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

Archive for September, 2008

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m back from Minneapolis once more…my mom is gone from the earth, but not without a flourish of love, laughter and celebration. I hadn’t been to a funeral since I was small and didn’t realize that we could move ourselves to joy if willing to process and reach out to each other unabashedly – and to the unanswered questions – with an openness that belies these unique moments in our lives.

Many things are speaking more loudly to me now – including my mother’s voice – but especially, especially the voice that tells me to live, to love, to move, and to grow without ceasing, without fear and without hesitation. Below are just a couple more things that have shown up over these past weeks…

The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms…

– George Santayana

And, from close to home,

Walk close to the water’s edge. Let it run onto your feet. Let the waves spray your hair. Don’t roll up your pants. Don’t sidestep experience. Shut your eyes. Never shut your eyes. Run fast. Walk slow. Whatever takes you somewhere.

– Jerry Stifelman

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 247 user reviews.

Monday, September 15th, 2008

By Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s a good sign when instruments of change evolve from an idea (generally dismissed) to a trend (reaching selective groups) to a full-blown movement. I think of “movements like waves  – they are powerful, exciting, and hard to stop. And, movements make history.

It appears the housing shift from “Bigger is Better” to Less is More has gained ground and energy. More and more, I hear and read stories from people who are denouncing the life of working too much in order to have what, in the end, is simply, too much, accompanied by the realization that life quality is not related to quantity. With energy costs rising dramatically, some people are being drawn in by finances, but others are simply fascinated by the idea of compact dwellings. Are we cave dwellers by nature after all?

From recent NY Times article, Gregory Paul Johnson, a founder of the Small House Society, says there is more than a muse at work, citing not only a economic slowdown, but a kind of crisis of meaning. People want their lives and their time back and living smaller is one big step towards that end. Some crave “balance” while admitting that their luxury living situation was motivated by “prestige” and now feel a pull to improve their lifestyle while “walking the walk.”

Though the demand for the smallest of small (Tumbleweed Tiny House Company sells prefab homes of less than 200 square ft) is increasing significantly, most people can acheive their downsizing goals by living in a reasonable 1000 square feet of space or less.

For more information, visit my previous post here. (The above is a photo of my future home!)


Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 239 user reviews.

Friday, September 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

One of the many benefits of living a more sustainable (simple) life, is that, you suddenly have more opportunities to exercise and share your creative side. Our household winds down in the evenings by hooping, drumming, walking, and/or having lengthy conversations on the back porch. Then last night, Jerry announced that we were going to have a “poetry throw”, meaning – by his definition – that we were to simply “throw our thoughts out there”. He ceremoniously put three pieces of paper and three pencils on the table and lit a candle to set the mood.

Here’s what we threw up, er, I mean, out:

When the bus goes by, I always imagine myself on it – or in front of it – depending on my mood and what I ate that morning. Sometimes I think I see your face in the window and wonder where you’re going now and how long it will take you to get there. Then there’s that sighing sound the bus makes as it passes, which reminds me of everything I’ve done without you, but somehow, you were there anyway, watching from the window of a bus.


If the fat dude in the SUV is god, then I’m satan and I’m fine with that because I am right and fat SUV guy is wrong, which makes satan spot on and he has my full support. In fact, I am satan so I challenge god to a fight – after all, SUV guy is a fat slob who smokes and I’m lean and ride my bike so god’s ass is mine. Let’s get it on you larded over ungoddish god, I say, then I throw in something about his mother because that always makes god mad and he comes after me after that one and it turns out that lard has weight and weight can be used to great advantage and next thing I know, I’m dizzy and spitting blood and god’s tail lights are driving away. I yell, “Damn you, I say!”, but my mouth is swollen and bleeding and it comes out “To Thee I pwaay!”

And from the resident 13yo…

Reality’s in a cage, we are all next door. Not me, though, I’m above you. I’m below you. I’m to your left and to your right. No, I am left and right. I am you, every fiber of you. I’m your head, shoulders, knees and toes and mind and soul. If you want, you can be me – we can trade places. But reality’s still in that cage and we’re next door.

Needless to say, we laughed a lot and I had some interesting dreams that night.

What do you do when evening falls?

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 208 user reviews.

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I read some of Tom Robbins work awhile ago, but coming across some of the quotes from his novels are resonating more with me recently than ever. The green systems and technology alone won’t be enough to save us from ourselves. We have to also “confront” our values based around luxury and convenience and get back to the values of actually living and loving in a connected way – both with nature and with each other. We want honesty from our employers, our friends and our politicians. We should just as strongly demand honesty from ourselves. Take a breath, then take a look at how and why you are here. Then follow your bliss.

If you’re honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you’re forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. – Tom Robbins, author

Real courage is risking something that you have to keep on living with, real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s cliches.” — Tom Robbins, author

Somewhere I heard that real courage is bravery coupled with wisdom. Wisdom lies within. Be courageous and listen.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 270 user reviews.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I haven’t watched television for several years (my local video store loves me, however!), so when I overheard some of the tv-speak  while visiting family recently, I was caught unprepared for the shock. How little has changed in the mainstream media in the last decade! There’s the same old stories and drama of felonious events, sports scores and the neutralized political reports. The commercial breaks are higher tech, but just as loud, fast and furious in their bombarding consumer messages.

It was the weather report that really made my heart sink. While generically debriefing viewers on record-breaking wild fires in the overly dry Southwest, the historical drought in the Southeast, the floods in the Mid-west and a number or approaching hurricanes, there was no mention of global environmental issues which are playing a large role in the increasing number of catastrophic events. In fact, major news and weather channels seem to refuse to acknowledge global warming or pose any of the how and why questions.

During the most severe part of the Southeastern drought (our resovoirs were at a mere 30% capacity through last Winter), I wrote letters and sent emails to our local tv and radio stations, imploring them to not just report on current weather conditions (partly cloudy with no chance of rain) but to use the opportunity to inform their audience of the big picture. I also suggested they supply their captive audience with ideas and encouragement  regarding water conservation. I received no response.

Unfortunately, major news networks reach most of the population, most of the time, and their generic status quo pesentation leaves the mainstream with a false sense of security and encourages “business as usual”.  Out of sight is out of mind. We need a way to stay mindful to make change happen. It’s time we know what’s news.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 208 user reviews.

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Our co-housing community has been discussing the a/c dilemma – and busting some myths in the process. Efficiency and energy/emmissions savings is top priority around here, so our green minds wanted to know the final word – during the hot, humid dog days of Summer, is it best to leave the a/c running when you are not home or turn it off? I found information on this issue – see below – but I’ll let our resident, off-grid, sustainability “expert” and pioneer, Giles, have the last word. Read on. Tao

The idea that it uses more energy to cool a warmer room is a myth  – the unit doesn’t “crank out” more cooling even though it’s easy to perceive it as so -see below, copied from this link:

“Another myth regards the efficiency of setting your thermostat down when you don’t need heating or cooling, such as at night or when no one is home. This myth states that a furnace works harder than normal to heat your home back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This is not true, as has been proven by years of research and field observations. The longer your house stays at a reduced temperature when heating–or at an increased temperature when cooling–the more energy and money you’ll save. This is because your heating or cooling cost depends mostly on the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. When you adjust your thermostat down in the winter–or up in the summer–you simply reduce this temperature difference. If you set your temperature back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours while you’re asleep or at work, your energy savings can be 5% to 15% on your energy bill.”

from Giles Blunden, sustainable architect, Carrboro, NC:

I would like to do a little myth busting myself about HVAC energy use –

The amount of energy used to heat or cool a building is a direct function of the difference between the outside of the envelope (building exterior) and the inside of the building since heat can only escape or enter at that surface  plus any internal loads. Therefore the lower the differential in the outside temp and the inside temp times the time it is lower is the amount of energy saved

Single stage cooling units like ours only work at one speed. Because of this there is no extra work invloved in reducing the temperature quickly. In fact there is more power used each time the motor starts from a stop.

Humidity is another function of summer comfort and leaving the windows open all of the time and closing them when you start cooling does make the cooling system work harder because it is using energy to both remove the water and reduce the temperature.

The best cooling non occupant mode would be to keep the windows closed and let the unit run very early in the am for a couple of hours, when the compressor is most efficient, to keep the humidity level down.

Then turn it up (or down) when occupied.


Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 208 user reviews.

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Mpls., MN

Jerry likes to say true things often  – he says it helps things stick. One of my favorites is, “The truth is your best tool” because well, it’s truer than anything else I can think of. He also will remind me, “If there is no solution, there’s no problem”, though sometimes I just frown when he says that because I don’t like to accept that there is no solution to problems. So I instead remind him that sometimes the solution just shows up later. Sorry Jerry!

And I just found one of those things. Say you live in the city where there is a free bus system, bikable roads and a town center where most services and amenities are within walking distance. So, the thought of giving up your car sounds pretty doable and exciting – no more maintenance, taxes, insurance and repair costs! The problem: what about emergencies and/or unpredictable circumstances?

The Solution: Guaranteed Ride Home programs! They are often sponsored by counties, cities, or transit agencies, but may also be sponsored by individual employers.

If you register for the program, you’ll qualify for a set number of trips home per year (often two to six.) If an emergency arises, typically you call the Guaranteed Ride Home coordinator and they’ll call you a cab, although in some programs you can skip that step and just call the cab yourself (either filing for reimbursement later or using some sort of voucher.)

I know, there are other circumstances where you just may need a ride – but car-share and ride share programs have already solved that problem. Remember, you don’t need to be part of an organized group – you could share a car with a few friends and neighbors so you can still get the dog to the vet or bring home heavy items from the garden store.

That reminds me of another phrase I’ve tried to live by:

Keep your head engaged in solutions and pass it on! Tao

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 241 user reviews.

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

A friend shared a story the other day about her experience of a would-be city mugging several years back. Though a truly frightening moment, it had a happy ending with the mugger running off. The punch line, only amusing in retrospect, was that for unusual reasons, my friend happened to have $2, 000 cash with her at the time.

It got me to thinking about how some decisions are darn simple – based on an innate instinct of survival – one that could not be ignored. If the mugger holds a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life?” It’s a no-brainer. You’re either James Bond, or you give up the money.

So, why, in contrast, do our sustainable “life and death” choices seem so difficult to make? For me, it goes back to my early work in nutrition. I could easily convince people to by supplements and exercise, but hit a road block when, with the organic food movement still young, I struggled to convince people that paying more to eat organically was truly a choice between their money or their life (and the life of the planet.) It took not just facts, figures and threats over pesticides in our bodies, water and soil, but the willingness of my clients  to see the larger, long-term picture that shed light way beyond their wallets.

I started to take small groups through the natural food store (newly owned by Whole Foods) stopping in each department to talk about the truth regarding conventional and organic choices. I knew my stuff and was nothing if not passionate about the topic. I even shopped on a tight budget myself and managed it while committing to eating close to 100% organic food. Surprisingly, my conversion rate was a mere 40%, leaving me feeling not just disappointed, but baffled. Wasn’t the choice obvious? Wasn’t this something that could make us healthier right now and protect our future? Wasn’t it simply a matter of money  – and not all that much of it?

I’m an idealist, if not an optimist, so the wake-up call was difficult – though I did (not surprisingly) get offered a position at that store, where I continued to share my excitement about the whole foods/organic food business for several years. Local eating came along later and the transition by consumers has been similar in many ways – slow in coming, wrapped up in the long, arduous process of getting enough information out to enough people and the commitment of small groups of dedicated farmers and consumers.

Now our money and life choices have extended to living sustainably in many other ways and perhaps the questions change slightly when it comes to our cars, our homes, our use of resources, our wasteful habits. Your life or your luxuries? Your life or your conveniences? Your life or your ego?

The answers still feel knee-jerk certain to me – more no-brainers. What’ll it be? Your money or your life?

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 181 user reviews.

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

brought to you by The Change, a strategy and design agency with an agenda to change the world