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

Archive for January, 2010

The Power of Half

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I heard a friend on Facebook today, say, “I’m excited about what the future may hold”, I immediately thought of the recently reported story of Hannah Salwen and her family.

The short version: In 2006, Hannah was 14yo, living in a 6,500sq ft mansion in Atlanta with her parents and brother. As a young girl, she was already interested in helping people and doing volunteer work for the homeless, but one day Hannah proclaimed that her family could do more – way more. In fact, why not sell the house, move into a smaller one, and give half the proceeds to charity? As it turned out, they did.

I was slightly skeptical upon stumbling this story. I mean, really, many multi-millionaires love to give away tons of money for tax breaks, while not denting their net worth or lifestyle significantly. And moving from a mansion to a home half the size, was still a darn big house. But then I did some research and discovered the longer version:

Upon agreeing to this plan, the family decided to leave no stones unturned. They met each week to watch videos, discuss ideas, research helping organizations, and basically, learn as much as they could about the world’s problems. As they narrowed things down to their biggest areas of concern and interest: water, homelessness and poverty, they also learned more about each other and became more bonded as a family.

They documented the project in a newly released book, The Power of Half. Aware of initial skepticism, they wanted to share their reasons for writing the book, which they do so eloquently on their website by describing how they wanted to share their experience and methods with others, introduce us to the amazing people they met along the way, share the new closeness they have found through less space and less stuff, and create a roadmap for others to pursue their own Half projects.

Realizing that most of us have less of a financial Half to give, Hannah points out that we all have our own kind of abundance or “time, talent or treasure.”  “Everyone has their own Half, you just have to find it.”

I’ve moved quickly past my first glance and am inspired and hopeful at the thought of the coming Aquarian age and ‘what the future may hold’ as we join this family in giving more and taking less.

Hostel In The Forest

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

There are many reasons I don’t enjoy staying at hotels while traveling, so I’m happy to see Hostels are making a comeback in the U.S. (read my previous post). So, I’m thanking my friend, Jo Jo for introducing me to Hostel in the Forest – to my surprise, it’s been operating in Brunswick, GA for 32 years! Get a load of this:

Hostel in the Forest began with Tom Dennard and consists of geodesic domes and 9 tree houses on 130 acres of forest and wetlands. Everything has been built and maintained entirely by volunteers. Over the years, the center has evolved into a spiritual retreat and educational facility which promotes and teaches environmental sustainability, teaching a “hands-on approach to a sustainable lifestyle through activities such as alternative building and organic gardening while complementing the processes of nature.”

The “rooms” are really up in the trees! How cool is that? Down below, there are composting toilets and outdoor showers. They serve nightly vegetarian dinners and a kitchen is available for guests to prepare other meals. The lists of events and workshops include all yoga, Tai Chi, fermentation, cobb building, and one that especially intrigued me – a presentation on “Optimism and Fortitude”.

Learning, sharing, nature, peace and quiet. You can’t find that at The Holiday Inn. ahhh. Georgia on my mind……

Here’s a link to some great photos.

Pink Slime with that Burger?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

70% of burgers in the U.S. (mostly schools and restaurants) contain what’s known in the in the industry as “pink slime”. It consists of scraps from the floor of slaughterhouses, swept up and ground into a paste. It’s a given that this stuff contains dangerous bacterias like E.Coli and antibiotic-resistant salmonella, so the companies that sell pink slime claim that by adding ammonia, this meat-like concoction is safe. So, in order to spend a few cents less on already really really cheap ingredients, schools and restaurants mix this paste to their meat.

Not surprisingly, studies of the food being served to students and consumers show that the ammonia is not killing pathogens as planned. And, well, we’re not supposed to eat ammonia, are we?

Losing faith in the mega-food industries? Good. We have to keep finding ways to grow our own and connect with healthy food sources in our own communities, and demanding better for our kids. And if we ain’t buying it, they won’t be makin’ it.

Hidden BPA – canned foods

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

While the case against BPA plastics keeps growing, the many sources of it continue to be revealed. While many of us have stopped storing or heating leftovers in plastic containers, switched to stainless steel drinking bottles, not many have considered the plastic lining in canned foods. Yep, the same stuff in our plastic water bottles – BPA – a hormone-disrupting chemical that has been shown to damage our cardiovascular system, reproductive system, cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, and disrupt fetal development.

Unfortunately, even reputable companies offering organic products have not yet addressed this issue. There are only 3 known companies to have eliminated BPA from their cans – Vital Choice, EcoFish and Native Forest Organic. That leaves a LOT of this toxic chemical out there in our food supply, in our bodies and in the environment.

While the evidence mounts, showing especially dire effects from BPA on infants and children, companies making related products are scrambling to take out the BPA of their bottles, cups, and pacifiers (pacifiers???! – ouch). CA legislature is considering a bill to officially ban this chemical in kids products. Progress on this matter is encouraging, yet there is the inevitable stall-out in the food industry, both in the search for alternatives and the fact that companies like CocaCola are lobbying hard against any interference in their manufacturing process.

Once again, it’s up to us as consumers to call the shots and turn the tide. Eating fresh is best, but when you can’t avoid otherwise, buy only canned goods labeled BPA-free, contact your favorite food companies and request their compliance. You can keep up on news and info. at Bisphenol A Free Portal.

Stop and Listen to The Music? – Not now, I’m busy…

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

In January of 2007, a young man in a baseball cap and sweatshirt was playing Bach pieces on his violin in the DC Metro Station. After 45 minutes had passed and about 2000 people had gone through, only about 6 people had paused to watch. A few dropped money, but didn’t stop. Several children tried to stop, but in every case, the parent hurried them along, depsite their heads being turned back watching.

This was actually an experiment, organized by the Washington Post, on “social perception, taste and people’s priorities”. The man was Joshua Bell, one of the best musician’s in the world, playing some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin that was worth 3.5 million dollars.


The big and formal question goes something like this: Do we recognize talent, or perceive and appreciate beauty in an unexpected context? Obviously, in this case, not. This could be simply human nature and not indicative of our appreciation of beauty. Still, it makes you wonder….

Are many other questions we should and could ask ourselves regarding this event. You may be asking them right now….am I too busy, too self-absorbed, too distracted?

Very recently, on a w/e trip to Chicago, I stopped, watched, listened, danced and gave money – to a man with a beautiful singing voice and a boom box in the corridor from the airport to the L Line. It made me smile and stayed with me all day. Of course, it was a Saturday and I was not in a hurry….but, if I was, would I have stopped? I think so, but……?

Are we missing beauty and it’s effect on us in our hurried lives? Something to think about.

Sad Stats

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Did you know :

7 in 10 deaths in the U.S. are from chronic illness

1 in 2 people in the U.S. live with chronic illness

50% of the U.S. diet consists of processed food

Another 42% consists of meat and dairy (from factory farms??)

Only 7% consists of fruits and vegetables (mostly not organic or local??)

Then it gets worse:

40% of the 7% of the above vegetables are potatoes….and 50% 0f that 40% are – you guessed it – in the form of french fries.

If you are getting nauseous just reading this and a little afraid of chronic illness in your life, then take charge of your life through your body and the planet in 2010. Get educated. Get well. Get going.

Choosing Happy

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

How are you feeling about the New Year? Resolutions may be a cliche, but it is one small way we try to align ourselves with the cycles and opportunities of the natural world. And our resolutions are usually about finding more ways to be happy. But, are we barking up the wrong tree when it comes to Happiness?

Studies show that genetics play a role in our personalities – and the ability to be happy – but only to the tune of about 50%. That gives us a lot to work with. And, finding happiness is about working at it. Happiness is not something we “have” or reach, but has more to do with how we behave and think, rather than our circumstances. It is both a process and a resource.

One of the reasons we lose perspective in this process is our evolved human tendency to become adapted to (and therefore, immune to) all things positive, novel or thrilling. This can include beautiful sunsets, healthy or delicious food, material possessions, as well as relationships. Fortunately, we can counteract this response to a great degree by reminding ourselves to want we have and have what we want.

Human nature also reacts more strongly to loss than to gain, so negative emotions sometimes feel bigger than they are.

Most of us realize that happiness is more related to giving than to taking, so the simple act of kindness can increase positive emotions.

Observe your feelings and thoughts in every moment so you can short-circuit reactions that stifle the happiness available to you. For more on Happiness, Myths and Truths, visit here.


Do More, Spend More, but BUY LESS – shades of gray

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

“American’s Doing More, Buying Less, A Poll Finds

I saw this article recently in the NY Times. It felt both encouraging and somewhat worrisome. I’ve personally learned a lot about the richness of doing more, buying and having less luxuries and expendable, material stuff. It’s beyond fun – it’s pure, unadulterated relief and freedom. But what about the things we do need and that allow us to do those things? As they say in Hollywood this year, “It’s Complicated”.

The family profiled in the article sounds like their economic fate simply led them from upper class to upper-middle class lifestyle – with sacrifices consisting of no more designer clothes monthly and other shopping sprees. But they were able to buy a canoe on Craig’s List so that they could now DO the things that they discovered gave them more happiness than buying things. Ok. Makes sense. A daughter got a camera (on sale) for Christmas so she could pursue her own fulfilling version of doing. I like that, too.

Many families like this could manage well on half their current income, so downsizing the white collar world is possibly the least of our economic worries. These people can and will still do their part to stimulate spending in areas where the job losses wreak more havoc – like the service industry. They will still upkeep their automobiles and homes and take vacations.

For others, it gets trickier to keep spending and make ends meet. But, I believe that we can save the economy and support people’s jobs by being more selective about our consumer choices. Even while I struggled as a single home owner with limited income, i decided that i would invest in quality over quantity and that the lowest price was not a priority in my household spending. I was still a self-serving proposition – those choices were about my investments in both property and my health. I believe buying and spending locally and investing in organic food, clothing and household items makes me and the world healthier and helps keep the jobs that are healthier for all of us.

I also recognize the value of recreation and entertainment – again health and balance trump austerity in this modern age. I’ve been tempted to stop going out to restaurants but having logged my hours in the restaurant service industry myself, i understand how little it takes for these jobs to be lost and the impact it has on those employed. So, I eat out regularly, support the co-ops. I also rent videos regularly at my local video store. I enjoy press pot tea every few days at the shop down the street. I’m giving up but not giving in.

As the article emphasizes, we are gaining perspective in this downturn – learning that we can focus on “Elevating Experiences During Hard Times”. This feels great and hopeful for the future. But I hope we can support the areas where jobs don’t have to be eliminated entirely, evolve into the more sustainable versions that are on the horizons of clean energy, clean industry and clean food.


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