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

Posts Tagged ‘home’

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.

Little House in the City – the balance of living small

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I decided to head for NC, I lived in a small and borrowed motor home in the woods. I had recently left graduate school, embarking on one of those “to hell with it” journeys. Each day of those few months, I learned more about how freeing it was to want only what I needed and need only what I had. Even the confined space felt comforting. Ever since then, I have acknowledged and craved the kind of satisfaction of living simply and its welcome limits.

If small and simple living feels so good, where does our mega-sizing mentality come from? When considering the downscaling commitment of people like Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, who lives in a 100sq.foot dwelling, I am forced to acknowledge my return to excess (I live in 1050sq.feet). I even store “stuff” in additional attic space and own 3 bicycles! Huh? Perhaps it’s a virus that has spread through our culture unchecked and unchallenged…is it then passed down through generations as a misguided process of evolution? Or, is it simply a disconnect between our needs, wants and/or desires within a culture lacking in perspective? When it comes to living space, how much is enough?

Undeniably, our consciousness as a culture is rising. And, like most trends that run their course, our BIG habits are being challenged and re-evaluated. Alternative housing is attracting the interest of many, with mixed use developments like Greenbridge becoming popular and Co-housing, a community-based, eco-efficient form of housing, making smaller living both practical and fashionable.

Could small living actually be the big life? Is the “super-size” mentality becoming old and ugly news? Carpenter author and educator, Shay Salomon, seems to think so. She co-founded The Small House Society, whose mission is “to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.” In her book, Little House on a Small Planet, she shows how saner, cozier homes provide an antidote to stress, build community and reduce our impact on the planet. Committed to both efficient design and use of natural resources, these people are selling much more than small homes. They are offering the luxury and value of a more simple life.

Unfortunately, there is no lack of the continued development of large homes for the affluent, but shift happens. Ask Gregory Paul Johnson, Founder and Director of Resources for Life (and another co-founder of The Small House Society). I love this guy – he may live small, but his life, career and interests are huge – check out his web site. He is a testimonial to just what can happen when you de-clutter, de-stress and detoxify your mind to make “space” for what matters.

The Green of Summer

Monday, May 5th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Spring has Sprung. Although it will take months or years of continuous above-average rainfall for our emptied Rivers and reservoirs to recover fully, plentiful Spring rains and cool temps have healed much of North Carolina for now. Hopefully our water-saving efforts have become simple every day habits and we will continue to be stewards of our precious water supply by washing, watering, flushing less.

There are many other ways we can make our Summer activities as green as our plants.

Use your clothesline. Clothes dryers are the 2nd highest energy-sucking appliance (after the refrigerator) in most homes.

A/C is overrated. Break the addiction by using shades, awnings and fans. Spend more time outdoors and your body will acclimate to hot weather.

Health clubs are not so healthy for the earth. Walk, pedal, jog, or practice yoga outdoors in cool morning or evening hours instead.

Let your grass grow. Organic Landscape experts recommend 2.5″ in Spring and 3″ in Summer for more drought, weed and pest resistant lawns. Better yet, transition to less lawn and more natural landscaping, including moss, mulch and wildflowers.

Gotta mow? Use a pushmower and consider mowing as an art, not a clear-cutting process. Cut a path for walking or a circle for sitting and leave the rest.

Rain can clean your car. Put on a swimsuit, grab a sponge and a little biodegradable soap. Overall, a professional car wash uses less water than how most of of us use a garden hose. Look for a car wash that recycles water.

Bike and walk more, drive less.

Urban farming is easier than you think. Plant and grow.

Star gaze instead of movie star gaze.

Enjoy your local fruits and veggies and help decrease the high carbon cost of food transportation.

Greener Pot Heads

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I have great respect for anyone who can plant and grow things, professionally or otherwise. As much as I live (quite literally) to hike, bike and hang outdoors, I’m not so great with a shovel and hoe (they still use hoes, don’t they?). However, when we industrialized the garden biz, we got a little carried away. There are as many gadgets and gizmos for garden-lovers as there are plants.

Take those plastic pots that your new plantings come in – about 300 million pounds of them end up in landfills. It seems reuse or a compostable version would be in order. Volunteers in St. Louis, MO took charge of the pot problem in their area with the Botanical Garden recycling program. Over the last decade, they have collected more then 300 tons of plastics from nurseries and landscapers which have then been made into a wood-like product that has many uses.

Plans for new collection centers and drop-off sites are in progress, a stimulus for similar programs around the country. For more information, visit

While you’re thinking greener gardening, remember to think Permaculture – go native, go natural, lawn-free and eliminate the need for wasteful irrigation.

Fix It – Don’t Throw It

Friday, February 15th, 2008

From Beth at Fake Plastic Fish:

“The big question is why we don’t know how to fix things already. Why does it require all this research? And how many times have you taken an appliance to a repair place, only to be told that it’s not worth it to fix and that you should junk it and buy a new one? Everything has value and is worth fixing or repurposing in some way.”

Tao says: She’s right, you know. Why don’t we even value the idea of fixing things? Throw-away is one of the first things we are taught in this culture. Little kids learn it way before anything else. How many times do you hear well-intentioned adults praising their children for “throwing it away”? Forget the Santa Clause fantasy – I feel that this misleading notion is far more dangerous and disappointing. As one of those kids, I have a vague recollection of wondering just where all this stuff went (I remember the same feeling about seeing water going down the drain). There were no conversations in my house about sewer systems or landfills – or fixing things, for that matter. However, there were waste baskets in every room.

I came across a used handheld vacuum cleaner that I took in for repair. I was told it would cost more to fix than if I simply bought a new one. When I replied that I didn’t mind paying more for the repair, the shop owner looked at me incredulously and flat out refused to do the work, still encouraging me to buy the new one. I did find someone else to fix it, but I think most people would have innocently given in to the new purchase.

As Beth says, most things we discard still have value. It makes me sad to see furniture being thrown out when I’ve seen first hand what an upholsterer friend can do with just about any piece in any condition. He remade my couch and here’s one of the chairs he has refurbished. He fixes and rebuilds a lot of things. This kind of skill and talent is a rare find, but there are others participating in the economy by fixing stuff, so if you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can. (You can reach my friend, Michael May, at Mid-Century Modern, 919-986-1531.)

Change is not just about resources and technologies. Change is about attitude and re-framing our perspective about stuff and convenience. Change is about taking responsibility for our stuff and rethink our consumer-driven ideals. Fix it, don’t throw it.

******** CARNIVAL OF THE GREEN #113 ********

Monday, February 4th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m happy to be this week’s host of Tree Hugger’s Carnival of the Green, a kind of green-love link-fest where blogs collect stand-out posts from green cyber-space and give them a shout-out on their home page. Tree Hugger manages the carnival of bloggers who submit posts that they’d like to see included and they are mentioned and linked on different sites each Monday. The Evangelical Ecologist hosted last week and next week’s carnival will be at Made Eejits.

Lots of talk out there about the practice of Hypermiling – the art optimizing your car’s fuel efficiency. Brave New Leaf – an inspiring read from a “normal American guy” who recently “woke up” to the ways of green, introduces us to the techniques and to a hypermiling expert who can push a Prius up to 120 mpg. Mindful Momma, a going-green mom of 2 in Minneapolis (my hometown!) who hopes to inspire lively conversation while sharing her trials, tributes and “crazy ideas”, also sounds enthusiastic about the possibilities of the sport of hypermiling, though cautions over some of the extreme techniques. (All this explains why I consistently get an average mileage in the 50’s in my Pruis. With my dogs often riding in the back seat, I use my gas pedal and brakes sparingly and carefully, making me a budding hypermiler!)

Of course, Veggie Revolution folks are getting by and getting vibrantly fit on two wheels with a little mass transit on the side. And, since I’m working on taking my own bicycling commitment to something a step beyond fair weather, I was hanging onto every word in this rainy day commute story.

Woolovers takes a close look at the eco-mindedness of wool, comparing it with the sad state of most of our toxic cotton textiles industry. I love wool of all textures and I’m glad to know more about how it is produced. And thanks for giving me a new word, “hygroscopic” to describe one of its many benefits.

Beth at Fake Plastic Fish has been making plastic-free changes in CA since June 2007 and shares her list of 34 changes to date. I can bet you have not seen all of these yet. Here’s your chance to be audience to the dedicated research she has done to reveal the truth about a plastic called DW2, being manufactured with additives making it into a “chemo-degradable” product.

Plastic and kids have seemed to merge into a huge mess over the decades – almost every toy, diaper, diaper bag, sippy cup, pacifier and other kid things are filled with this petroleum-based toxic stuff. David at The Good Human, wants to encourage everyone to be a better human in environmental and other ways. Here he shares a parent-friendly list of the Top Ten Ways To Green Your Children.

I’ve always felt that making stuff was far more fun than playing with any toy I ever had. My Recycled Bags shares her own Valentine’s project for all ages using recycled denim. The instructions are specific and step by step, making it a nice partner project between parents and kids.

I’ve previously revealed my admiring fondness for No Impact Man and it looks like Healthy and Green by the Day is equally enamored with the idea of a family finding ways to reduce consumption and get back to the simple and fun parts about being together. Never mind hypermiling, this blogger reminds us that the greenest car in the world is no car.

Cars, airplanes, trains, bicycles…there’s so much to consider in the way we move about the place. My favorite bumper sticker goes way back and it says, “My other car is a pair of hiking boots.” I rarely take mine off, meaning that I’ve managed to wear out some of the most rugged, making this post from Green Deals Daily of special interest to me. Timberland’s Earthkeepers have hit all the eco-angles with these mountain-friendly hikers.

GP at Etched In Stone runs an Inn in Montana showing good horse sense – literally and of the green variety. Her submission has sound, detailed and motivating advice for de-cluttering your space for the new year as well as reminders about keeping perspective on what we really need to acquire in the first place.

Melanie at Bean Sprouts shares a very small ex-coucil house in the UK with 5 people, grows food, keeps chickens and bees – co-housing life at its finest. She is already planning a green and leafy garden for spring and gives some good insight on how best to do it.

Giving Hands is a great place to increase your awareness of matters pertaining to charity, environment and volunteerism. January of this year kicked off his “Save The Ocean Month” and you can go here to learn about our oceans at risk and explore the many ways to help turn the tide.

Oceans and fish are both in peril and it’s becoming more and more clear that fish farms are not an answer to helping either one. Why Travel France tells us about the increasingly popular – meaning cheap – farmed Pangas fish who is being injected with hormones, subjected to unnatural food and pesticides and showing up with high levels of toxins – mad fish disease anyone?

That wraps up this week’s Carnival. Thanks for joining us, for your thoughts and ideas and for being part of the Way of Change! Tao


Monday, January 28th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

If you’ve been chosen to Step It Up, Keep Winter Cool, Buy Less Stuff, Flick Off, take the Nature Challenge or, just get sane by consuming less in your own way, you will very soon notice something wonderful happening right in front of your eyes…

You will be creating less trash – a lot less. The good news for you is that you will spend less money, fill far less trash bags and spend less time carrying stuff to the curb, dumpster or recycling bins.

The bad news is that it will hit you – hard – just how much trash you created and sent to the landfill in the first place. Ouch. Yeah. As I’ve said before, the truth sometimes hurts.

Once you recover from this trash-truth, you’ll be able to enjoy the fact that you’ve taken an important step towards a less chaotic, materialistic lifestyle and moved towards more simplicity, happiness and sustainability. Share your revelation with friends and family. You could even flaunt your trash-less state in front of neighbors. You will smile because you are being the Change.

In the U.S. today, we (residents, businesses and municipal facilities) dispose of 251 million tons of trash per year or, 4.6 pounds per person per day. Even more shocking is that as much as 82% of what ends up in landfills in this country could easily be composted or recycled. Below are approximate percentages of landfill materials:

34% paper

14% yard trimmings

12% food

11.7% plastic

5% metals

5% glass.

Currently only 32.5% (of 82%) of this material is recovered for recycling or composting. The remaining 20-something percent of materials in the landfills is wood, rubber, textiles, some of which could be recycled as well.

If just 1 million people cut down their trash by 10%, we could reduce our yearly CO2 emissions by as much as 50,000 tons. PEOPLE WHO TRASH LESS HAVE MORE FUN

Cold Water – refreshingly good sense

Friday, January 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Eco-acting blogger, Green as a Thistle has so far taken 330 eco-steps and is still g[r]o[w]ing and moving towards a complete calendar year of increasing greenness. This recent post announced her willingness to give up hot tap water and use only the first cold water from the tap to wash up – including hands, face and dishes. She’ll be saving water and energy in the process. Namaste to that, Vanessa.

I shudder to remember the days of long ago when I would let the faucet run to warm before washing my hands and face. Being subjected to similar up-North weather, I’m sure I did so at least during those freezing months – I must be repressing the shocking memory. I do know that it’s now plenty comfortable to splash myself with cold for a few seconds before soaping up. In fact, it’s darn refreshing – any time of year.

As for the dishes, If I’m in the mood for warm, I’ll occasionally heat up a teakettle on the stove to add to my bowl or soapy dishwater instead of watching the precious stuff go down the drain until reaching a warm enough temperature.

Keep in mind that studies show it is the “friction” of rubbing the hands (or dishes) that gets rid or germs, not the temperature of the water – or even the type of soap being used. Water would have to be at boiling temps to kill more germs, so it’s past time to give up that fantasy. Washing or showering too often (especially taking hot baths) depletes the skin or natural oils – one of the body’s natural defenses against invading germs.

I admit that showering before the water reaches warm is not a goal I’ve reached – something I consider one of my eco-failures, despite the fact that I collect the excess in a bucket for flushing (anyone else managing it out there??). Fortunately, the water heater to my current shower was installed just behind the bathroom wall – allowing it to run warm in just a few seconds. Hmm, if this was not pre-planned during construction, it should have been!

Be free to choose a sustainable life. Keep perspective. We don’t have to cater to perceived expectations or luxuries. There’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain with every step.

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

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