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

Archive for December, 2008

Send in The Clowns

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

As I look back over the past few months, since the election madness, my falling, since my transformative sweat lodge experience  – since overall, what has felt a little like cartwheeling down a mountainside -  I can’t think of a better time to come in contact with the Clandenstine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. This is not a joke, yet in a way it is!

The Rebel Clowns are Clandestine because they are “everyone”.

They are insurgent because they have risen up from “nowhere and everywhere” and because change happens from “brilliant improvisation, not perfect blueprints.”

They are rebels because they love life and happiness more than revolution.

They are clowns because “what else can one be in this stupid world?”

Rebels – and clowns – transform everything through they way they live, create, love, eat, laugh, play, learn, trade, listen, think…and the way they rebel.

The CIRCArmy protests in clown style – from building a peace chain to opposing nuclear weapons to supporting their local “Bobby” as they march for more pay in London.

It’s a new year and time to laugh, dance, sing and yes, clown our way into Change. Want to learn more? Visit and have a happy, hopeful New Year’s Eve!

Life On Deck

Friday, December 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Community, as well as life, is – like most things – what you make of it. Sometimes the less “normal” you are willing to reach for, the more magic you will find. Ask the 5 urban pirates living on a Ferry off of Manhattan Island. The ship, purchased on, is owned by Jonathan, who lives on it with 3 other men and one woman. According to today’s NY Times article, The 6,000 sq.ft ship has a Christmas tree, a refrigerator and a drum set on board, toilets that flush with a bucket of sea water added, though showers and other amenities (like central heat) are not yet in working order.

Residents make trips into the city or to pick up friends in a small motorboat or sailboat. They share an old van kept in a parking garage nearby and most of the furnishings were acquired on Craigslist, including 5 free couches. This group lives, works, creates and throws parties, while planning a trip to long island in the Summer where they will hang out, work on the ship and commune with nature.

Although there is a constant maintenance workload to life onboard, Ben DeVoe, an artist and landscape gardener, is not considering going back to a “normal” apartment life. They’d all rather put up with the inconveniences to have a bigger, more communal and more creative life together.

As Jonathan says, “It’s a magical, fantastical thing and that’s why we’re here.”


Home Sweet Hostel

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m back from the mountain trip where I participated in a Native American Sweat ceremony – literally and spiritually sweating it out for most of a day. I’m still recovering and processing my experience both inside myself and with some really amazing people, so more on that later.

So, for now, I’ll tell you about the hostel where we stayed – Bon Paul and Sharky’s, in downtown West Asheville. We arrived Friday night with the dogs in tow and were welcomed offhandedly, but wholeheartedly by Justin and another staff member.This old house is sweet with character, a little history, and a revolutionary charm. There were some other guests hanging about – the whole vibe was a kind of laid back “be here now” and I immediately felt at home. There was a fireplace in the living room along with shelves of books and stacks of videos to share. Somehow, being in the cave-like basement bedroom felt just right, muffled from the street sounds outside, but still able to hear the friendly guitar-playing upstairs.

There were two very clean bathrooms, an outdoor shower and, surprisingly, a hot tub on the back deck. The signs about recycling, cleaning up and saving energy seemed enough to keep things in order and each time I came upon someone cooking or brewing tea or coffee, I was offered a share. We helped some guests from Germany navigate a map for hiking over breakfast and shared some stories with others into the evening. The dogs – allowed full run of the house – quickly settled in to their own version of doggie-heaven.

I found myself imagining traveling in a world this welcoming and full of trust and gratitude, home and hearth open (and affordable!) to all who wander. Thank you Bon Paul and Sharky’s, for reminding me of how it was meant to be. I’ll be back soon.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Tao Oliveto, Asheville, NC

I’m in Asheville this morning, preparing for a spiritual journey inside a Sweat Lodge. I’m hoping that I can dig deep into my physical and mental strength to stand the heat and face what shows up. My intention is set for healing for the world, hope for the future, peace and clarity of mind and body. Peace and love, Tao

Winter Solstice:

“The union of opposites. Fullness: emptying. Emptiness: filling.
The shortest day meets the longest night. Celebrate the dark. Greet the light.
A sacred link, where Earth’s veil thins, the unseen, seen. Images of ancestors and ancient roots threading back beyond time. Back to first humans, their fires still burning to call back the light. We are the ones who hold them sacred. We honor their struggles, their triumphs. We’re here due to them. They gave us our blood.”

Green Genius – Search and Share

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Although I will never give up my thrift store shopping for necessities, luxuries and unique, or one-of-a-kind gifts, I do choose online shopping at my favorite sites for convenience and environmental reasons. Yet, once in awhile, I’m stumped about finding something so mainstream and conventional and unexciting that I just put it off even beginning a search. For instance, after purchasing a futon-style mattress made from recycled soda bottles from an independent store in NC, I’ve wanted to get a mattress pad/protector, oh, for about a year now! Somehow the idea of searching and comparing prices and any eco-options that may or may not exist was about as alluring as eating last year’s fruitcake (or this year’s for that matter).

So, I was thrilled to discover, a comparison shopping engine for green living, which has come to my shopping rescue. Two clicks took me to the best eco-value for the eco-bed – done! Green Genius links you to products, merchants and reviews while allowing you to browse or search by category, popular items, stores, and eco-status. I found the eco-status categories especially helpful with products ranked by eco-friendly, fair trade, organic, renewable, recyclable and eco-healthy status.

Green Genius does not charge merchants for listings which means everyone is invited – inclusive rather than exclusive. It also functions as an online community of social networking so you can get objective and complete feedback through reviews and discussion by your peers. You can even create your own lists. You can also use the site whether you join or not – a nice, no-pressure option.

Search and Green!

Solar Oven Society Fills an Eco-Niche

Monday, December 15th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

During our long hot Summers, I often think about how logical it would be to cook and heat water with the sun. Obviously, so have Martha and Mike Port, a couple from my hometown of Minneapolis, MN, who have founded Solar Oven Society.

“The SOS exists to promote solar cooking to the American public and to provide a way to partner with the over 2 billion people worldwide who lack adequate fuel for cooking their food.”

The focus of SOS is to provide low-cost, easily to assemble, durable solar ovens to developing countries, but also support a system of education, training and demonstration. The purpose is not simply philanthropic, but a way partnering with the local systems and village banking systems in host countries to help people help themselves, improving lives as well as the environmental and health issues involved in using wood as fuel.

SOS also wants to promote the use of solar ovens in the U.S., and after reading through the FAQ on their inclusive web site, I’m sold! These high quality ovens work much like a traditional crock pot, reaching from 210 – 300 degrees Farenheit, cooking many foods like vegetables, meat, breads and cookies in 2 – 4 hours. Grains will take longer, but can also be prepared by pre-heating the water for about 20 minutes. You can also use this oven to dehydrate foods, which can be stored for long periods.

If you want to donate to this cause, go here. If you want your own solar oven, you can purchase both retail and wholesale, here. I’m going to donate for holiday gifts this year and when I took a look at the recipies, I’m tempted to get one myself!

SOS Centers established in developing countries will:

  • Provide solar cooking
    • Technology
    • Demonstrations
    • Training for cooking
    • Training for water pasteurization
    • Training for assembly
    • Training for service
    • Wholesale & retail sales
  • Introduce other fuel saving technologies
    • Little Fire Stoves
    • Fireless Ovens
    • Gel Fuel
    • Other solar technologies such as
      1. Food Dehydration
      2. Water Heating

Cyber-Shopping Decreases Energy Use

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m finally coming into holiday spirit this year and thinking about the consumables and thrift finds for friends and family – it’s more fun than ever to holiday shop when the giving is local and light on the planet.

I don’t buy much new stuff, but when I do, I’ve always liked online shopping. It’s fast and easy. However, I’ve been nagged by the thought that my new stuff has to travel many miles to find me and I can’t say, “I don’t need a bag” when checking out, like I would at a local store. I need to know, by the bottom line, is online shopping more eco-responsible than shopping at retail stores?

Much to my relief and surprise, I’ve heard some good news through Ideal Bite and Cool-Companies. A report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, show that internet shopping has significantly decreased energy demand since 1998 and could have an even larger impact on energy and resource savings into the future.

Despite their size, e-commerce warehouses use 1/16th of the energy used to operate retail stores. More e-commerce equals less need for retail space and the resources used to build and maintain it. This, of course, means saving open space and trees through both less construction and the decrease in paper use – a savings of as much as 2.7 million tons of paper per year. What about the environmental costs of shipping? More good news: ground shipping uses 1/10 the energy of driving yourself to the mall and even shipping 10 pounds of packages by air, uses 40% less fuel than the same purchase made by car.
Of course, all these energy savings means less power plants and less greenhouse gas pollution. And less driving and shopping means more free time for us. It’s becoming obvious that the balance of our future depends on our willingness to change our habits and perspective. It can be a win-win for our lives, our environment and the economy. Now that’s something to celebrate.

Ho Ho Hold the Holiday Haul – they’ll understand

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s December and, as you already know, I’m a die-hard lover of anything to do with sleigh rides, silver bells and snowmen. Although I no longer celebrate the Christmas season in a religious way, the magic of the season is not lost on me. In fact, since leaving behind many of the mainstream traditions – such as hours of mall shopping and too many parties – I look forward to this month of goodwill more than ever.

As I create and recreate my “alternative” traditions each year, it’s been more than joyful. Each year, I look forward to coming up with new and natural ways to decorate, give/wrap and spend quality time with the people in my life. My greening of the holidays did not go over so well at the family dinner table at first, but things are improving.

When it comes to holidays and gift and card giving, I don’t find anything merry about the extravagant waste involved in most of what is now more habit than heartfelt. And judging by yesterday’s NY Times article, “Jolly and Green, With An Agenda”, I’m not the only person stuffing CFLs in stockings. Right here, on the front page of the Sunday Styles section, more than one person speaks out, who wants to give gifts, but “also wanted to communicate my own deeply-felt environmental conviction.” What? I’m allowed to do that?

It might initially be easier said than done, but I”ll bet you didn’t let that stop you from approaching touchy subjects with parents or siblings in earlier years. Including fact-filled information can go a long way and, if you don’t know how to start a dialogue, you can go to Sierra Club‘s Web Site and look at a kind of working “script”.

Worry more about the wrath of Grandpa than the kids. Kids are like sponges – they soak up anything new given with love and meaning. And when it comes to saving the planet, they get it and can roll with changes if done in steps and communication. After all, the memories I most cherish from childhood are more about building snowmen, making popcorn over a roaring fire, caroling in the neighborhood, decorating sugar cookies and listening to holiday music than collecting my haul. I remember some truly usuable gifts – like the long-awaited snow skis, but overall, I remember laughter and fun. Note to parents: There’s a fine line between what they want and what they need. Let Santa be the fall guy.

If all else fails, practice rather than preach. You may light up something more than an efficient bulb.

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