a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for August, 2008

In Sight, In Mind – PowerCost Energy Monitor tells all.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Most of us want to curb our consumption, to be less wasteful, to conserve resources, to be kind to the earth, to stop global warming, to save the polar bears (and the rest of the animal kingdom), to ensure the availability of clean drinking water and healthy food, to save the environmental future for our children, to be a part of social change. There are many different ways to look at what we are reaching for when we consider changing our lifestyle habits. And some of us think about all of these things every day.

But there’s a problem with these ideas – they are, for the most part – invisible to the average person on a daily basis. It’s a bit like car exhaust – we don’t think about it too seriously since we can’t see it. (I’ve always thought that if car exhaust were black, we would all probably all drive a lot less!) Well, the same goes for our individual energy use. We may think about it when the electric bill arrives, but overall, it’s hard to relate to in the busy, distracting moments. So, how much could a visible use of energy change the way we use it? As it turns out, around a big, fat 20 PERCENT.

PowerCost Monitor, manufactured by Blue Line Innovations and introduced by The Green Office (see my prior post), is a wireless energy monitor for homes or small offices. By the picture, it looks like a thermostat but displays moment to moment – and total – energy use in dollars and cents and in kilowatts per hour as well as the highest amount you spend on your energy usage in a 24 hour period. It also displays the time, the temperature, signal strength and the battery strength of both the display and sensor units.

Cool. How helpful. No more “out of sight, out of mind”. Affordable, easy to install. Check it out at Because good intentions are not enough.

More (or Less) on Happiness

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Happiness experts agree that people are happiest when helping other people and engaged outside themselves. They also note that increased material gain does not increase happiness.

“The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because
that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention
to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence.
When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You
get to take yourself oh so very seriously.”

– Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Practice Anyway

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I hope that you are still following the blog of No Impact Man. He has a lot to say about changing the world. He also talks a lot about how change can make us happy. Lately, he’s been asking us to not just talk about change or to simply give up some of our excessive consumption habits, but he’s asking us to take the next step – to be pro-active. So, if you have already changed your lightbulbs, stopped eating meat and driving your SUV, but don’t know what to do now – read this post where NIM says, “When It Comes To Saving The World, Just Try, Try, Try.” (Then search the word, “happy” and see how often his efforts have made him feel that way.)

It’s something that’s been in my thoughts a lot lately. I’ve been teaching some new yoga students and I’m reminded of what it’s like to be a human trying to do something new – something that we know will benefit us in the end, but in the moment it mostly seems inconvenient, awkward and/or difficult. Because I’m the old-school trained teacher, I emphasize the importance of using discipline and will to move through the hard parts.

In fact, by watching and listening to many yoga students over the years, I’ve written my own account and philosophy of the 3 stages that we all go through. The first stage is Arrrgh  – the hard part, the second is Ah-ha, when things start to make sense, and the 3rd is Ahhh, when you find the ease in the effort – the happy. I’ve also emphasized that without the struggle, yoga would be useless. For example, one student thought she was simply not cut out for yoga, coming to me to say, “I’m not strong, I’m not flexible, and I can’t focus. I don’t think yoga is for me.” My response went like this:

“If you came to me and said – I want to do yoga because I’m strong, I’m flexible and I have great focus – I would tell you that you don’t need to be here.”

I’d also like to share one simple definition of yoga that comes from the ideas of the great and enduring teachers. Yoga is simply doing something you could not do before.

So, yoga, as life, is about growing up and out and not just accepting change, but making it happen – whether it’s within ourselves, within our communities or in the world. It is about the work. It is about simply trying. And in the end, it’s about the freedom and happiness that comes with discipline. That’s why when my students come to me with all the reasons they cannot fit yoga into their lives, they hear two words – “Practice anyway.”

So, I want to point out that maybe this changing the world stuff is not supposed to be easy. What we can gain – personally and otherwise – just might come from the fact that we had to try. If you struggle to drive less, try anyway. If you struggle to use less water and electricity, try anyway. If you struggle to do something you haven’t done before, like talk to your congressman about change, try anyway.

What you learn from a yoga practice translates directly into how you are in your life. And how you are in your life translates directly into how we are in the world. It’s up to us to make change happen and to make ourselves happy along the way.

Grid-Free and Off The Beaten Path – a journey

Monday, August 11th, 2008

by Jeannie Newell, Crested Butte, CO

With my 20/20 hindsight, I have seen a few things I would do differently for ‘off-grid’ living if I had to do it all over again.  I would definitely consider buying a second solar panel ($150 a piece) so I could plug in the fridge – we have a cooler / fridge that can be plugged in or not.  It would be easier than carting frozen water in milk jugs back and forth to the camper every other day.  This worked well in May, but July proved to be much more of a pain 😉

Also, I would have known that our handmade tarp based awning would be no match for the Colorado winds, and would have bought something more durable, because moving our wooden chairs and dog beds in and out of the camper during the daily rains is also a pain.  I might find a little something extra for storing things – the truck occasionally gets filled with crap that we don’t have room for in the camper, and so is annoyingly full when we are driving ourselves / our dogs / our recycling around.  Bigger waste water tank — we use a pretty small one, and dish water fills up the tank so fast, emptying it is a weekly job.  Bi-weekly would be nicer.  Its funny experiencing all of the reasons people sought to live more comfortably and conveniently in the first place.  Let’s see, I would buy  travel size bottles of shampoo & other toiletries, because I need to keep them in my backpack at all times and they can be re-filled by the bigger bottles as needed.  They can be kept for future travels, too!
I would have a back up toothbrush and deodorant.

Just some random thoughts about this so-far adventure that I hope will continue through September.

The summer is coming to an end here in Crested Butte. ‘The monsoons’ roll in this time of year, cooling things off.  The camper and truck have been getting nice ‘n dirty from muddy dog paws and just from mud in general!  I now have cows on my street.  Apparently ‘the cows come home’ – seriously – around this time of year.  They drive them here in trucks and drop them off!  sometimes we drive too fast around a bend in the road and get startled by a big mama cow standing in the middle of the road, hanging out.  I am bummed that I still ride my bike less, but at least I carpool with Michael, and I vow to live somewhere (even if it’s here, just in town) where I can bike everywhere.  I would still bike with toiletries and stuff, I think, just because.

Right now I really need some rest.  I’ve been working sooo much lately.  My sister and her friend, Patti, were up from Boulder this weekend and I was busy working a lot of that time.  Also, our little dog Django has been very sick this past week, and we are waiting to hear what the vet thinks about his condition.  Please send prayers and thoughts if you can…

Love and peace,



Thursday, August 7th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It all started with Big D. I saw him with his water truck, vaccum and rags in the lot behind our co-housing community. He was waxing a car and it was shining. I mean really shining. I felt a brief moment of clean car envy, but I shrugged it off and turned down the road on my bicycle, leaving our dirty little cars behind.

The next time I saw him wasn’t so simple. Big D was wiping down another car, inside and out and and it glittered – almost “happily”. My Pruis and Jerry’s Bio-bug sat nearby, dusty and dull. I took note of Big D’s system – no running hoses (his portable, non-potable water supply seemed to be used extra sparingly), no strong chemical smells, just some good old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease. I know, I’m the girl who thinks the need for clean cars is simply part of our American pathology, but this time, I just had to talk to Big D.

Donald and I had an enjoyable conversation – he smiled a lot as he explained that he wanted to make this his “retirement” job – work he enjoyed, that was much easier than the hauling and loading he had been doing for years. I watched him work on those other cars – not much of it looked easy to me – but I took his word for it. He took a look at my two cars gathering dirt and dust, gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I made an appointment for the next week.

Our cars still don’t get out much, but they look darn happy sitting in their spots with a gleam in their headlights. Big Donald explained the importance of an occasional waxing and I will admit that afterwards, my first generation Pruis looks years younger. The best part, of course, is that I’m participating in the loop of local economy and helping a hard-working person work a little less hard and enjoy a new line of work. In fact, I started daydreaming about how to make Donald the official detailer for the neighborhood…

I’m reminded that everything we do is best done on the middle path. I still don’t feel we need to wash and polish cars as often as we do, or justify using large amounts of potable water to do it. I think many of us can reach a point of driving less, car-sharing or kicking the car habit completely, and that that waterless car wash products will play a role in our future. I have managed to drive little and may even go totally car-free when possible. In the meantime, I’m glad I found Big D and I’m glad he can clean more and haul less.

Instant Messaging – Wear it Well

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Words matter. What your read online, in the news, in magazines and books, what you see on signs, or scrawled, graffiti-style, on brick walls. It all becomes part of our consciousness and eventually, part of our belief systems and actions, whether we know it or not.

Now, we can wear our messages on our chests (hearts?) since the printed t-shirt is still alive and well. Here are some favorites that I like to wear, but it’s my sister who sports quite a collection of green and other message T’s. She wears them when waiting tables early mornings in Tahoe (where she works to support her singing and acting habit) and says they prompt customers to strike up interesting conversations (and sometimes extra tips). Beth thinks it gives everyone the opportunity to talk about things they may not be aware of yet.

That’s the important part – being aware. Being Awake. And now there’s people out there making T-shirts to inspire us to do just that. My Time To Wake Up says to Be Aware or Beware”, one of the many reasons they offer these cool mens, womens and childrens t-shirts made from organic cotton and bamboo. Supporting the organic textile industry is a wake up call in and of itself – as we try to conserve water, and save nature, wildlife and ourselves from dangerous pesticides – but their web site offers much more than that. Some of many inspirations from :

“Our goal is to do our part in bringing about urgently needed change in our world by highlighting the need to Wake Up to the problems that exist, but more importantly to Wake Up to the need to take action.

We humbly look at our earth friendly clothing as small beacons of light. When you wear it you are saying that you woke up and got involved in something that you believe in that helps your fellow man and that you are urging others to do the same. A small effort by many can mean a huge change for all.”

(The shirts in the photos are not from MyTimeToWakeUp. To see their shirts, go here. Be A-Wear!)

That’s Why They Call It Practice

Monday, August 4th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

This whole CHANGE thing is huge. There’s so many places we can and should make changes in our lives and in ourselves. It’s at once daunting, exciting, impossible and inevitable.

It’s like one of the ways in which I describe the experience of yoga practice – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You’ve just dumped a box of jigsaw pieces onto the table and now you have to starting putting it together. You begin by picking up a piece and taking a look, then looking at another and another and you keep coming back to a few that somehow seem to fit together and then you’ve got something in place – a foundation to work from. It can be a long, arduous process but somehow you feel drawn towards it because each piece is a glimpse of something beautiful and you can’t resist wanting to see just how it all will look and how it will feel when it’s complete.

Ok, that’s how I describe yoga to my students. Then I realized that it’s how you can describe any process of change and/or growth, including the shift to a more sustainable and beautiful world. You have to first get curious, then do the work – in pieces. At times it will feel frustrating, boring or both, but you keep coming back to discover more because there is something inside you that says it will be worthwhile.

Each day you keep hearing that voice, so you continue checking in and coming back to the work in progress. In between, you rest and laugh and play, but you keep coming back. Every day. Suddenly you discover yourself and your life, in its entirety, in its fullness, in its simplicity. It’s then that all things seem possible.

Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips

Friday, August 1st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Urban Bikers Tricks & Tips, Low-Tech & No Tech Ways to Find, Ride, & Keep A Bicycle, by Dave Glowacz

This is an awesome book in so many ways! Published by Wordspace Press in 1998, I received my copy from the San Francisco Bike Coalition. The author, Dave Glowacz, is a bike instructor with the League of American Bicyclists and has talked and ridden with cyclists in every major metro area in North America.

I need this book since I’m a wuss when it comes to maintenance. The idea of  hanging a flat tire makes me want to cry, since I’ve never really learned the details as it is both described and illustrated in this book. I feel ready to do it now, though I still don’t think I’ll cancel my bicycle roadside assistance this year. (YES, for very lost cost, you can get roadside assistance from Better World Travel Club!)

But, I didn’t expect to be completely entertained, amused and educated about every topic related to city cycling that you could dream up, and then some. And, EVERY piece was useful, in many cases, because it covered things I had not considered before, such as, getting on escalators or elevators and when to ask for money after a crash.

City commuters will really appreciate the chapter on Getting Through Traffic – covering looking techniques, using body language, lanes, turns, traffic jams and overall “Sly biking”.

Dave also tells us about choosing and buying the right bike as well as how to “Uglify” your bike to deter thieves – I got right on that one with bumper stickers and duct tape – fun!

If any form of bike phobia has kept you from getting out of the car and onto two wheels, please read this user-friendly, enjoyable and complete book. You’ll even learn how to fix your hair after your commute to work!

Ride On. Ride Well.

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

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