Saturday, February 28, 2009

Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassion


What is the answer to your question of what it means to be you, in all of your beauty and even in fault? Zen Heart by Ezra Bayda gives us exactly what it intends to do, give us simple lessons on how to embrace your life and live openhearted.

Living in our modern world and coping in our modern world can sometimes put us at odds. It is a rush, rush, hurry, hurry, go, go, and one thing that Zen Heart encourages is a slowdown and recognition of ourselves. We are encouraged through pointers, practices, and exercises to recognize our inner spirituality and how it connects to our psyche.

You have to take the time to work through the steps to realize the true lessons. There is a three step process:

Me-Phase - becoming aware of our patterns of thinking
Being Awareness - expand upon our awareness with greater scope
Being Kindness - connecting to who we truly are, and the compassionate nature of ourselves

In keeping with the spirit of the clean simplicity of the book I'm going to keep my write-up very small and honest. This book is transformative, it is calming, it is a gentle read to help your spirit. I'm not putting it all into practice, but I walked away with inspirational thoughts that will help me along my journey, especially in relation to being a compassionate person to others.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday Roundup

Ah, the end of winter draws near for many of us. It is a time when we seek books on greening our households, planting in our gardens, freshening our lives and dreaming of warmer weather. Well, at least many of us in the colder climates start dreaming about these things 'round about this time.

Is this reflected in your book selections? Do you have a title suggestion to share for this week? Let us know in the comments so that we can dream of a greener read as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: The Tightwad Gazette

Years ago, Parade Magazine did a feature on a lady from Maine named Amy Dacyczyn who went by the title "the frugal zealot." She published a monthly newsletter filled with ways to save money, and by the time the article ran in Parade, she had already compiled the first couple years of newsletters into her book: "The Tightwad Gazette." There was a money-back guarantee on the book - if you didn't save more than the cost of the book from ideas in the book, you could get back your purchase price.

At the time, I considered myself an expert in ways to save money (ha!) and so I bought the book, fully expecting to ask for my $9.95 refund. Shortly after reading the book, I received a coupon from a long-distance carrier offering me $50 to switch to them. I called my current carrier and offered to mail the coupon to them instead for a $50 credit on my account. They happily agreed. It wasn't until my roommate asked me how I knew to do that that I realized I'd gotten the idea from "The Tightwad Gazette." I promptly subscribed to the newsletter and remained a customer until 1996 when the newsletter run ended. The original book I purchased covered only a few years, but the current book has been updated to contain the entirety of the newsletters.

"The Tightwad Gazette" is much more than just a list of ideas on how to save money, although I'd dare anyone to not learn something new. Amy covers almost every method of saving money imaginable, and in this economy that might be very helpful. I think the biggest strength of the book is the philosophical articles interspersed throughout that cover everything from how blackbelt tightwaddery can help you achieve your dreams, the effect of frugality on the environment, how a little savings put to use wisely (rather than put in the bank!) can snowball into big savings, to how to painstakingly calculate the best deal when comparing, for example, medium vs. large eggs. Some of the articles are hilarious. One of my favorites is Amy's retelling of a contest between herself and her husband as they competed by preparing air popped vs. microwave popcorn.

"The Tightwad Gazette" is not perfect by any means. Many things are dated and I expect most readers will find a lot that is irrelevant. Mention of environmental issues is infrequent. You'll not find a guide to saving money while trying to purchase organic produce, and many times it seems the only consideration is actual dollars spent. I've changed my thinking a lot since I first purchased the book and now I care how the cow was raised or how the workers were paid. That's not in the book. That said, though, every time I reread "The Tightwad Gazette," I gain something new that I can use. Just this week, I marked the recipe for making homemade pancake syrup and I got some great ideas for lunch box fillings, which was timely since my son just started preschool.

I'd give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for light green to medium green readers, and anybody who is looking for ways to save money.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Roundup


Well, Happy Monday everyone! For those of you whose jobs actually take a Presidents' Day holiday, I hope you're enjoying your time off.

I've not done a lot of reading lately, but I did finally finish "Green Collar Economy" and I've been rereading for the umteenth time "The Tightwad Gazette." I'm going to review one or the other this week -- I guess you'll just have to check back to see which one. :)

Anyway, what are you all up to? Read any good books lately?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Review: Little Heathens

I've never read any of the Little House on the Prairie books or even been drawn to them to tell you the truth. And that's why the first time I saw this book, Little Heathens, Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, I returned it to shelf. It looked too little housish.

A couple weeks later I picked it up again though. It was on sale as a benefit to our local library; for two dollars. I bought it. From the introduction I was interested and became more so with each successive story. I liked the author's, Mildred Armstrong Kalish's, voice. She tells her story of growing up during the depression honestly, not making it more or less than what it was.

Each chapter could be read without the others although I kept wanting more. There's a chapter about farm food, one on chores, another on outhouses, gardening, animal tales, gathering wood. There's humor, heart, courage; there's inspiration to be a better person.

My favorite chapter was about medicine. For cuts the kids knew to get cobwebs from the barn and wrap them over it; exactly like the tales from my Grandparents. There's also stories of curing warts that defies logic. I've witnessed this remedy, which made it even more fun to see it in print, though it's still unbelievable.

I enjoyed the stories of foraging, the relationships with the animals, the landscape, the seasons. The way everyone intimately knew where their food came from. It was a different time; not to be romanticized, but full of wisdom that I'm glad is not forgotten but skillfully put into print.

I give this book four out of five stars for its inherent adherence to sustainability. And I'd recommend it to Little House lovers as well as those that get hives just considering the prairie.

This is an enjoyable and thought provoking fast read. Perfect for a long holiday weekend.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Round Up

I know Valentine's Day is a week away but I thought I'd share the locally grown parrot tulips I bought today. I splurge on a bunch of them each spring and every year they seem to be more beautiful than the last. My other present was reading half of Little Heathens thanks to Donna's review of it here. Time to curl up with a book has been scarce and I forget how much I love it. Reading renews me in a way nothing else does.

How's reading going at your house? Is it still seed catalog season? Do you have a new review to share? Let us know.

In any event I hope you give yourself the gift of reading in the next week and enjoy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Book Review: Serve God, Save the Planet


What is your motivation for living green? Jaime from Green Resolutions reviews a spiritual green read and answers that very important question. Thank you so much, Jaime, for sharing your review at the worm.

In the spring of last year, I began seeking information about “going green.” I just wanted to find out more about recycling, organic foods, healthier household cleaners and conserving energy.

I went down a predictable path. I purchased green-washed products and modified my consumeristic habits only in that I began buying “green” products rather than buying fewer things. I purchased processed foods with an organic label. I purchased green cleaners that were heavy on the plastic packaging.

But the more I learned, the more I realized that I had not clearly defined my values and I was not living the life I wanted. Along the way, I found a post about APLS on Green Bean Dreams. “Do you spend less money than you make?” Green Bean asked. “Do you consciously buy fewer products and, of those products you buy, do you look for used ones or ones that will last longer? … Do you donate to charity? Time, money or goods?”

Something clicked. Sustainable living. That is how I want to live.

The more I learn, the more I realize how interconnected everything is. Reading Serve God, Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD really brought that home.

Sleeth is a former emergency room director and chief of medical staff. His experiences as a physician — an affluent physician — inform much of the book. As a doctor, Sleeth saw the effects of environmental pollution on our health. I cried as I read about a child with asthma dying on a smoggy summer day in D.C. As an affluent person in the U.S., Sleeth also saw the effects of consumerism on our quality of life. He shares his own story of how his “stuff” took up too much of his time and how much happier his family is in a much smaller home without some of the conveniences we take for granted. (For example, the home lacks a clothes dryer.)

An easy read, the book incorporates references to Scripture as well as the process through which Sleeth came to change his view the world. He includes fascinating, touching and humorous stories from his life’s experiences — ranging from encounters with emergency room patients to his family’s process of discarding a majority of material possessions to mission trip encounters with people who desperately need food or medical care.

Sleeth talks about why we should live a sustainable life. He talks about reconnecting with life: living more simply, focusing on our families, turning off the television, understanding what is important in our lives and making time for that.

The book also has chapters on some of the bigger topics of environmental concern: food choices, large (inefficient) houses, energy and population.

There are some numbers that help readers understand our impact. For example:
"Every time my family used the electric clothes dryer, we put five pounds
of greenhouse gases in the air."

"… if every household changed its five most used bulbs to compact
fluorescent light bulbs, the country could take twenty-one coal-fired plants
off-line tomorrow."
But the book isn’t about numbers. It is about perspective. As Sleeth says, “I am frequently asked about the nuts and bolts of living a less consumptive lifestyle: ‘How exactly did your family make a change?’ I have tried to relate some of the steps we took, but the most important change is not the automobile you drive or the house you live in. What we need most is a change
of heart.”

And if we have a true change of heart, the other changes will surely follow.

Here’s the thing. I may have started this green journey with a lifestyle that uses more than my share of resources, but it is a pretty good life. And the Earth will sustain this lifestyle in my lifetime (because others have so much less than their fair share). Unless I care about the world we are leaving our children … unless I care about the children (and adults) who are hungry and need medical care now … unless I CARE, what is the point?

I do care. And this book opens my eyes to the ramifications of my decisions. Collectively, our old-fashioned light bulbs cause the use of more power plants that cause pollution that affects people with asthma, including people who can’t afford medical treatment. On the other hand, buying organic foods and organic cotton products keep toxic chemicals out of someone’s backyard, out of someone’s water. On and on. As a doctor, Sleeth saw the harmful effects of our collective decisions and with this books, he shows us our choices and helps us clarify our perspective and our values.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: The Art and Science of Dumptster Diving




Here's another short review of a fascinating book, The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving, by John Hoffman. I saw this book recommended somewhere (and I can't remember where!) and thought it might be interesting, although I was pretty sure I wasn't ready to try dumpster diving myself. And I have to say, having read it, that while I do believe you can save a lot of money and get a lot of great stuff by trying this, I'm still not going to do it! But.... it is a great book to read and if you are willing to try it I bet you'd be successful if you read this guide first.

The book is divided into chapters, which start out talking about what is involved in dumpster diving, whether one can be self sufficient by diving, and what kinds of things can be found. Hoffman then moves on to techniques, which are quite specific. These include what to wear, how to dive, how to deal with other people who might be watching, diving along with you or enforcing (police or store employees), how to stash your goods for a later pickup, and more. This is truly a practical guide from someone who does this regularly. The next few chapters discuss the "big three" dumpster hot spots (bakeries, supermarkets, and book stores), the "lucky seven" dive spots (discount stores, candy stores, wholesale florist dumpsters, toy stores, fast food restaurants, residential areas, and college dumpsters), and how to convert what you find to cash if it's not something you need personally. Towards the end of the book, Hoffman explains about recycling programs and how they affect diving, searching for information (rather than items), and how to progress from being a beginning diver to an experienced one.

Hoffman is a super conservative, right wing, gun toting opposite of me, yet his thoughts on not wasting and using what's available are as green as any liberal, and he practices what he preaches in a huge way. I was continually amazed by what I read in this book. I had figured that it was possible to find good items in a dumpster, but I thought that the mess and plowing through stuff that wasn't any good wouldn't be worth it. I believe now that if you are motivated (and a little bit brave!) it would certainly be worth it. There are a few times when Hoffman advocates bending or breaking the law, which at first made me feel superior to him for not wanting to do such things. Then I started thinking about how many of us break the law routinely - speeding, pirating CDs, using supplies from work for personal use, and wondered if his transgressions were really worse. As he never advocates hurting anyone, and his actions keep things out of landfills, I'm not sure that they are. In any case, there is a lot to think about with this book.

As interesting as the dumpster diving techniques are, I found the personal stories of Hoffman's youth and adult life even more fascinating. He grew up poor, but his whole family dived regularly, and thus he had everything he could want. He also learned to be extremely creative in making what he needed with found items.

It really tells us something about our society when you realize that with a little time and effort, you could find almost everything you need to live out of what people throw away. I would rate this book 3 out of 5 stars, and suggest that it's a good read for anyone who wants to think about how much we waste in America, and a great read for those ready to take the plunge into diving.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Roundup

Welcome February! Pink cupcakes and all.

I wish I could report that I spent my January reading and have multiple reviews to post this week. In truth, I'm still working my way through Big Box Swindle which is as much of an eye opener regarding the marketplace as The Omnivore's Dilemma was to the food industry. I'm only about half way through though and, barring any miracles, probably won't post a review of it this week.

Enough about me though! What about you? Who's reading what? Any reviews to share? Any great new books out there?