14.972 cents per kWh.

The next standard offer for Maine will have to include the winter of 2016. While consumes aren’t likely to see electricity rates as high as those felt in Massachusetts, we will likely see an increase in the next standard offer.

To watch the entire WMTW story click here.

Electricity Maine, along with ENH Power and Provider Power Mass, is part of the Maine owned Provider Power family of companies.

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Do you have EverSource (formerly PSNH) as your utility?

Northeast Utilities and all of that company’s subsidiaries: Connecticut Light and Power Co., NSTAR Electric, NSTAR Gas, PSNH, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Yankee Gas Services Co. –all shifted to the new name EverSource.

As you may now be aware Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) is no more.  Back in February PSNH became EverSource.

Northeast Utilities and all of that company’s subsidiaries: Connecticut Light and Power Co., NSTAR Electric, NSTAR Gas, PSNH, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Yankee Gas Services Co. –all shifted to the new name EverSource.

We have had several calls and email inquiries from ENH Power customers concerned that the utility name change might impact their status with us.  No worries-you are all set.

The name and logo change of PSNH to EverSource should not impact your status with as a customer of ENH Power and the great rates you already receive from ENH Power.

As reported in the Concord Monitor the name change will not drastically change the day to day operation of the company and  won’t affect several ongoing cases before state utility regulators, including one that aims to determine whether it’s in ratepayers’ best interest for PSNH to sell off its electric power generation fleet.

Should you be an ENH Power customer and have any concerns about this change, don’t hesitate to contact us at (800) 549-6160 or via email at customerservice@enhpower.com.

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Capitalists with Heart

Sustainable Architects in Boston

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

As we strive to live more sustainably, our choice of home makes a huge impact on our environmental footprint in terms of energy use and the environmental impact of the home’s materials. Fortunately, sustainable design is becoming increasingly mainstream, offering a growing number of options that seamlessly incorporate form and function.

Here’s a look at several Boston-area architecture firms with expertise in this arena.

  • Amacher & Associates Architects: Led by Franziska Amacher, LEEP AP and graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, this Cambridge-based firm offers architecture, space planning and sustainable development. Past projects include commercial and residential buildings including a zero-energy building, a renovation of a Beacon Hill brownstone, a green farmhouse in Maine and a solar two-family house.
  • Architerra: With all of its full-time professional staff LEED-accredited, Architerra has completed projects including the Massport cruise terminal in Boston, a new science and art center at Cambridge School of Weston and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center. The firm has received awards including the Boston Society of Architects Award for Sustainable Design and a AIA COTE Top Ten Green Project.
  • Studio G Architects: Studio G Architects’ portfolio includes sustainable design projects including the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance Offices (using recycled building materials and components), Eco-Tourist Resort in Israel (featuring graywater and rainwater recycling and passive ventilation systems) and the Green Roof at Boston Latin School. The firm also has a tradition of preserving historic structures and, in some cases, adapting them for new uses.
  • Reverse Architecture: Somerville-based Reverse Architecture has designed homes and commercial spaces as well home additions with features such as a “geothermal” ground source heat pump and LED lighting. One notable project, Condensation House in Twentynine Palms, California, is designed to extract and design water vapor from every potential source. The firm’s founder, Carl Solander, LEED AP also lectures at MIT.
  • ZeroEnergy Design: Based on Boston’s Milk Street, ZeroEnergy Design (or ZED for short) offers green architecture and mechanical design services, working on new home construction and renovations. ZED helps residential clients achieve energy performance targets such as net zero energy (using on-site energy production such as solar photovoltaic to match energy consumption), passive house standard (using 70-90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional structure) and deep energy retrofit (improving energy performance by at least 50 percent). It also has LEED-accredited professionals and LEED for Homes Green Rater on staff.

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