December 14, 2010

Cat Boarding in Dallas: Yea, or No Way?

by Samantha Shaddock

The spousal unit and I recently faced a tough decision: whether to board the feline member of our family or ask my parents to commit to a week’s worth of pilling, feeding and coddling.

Up to one day before we were to drop Simon off at the animal hospital (owing to a chronic medical condition, his doctor recommended he stay separate from the general pet population), we were comfortable leaving him in the hands of vets and technicians. However, upon taking a tour of the facility, our confidence in this plan evaporated.

Cats, dogs, and a rooster sat in small cages stacked on top of one another, and we feared that our beloved fellow would be not only stressed out by this proximity to species other than his own, but also exposed to pathogens from the adjoining hospital. In fairness, this particular facility adheres to the pet-boarding guidelines laid out by the American Animal Hospital Association. However, given that Simon takes prednisone daily for his immune mediated hemolytic anemia, we worried he’d be susceptible to whatever diseases his neighbors might have had. Plus, we feared he’d be depressed staying for a week in such a small box.

We begged my parents to look after him instead, and they graciously agreed to do so. They fulfilled this responsibility admirably, and we returned to Dallas to find him healthy and seemingly happy. I will forever be in their debt for keeping him.

So I ask you: Have you ever boarded a cat in Dallas, and if so, how would you rate that experience?

November 28, 2010

For These Homeowners, It Takes an Ecovillage

by Samantha Shaddock

Would you want to live in a compound much like that of The Others on Lost? You’re in luck.

My sister-in-law’s mother has found such a place for her retirement: White Rock Crossing, a co-housing development near White Rock Lake. She calls it an “intentional community,” and that’s an apt description. Residents buy their plots and build their townhomes with the expectation that they will actively engage with their neighbors: maintaining the grounds, preparing and consuming regular meals together, and making decisions based on consensus. They also support the notion of living lightly in Dallas and have enlisted Anderson Sargent Custom Builders to construct homes that are energy efficient and earth-friendly.

White Rock Crossing is among a growing list of similar experiments across the country, some of which have existed for more than 20 years. publishes a directory of existing or planned communities, which include:

  • Muir Commons in Davis, Calif. — The first newly constructed co-housing development in the U.S. Its first residents moved into their homes in 1991. Today it has 26 units.
  • Doyle Street in Emeryville, Calif. — First occupied by co-housing pioneers Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant and completed in 1992. Today it has 12 units and 19 members.
  • Boulder Creek in Boulder, Colo. — A larger complex featuring a mix of properties for lease or ownership. Today it has official 13 members, and several nonmembers also live on the grounds.

Judging by the number of listings on, the western U.S. – notably California, Washington and Colorado – offers more options, but 33 other states have at least one co-housing community. Many of these developments cater to older residents looking for safe, close-knit communities in which to spend their later years: The Oakcreek Community in Stillwater, Okla.; ElderSpirit Community at Trailview in Abington, Va.; and Eldergreen Cohousing in Chapel Hill-Carroboro, N.C., to name a few.

This sort of semi-communal living isn’t for everyone. Residents may like the idea of sharing tasks and maybe even occasional meals with their neighbors, but they draw the line at sharing walls. For some, buying a plot on a compound doesn’t jibe with traditional ideas of homeownership. And for others, co-housing may smack of communist ideals that they can’t reconcile with their own political leanings.

However, it’s hard to deny the appeal of knowing and trusting the people on one’s block. How great would it be to know you could safely leave your child or dog with the Joneses while you go the store (and pick up a bag of rice for said Joneses while you’re there)? How great would it feel to be trusted to reciprocate? Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t be a topic for discussion. Times have changed, though. Our population, particularly in large cities, is transient. We often don’t know our neighbors, much less trust them. For some, co-housing makes doing so more likely.

November 25, 2010

Living Lightly in Dallas

by Samantha Shaddock

Peak Oil Hausfrau has published this list of ways to live lightly (i.e. reduce your household’s carbon emissions). As a renter, some of these ideas aren’t feasible for me — I’d love to have my way with the insulation in this house, xeriscape the lawn (particularly given Texas’ climate), plant more trees, etc., but that’s up to my landlord. However, plenty of these tips are applicable for everyone. My favorites:

  • Saving the “warm-up” water from your shower for watering plants
  • Buying in bulk to reduce packaging waste
  • Donating useful goods to charities rather than tossing them in the trash
  • Using shampoo, conditioner and makeup more sparingly
  • Wearing layers and using blankets and lowering the thermostat in the winter

While saving the planet is a worthy goal, it’s also important to note, as Patton does, that many of these changes also save money.

<RANT>Frankly, that’s the message I think environmental activists in Texas need to focus on. The average person here may very well resent consultants from Seattle or Portland waltzing into Dallas under the assumption that those cities are better than Dallas by virtue of being “green” — and that everyone here shares that assumption. Groups that support adding bike lanes and expanding the DART system would be better served by promoting the life- and money-saving benefits of alternative transportation. Commuting by train lessens wear and tear (and costly repairs) on your car, and it reduces your risk of being mowed down by a meth-crazed truck driver on LBJ. Riding your bike or walking to the grocery store lowers your monthly gasoline bill — and builds exercise into your day (read: you can cancel your expensive gym membership, and you could save on health expenses, too). Call me crazy, but I think Dallas residents are more apt to listen when money is at stake.  </RANT>

Anyway, I’d love to hear what steps you and your families are taking to live lightly in Dallas.

November 24, 2010

‘Home’ for the Holidays

by Samantha Shaddock

A few days ago I asked where you’d be spending Thanksgiving Day, and the majority of you responded that you’d spend it in town. I’d like to know what part of the Dallas area you call home. Feel free to be specific by clicking “other” and adding the name of your community (for example, “home” to me is Lakewood in East Dallas).