Living Green In a World of Color

Archive for the ‘Go Green’ Category

Placemaking Happens


Out of the studio and into the streets, our placemaking scene parades its colors with fun for all.

Picasso's Guernica_Artstart MuralThe month started with the installation of the mural honoring Andy Lopez September 5 on  Sebastopol Road and West Street in Santa Rosa. The following Friday, on Art Alley in Santa Rosa, was the mural dedication of Picasso’s Guernica painted by Artstart youth over the summer. The event included a public showing of  Picasso painting in real-time, The Mystery Of Picasso. Kudos to Mario Uribe and his wife, Liz Uribe, who founded Artstart over a decade ago. They have been inspiring young and old artists alike, while helping to put our county on the map as a cultural hot spot. This power couple seem to be part of the very fiber of the placemaking scene burgeoning in Sonoma County and most definitely integral to these two mural installations.

10628351_1543528712531789_4229770859183646921_nSeptember 12 kicked off the Sebastopol Village Building Convergence Project’s ten day extravaganza of art, music and sustainable community building inspired by City Repair of Portland Oregon. Sebastian Collett, an architect who worked with City Repair as the Placemaking Coordinator is back living in Sebastopol, sharing his skills, building community and raising his family. Meet the founder of City Repair, Mark Lakeman this Saturday from 12-4 @ the Sebastopol Grange. He will be speaking on Re-wilding the Commons.

10670031_1543548815863112_5016155723291095658_nProjects chosen for this years placemaking events included a cob transit bench, a cob oven and street painting. My son and I joined in to help paint designs created by artist Dana Vallarino on McKinley Street in Sebastopol. Dana started painting murals with Artstart and graduated to  commission pieces in Santa Rosa and downtown Sebastopol. This street painting project was a first for Dana, though she seemed quite at ease encouraging the team of volunteers flocking to paint her inspirational designs. It was easy to see where her cheerful praise was born as her Mom and Dad were there to support her and guide the crowd as well.

Poppy Creek Bulletin Board InstallationPoppy Creek Park had it’s community bulletin board installed last week, another placemaking milestone.  Come celebrate with the kids and adults from Growing A Village,  who dreamed and created this fabulous bulletin board (and the hand carved sign yet to be unveiled). A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held October 30 from 4-6PM at the site on Carr St in Santa Rosa.

Grey Water Installation and Harvesting for Resiliency

Grey Water Urban Overhaul

Grey Water Harvesting

Urban water reuse opens the floodgates for creative harvesting techniques, savings and re-establishing an interconnected relationship with life cycles. When fruit bearing trees, medicine plants, and other flora are the beneficiaries of grey water installations; a bath is more than a luxury, and certainly not wasting water. Relax, restore, rejuvenate in healing waters and then let those fruit trees drink up as your stress goes down the drain. Then, sip on herbal tea or homegrown brew and  nibble on those fresh picked cherries knowing you are in the flow of mindful living.

At first blush, the idea of installing a grey water system seemed intimidating. I didn’t have a formula for calculating our household water usage, and I had no frame of reference for the plumbing adaptations and system installations necessary  to transport household grey water to the landscape. What I did have, is a nagging sense of irresponsibility because I wasn’t reusing grey water to grow food, when other people had to hike miles to quench their thirst, and some fish have no upstream to swim in. With the added motivation of taking the Resiliency Challenge, my son and I focused on grey water system installation as the primary change we would make, knowing other sustainable activities would naturally fall into place as a result. With fore thought, grey water harvesting and creating a food forest could, then, grow hand in hand. Throughout the process of installing our grey water system we have found some great, local resources, and have strengthened our connection to our community.

Though our county is experiencing dry conditions, we are juicy with innovation and grass roots change. With impeccable  timing for our project needs, Daily Acts put on the Rain and Grey Water Fed Urban Oases Garden Tour in Petaluma. Attending this workshop, along with their Grey Water 101 and a hands on installation workshop, gave us invaluable information and the where-with-all to take next steps. With an open mind and willingness to learn, we soaked in the collective wisdom present at these workshops, researched possibilities on line, talked with neighbors, refined our design ideas and installed our first grey water system. We are still part of the” bucket brigade” for the dish washing water but happily have designed and installed our first bathroom to landscape system with plans to create a laundry to landscape system next.



Q. What is grey water?

A. Grey water is essentially used household water other than water from toilets (which is considered black water).

Q. Is installing a grey water system(s)  feasible?

A. This is site specific and determined by the layout and construction of a home, as well as your budget.

Q. How do I learn about installing grey water myself?

A. There are many do-it-yourself sites on line as well as agencies offering free or low cost instruction,

Q. Should I hire a professional instead of doing it myself?

A. For laundry to landscape a permit is not required, and the installation is relatively straightforward (a hands on workshop was helpful).A bathroom to landscape grey water system        requires a permit from city/county over site agencies. It is important to learn about building code requirements and uphold public safety concerns. Plumbing can be complicated and I found hiring a plumber preferable.

Q.What do I want to grow?

A. With water conservation in mind, food and /or native drought tolerant plants are best suited.

Q. How do I know if the plants/trees will thrive in the  site location, and also be OK receiving  grey water?

A.This takes observation of site conditions, knowing which plants thrive in your climate zone, and researching the needs of the plants you want to grow.

Q. How much water does the household use over the course of a week that can be repurposed as grey water?

A. There are formulas laid out in Brad Lancaster’s books and other websites; I will link to these at the bottom of this page.

Q.What are the watering needs of the plants I want to grow and will I need to augment the grey water system with a drip irrigation system to satisfy?

A. The WUCOLS guide shows water needs for specific plants. It’s important to keep in mind this changes with the seasons, over the life span of the plants, and that the amount of grey water a household produces can fluctuate. It’s best to have a system of over-site and make adaptations as needed. It is often suggested to reevaluate how you use your grey water seasonally.

Q.What products are safe to use in grey water to landscape?

A. Organic products that do not contain sodium, boron, borax, chlorine and phosphates. (stay tuned for recipes for environmentally friendly soaps and  cleaning supplies)




Growing Community

Sarah HyltonLand stewardship as a path to abundance is Brad Lancaster’s slogan for his grey water and rain water harvesting methods. Based on being in a sustainable relationship to the resources of nature, this engineer inspired my pursuit of a landscape design overhaul. If he could take Tucson out of water scarcity and into abundant harvest consciousness, we could transform our urban lot to a food forest. With a determination to install grey water systems and utilize natural rain catchment my son and I proceeded to reinvent our relationship to our humble city lot and plant more food, hopefully harvesting an abundance to share. I had no idea how interconnected to my neighbors I would become or how our garden would grow beyond our yard.

Two pivotal links were made at the onset of our project, we learned of Daily Acts, and became a member of the Nextdoor platform, both free and user friendly. Daily Acts helped sponsor Brad Lancaster’s lecture and through their vivacious representation, my son and I committed to the Resiliency Challenge. This included vowing to plant fruit trees, expand an edible garden, install grey water systems, retain water with mulch, set up a worm bin and bee hives, work from home, become a locavore, and more. Nextdoor became the community link to help accomplish our intentions and Daily Acts helped expand our vision and offered hands on education for grey water installation and other possibilities. Being an avid organic gardener for decades, I had yards of soil to share and years of  perennial plants, bulbs and rhizomes to divide and offer. I posted this fact on the Free category of Nextdoor and voila, the work force converged. Soil was hauled away and plants taken for community gardens, residential treatment gardens, personal gardens and wonders yet to be seen. Not only did I clear my landscape in preparation for installing grey water, fruit trees, and mulch basins; we were able to experience the delight of neighbors I had never met, as they lovingly took plants and soil I had nurtured for over twenty years. Now this is truly a growing community on a budding project.

Sarah Hylton

Flower offerings that will bless new gardens.

For more on our path for grey water, rain catchment, sheet mulching and food forest installation stay tuned.

Urban Overhaul, Going Green

Urban Overhaul House

Being responsible as stewards of the land and, in my case, “urban lot” makes us inherently environmental activists; it can also be seen as a  spiritual act to bring consciousness to the very way in which we use our resources. I for one, could use an overhauling in this arena. If it wasn’t for my love of organic gardening, hiking and selling rural property,  I’d be completely divorced from the mouth of a spring,  the rivers meeting the ocean or the geology best suited to drill a producing well. Like so many other urban folks, I  turn my water on by a twist of the wrist and utilize electricity day and night .  I still burn firewood to keep warm and regulate the air in my house,the old fashioned way, with doors, windows and ceiling fans. Being a recipient of city services has its advantages and how I use these resources is a personal choice that can further align me with mindful living principals. In the vein of adapting my home systems for optimum sustainability, I am going “green” with definable creative acts in community with  others. Acts that allow me to live green in a world of color.

I was sure there was some kind of checklist for homeowners  going green however much to my dismay after an hour of online research I have come to believe there is no such downloadable next actions list, until now:


  1. Identify systems of home
  2. Schedule initial inspections of pertinent systems.
  3. Prepare for inspections.
  4. Inspect and evaluate systems with appropriate professional support.
  5. Determine budget
  6. Decide on priority of systems to be addressed based on practicality and budget.
  7. Brainstorm potential system upgrades for living green concepts and determine what is most viable.
  8. Begin design and installation of chosen systems improvements in order of necessity, affordability and creative inspiration.

This checklist is a work in progress. As I go through the process of greening myself and my life, I am expanding upon each subject with a complete blog for your education, information, and perusal.


The six basic systems of a home are electrical; plumbing; sewer/septic (waste); air quality which include heating and air conditioning; landscaping and the actual structure itself, the bones. Many of these systems are often identified and evaluated in a basic way in a home inspection generated during the buying/selling of homes. Generally, home and pest inspections are two excellent  evaluations that will help advise as to  whether or not more specialized inspections are warranted. The overview a home inspection provides is invaluable for determining next steps. Often outstanding dysfunctions or noticeably  deteriorating elements of a home get clarified and can be considered a punch list to work off of once the issues are prioritized. I like to think of health and safety factors first and then move into addressing system upgrades for sustainability and function.  Since I plan on using a contractor for some of the improvements I’ll  also consult a few green certified building professionals for more in depth evaluations where needed, as a home inspector often is not a licensed contractor.

 It has occurred to me that the carpenter bees and the occasional termite I see in the wood pile could warrant a pest inspection. I have avoided calling any professional pest treatment company because of the chemicals often used to eradicate problems, not to mention my vow not to kill. It’s been such a dilemma to address the termites thought to be gnawing on my house and the  carpenter bees setting up shop in my pergola (and possibly the siding to my bungalow) that I have procrastinated for years.  Since I am on a fact finding and facing mission I may as well bite the bullet and resolve these nagging concerns and add a pest inspection to my next actions list.

After some research I made an appointment with Northwest Termite-Pest Inspection as they are in the Northcoast Builders Directory and are a company who does their best to minimizes the toxic use of chemicals. It turns out they have a division that does attic clean up as well, so both tasks are on the calendar.  I also scheduled a home inspection and a visit with a landscape contractor . Collaborating with other professionals to gather facts and make informed decisions is truly an inspiring and enlightening process.


Generally the home  and pest inspections will jumpstart home owner awareness, and in my case, proved to be great myth busters. For the sake of visibility and ease of the inspections I was under the impression thorough clean up is invaluable (first myth).  However, I was surprised and relieved to learn that  too much clean up is counterproductive for a pest inspector as the hardcore evidence of existing pests can be removed.

It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure all plants and stored items don’t interfere with accessibility. Move, recycle, repurpose as much clutter way from exterior and interior walls to give access to the inspectors to see the structure from top to bottom but leave those spider webs that have bugs in them and the scat of creatures not a house pet. The bugs and scat tell a story that the pest inspector appreciates. I wouldn’t have known this if Northwest Termite-Pest Control hadn’t called at the last minute to see if they could come a day early. I was apologizing for not having cleaned the bathroom or having vacuumed the house until the principal of the company, Bill Mashek clued me in on the benefits of how my home presented.


At the completion of the site visit the inspectors verbally go over their findings. It’s a great time to ask questions, be visually directed to areas of concern and to come to understand what the potential solutions are. Hard copy and/or a digital file of the inspection are provided for reference as well. Inspection results can be surprising as otherwise hidden conditions can come to light. There are all kinds of possible discoveries, some costly and others liberating, all of which help determine the most mindful approach to living green.

I feel fortunate and unburdened by the results of the home and pest inspections for my bungalow. I had unnecessarily stressed myself by worrying about issues that had simple solutions or didn’t even exist. For example, the termites I thought were digesting my house instead,  live on decaying wood debris and don’t pose a threat. The carpenter bees I feared were tunneling into my redwood siding are merely an aesthetic nuisance to the older wood pergola and do not do any structural damage to the house. Best of all, there is a harmless,non toxic remedy to discourage the carpenter bees from returning year after year. Funny, I dreaded knowing the facts and yet the facts were actually a huge relief. I shake my head at the anxiety my ignorance generated. Needless to say, I highly recommend reaching out to conscientious green professionals in lieu of wasting precious peace of mind.


I consider my budget modest. Like many people I base my prosperity on the quality of relationships I cultivate, and as a single parent my mothering is my priority not necessarily the income I produce. Providing for my son is of course an inherent necessity. It’s been a challenge for me as a real estate agent in a tumultuous market to understand how to have a budget. I don’t receive a set paycheck and sometimes it feels like feast or famine. I have come to understand that it is living within a budget that will give me some of the freedoms I strive for. The people I respect the most are not just sustainably minded, they are prosperous as well. In fact, one of the definitions for sustainability is “people, prosperity and the planet in balance with one another”.  

At face value it’s quite shocking to note the expense of organic or green products versus commercial. It’s only when I calculate the ramifications of commercial products on sentient beings and future generations that supporting organic sustainable products and enterprises  seems the least expensive route to take. I am going to have to take a hard look at how I can craft a budget and stick to it while still being able to buy organically. Monitoring my  project decisions and next actions through budgeting is going to be key in my own sustainability practices. There is no way I can thrive if I deplete my resources whether they are financial, physical, emotional or spiritual. I Practicing prudence is part of my fiduciary care to myself and my family. It’s to stressful to live  beyond our means by overextending with credit. Our culture as a whole is still reeling in an overbearing lesson in this fact.

 It is helpful to know the current fair market value of my home, the equity (if any) I have and what value the upgrades I choose will add to the over all value of my home.  Making decisions with this information in mind will help define a budget. Most of us do not have disposable income available for renovation projects. This urban overhaul is a nuts and bolts attempt to align my values with my actions towards a sustainable future. I can’t afford to expend more money than is warranted for a glorified “going green” project, I must be discerning in my choices, keep my actions simple, mindful, and authentic. In other words, don’t spend what I don’t have or more than fair market value will uphold; repurpose and reuse where possible; plan with future generations in mind and enjoy interactions with family and community in the process. For all my baulking, it’s a no brainer to commit to a budget when I view abundance as right relationship to people, planet and prosperity, collectively.


It’s a drought and unbeknownst to me I had a plumbing leak from the bathtub drain. Both the pest and the home inspections called my attention to the need for this repair along with other more minor  moisture intrusion concerns. Fortunately the plumbing repair was straightforward and I could even query about grey water system installations in the process. The preciousness of water is what I am most inspired to address and consider first in my urban overhaul. Clearly the care of how we use and reuse water is fundamental in overall sustainability practices.


At a recent Go Local meeting I met Jesse Froelich the inventor of the Bluebarrel rain catchment system. She in turn fortuitously told me of a lecture with Brad Lancaster put on by Daily ActsOccidental Arts and Ecology Center and the City Of Petaluma. By attending this lecture my son and I were catapulted into revamping our landscape to incorporate the mindful use, reuse and harvesting of water. We have taken the Daily Acts Resiliency Challenge and attended several more events put on by Daily Acts. We are brainstorming with Daily Acts, professionals from Community Soil, Equinox Landscape, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (to name a few) and other local organic gardeners as well as friends new and old.With the wealth of information available and the mobilized efforts of community to address the symptoms of drought there is a lot of support for installing a grey water system(s). Creating a Food Forest while repurposing water is the ultimate win/win and a fabulous family “first” project.


Initially I intended to hire a landscape design team to help in creating a grey water system and calculating the rain harvest opportunities from my rooftop as well as co creating and installing the flora. Suddenly my project took a severe budget cut, and in rolling with the punches I needed to honestly re-evaluate my budget for hired help. I’ve suited up in my Sunday best (my overalls) and dug trenches with my son. Yards of mulch and fir bark have been delivered and patiently wait attention in the driveway. To a fifteen year old boy the piles are a cushion for attempts at front flips, I on the other hand am trying to isolate next steps in a methodic simplified manner so I don’t become the ogre of overwhelm. We are picking out our fruit trees as we peruse the Rare Fruit Society website and other sources for information on the best choices for fruit bearing trees in our zone. There is nothing like going to a nursery where the owner has grown the trees from 4 inch starts and in a humble fashion imparts his/her wisdom of decades. As the plumbing gets laid and the soil and mulch gets sculpted into beds in our yard, the canvas becomes vivid in it’s three dimensional splendor. I am grateful for the budget cuts and the growing community that has enfolded as we cultivate our urban landscape overhaul. Instead of flipping out, we are catapulting forward.

Click for more on the grey water, sheet mulch and urban food forest unfoldment.