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SHOPPING WITH A CONSCIENCE BY DUNCAN CLARK AND RICHIE UNTERBERGER

Something happened with the review for this book. I clearly remember having written it and yet it was nowhere to be found. What a loss. This was book that I really enjoyed and … yes, one that I would even consider buying. I see it as a reference book, one that shouldn’t be missing from the desk of any green activist. It is that full of information, that all-encompassing.

Initially, when started it, I tired persuading my husband to read it and just give me a short review. It seemed too financially, economically inclined, which I rarely enjoy. I have difficulties seeing the grand scale aspects. But as I eased into it, I found it revelatory and indispensable. I had many matters elucidated – why do we drink fair trade, shade-grown coffee, why avoid Made in China, what are the GE foods, why FSC certified wood, why not farmed salmon, why dolphin-safe tuna (at one point, in a misinformed period of my life, I thought that maybe that some tuna was some type of dolphin and we should not eat that by any means!!!) and so many others. I learned about the fate of banana farmers and the life of milk cows, about why I should boycott Nike and Gap and buy bamboo everything. I also found reference to many online resources for information and green shopping (when one really needs to shop). I am telling you, it’s a book that I don’t feel like returning to the library. Food, jewelry, clothing, shoes, cars, furniture – everything you want to find in a green alternative, has a reference in this book.

What will stay with me is the image of a banana farm worker suffering from a pesticide induced skin disease, with an expression that said too much and hurt to deep.

THE WITCH OF PORTOBELLO BY PAULO COELHO

coelhoFinally, it’s here. The book is in my hands. I have been waiting for it to be returned to the library since last month! I pray the wait is all worth it. Now silence. No interruptions. It’s Coelho, it will go fast. Just give us a moment, please.

I finished it. It took me two weeks to read this latest (probably last for me) Paulo Coelho book. At the end I find myself a bit sad. All of his other books I read in a day or two. Those were the good times, as I would like to refer to now. Times when Coelho was still brilliant or I was more innocent.

The writing style in this book seemed repetitive to the point of annoying. I know repetition used to be an aspect of Coelho’s style that made sense, had something of a mantra. In this book, it is just empty and futile.

There is no message. A few things, here and there, that didn’t coagulate into something bigger, into a world shattering view, as it used to happen. Long time ago. When I read Veronica Decides to Die.

There are editing mistakes. Small, but unpleasant. Like making herbal tea out of chamomile leaves. Hello, Mr. Coelho! The flowers of chamomile as used for tea! Oh, I am being too mean. But there was also something else that I seemed to have forgotten.

He throws in a few images of Romania. I should have loved that – Romania, on Coelho’s map. I would have loved it. Another time. When he was still a white magician. Now… it just made me angry because I could tell he has such superficial knowledge of the gipsies, the culture, Eliade. Really, just bad fiction. There is nothing more to it. This book was not inspired into Coelho’s plume by higher energies of the Universe. It used to be like that. I felt it. A feeling of yore.

After reading Zahir, I still had hopes. Now, I am in mourning. Coelho is no longer… … Coelho. I am no longer the one who found revelations in his prose. One of us is gone. Or both of us. Good bye.

P.S. You got to love the cover, though! Flawless, isn’t it?

HOME ENLIGHTENMENT BY ANNIE B. BOND

LI bought this book. Yes, I know it’s rare. But it happened. I found it in Building 19, for $2.50. Who could have resisted that? Now, after reading it, I realize that I would have paid whatever amount of money to have this in my bookshelf (the exclusivist one, where i keep my writing books, my books (the ones I translated) and my reference books (dictionaries, manual of style, thesaurus). In the past few months I added a book about the healing properties of plants, one about family nutrition by dr. Sears (not really impressed with that one, but it is one of the best I could find)  and the Home Enlightenment book, by Annie B. Bond.

This book gave me much more than I was expecting. It gave me not only advice, but spiritual guidance. It is exactly what the title says it is and that is so rare in a book nowadays. I learned about the power of stones and their resonance, about smudge smoke for purifying an interior, about the spirit of a home, not its material reflection. I learned that the only safe candles are beeswax and soy, that pressure treated wood might be very harmful. This last piece of information couldn’t have come at a better time. We are in the process of rebuilding our deck and initially we accepted without reserve the recommendation of the contractor to use pressure wood, having no idea what that is. Now we are going to have a beautiful mahogany backyard getaway.

I am sure this book is going to save me a lot of research. Although I love to do research online, sometimes it is much too time consuming. I treasure it and I think it came my way in a mystical conjuncture, when I needed it the most.

A BROOM OF ONE’S OWN BY NANCY PEACOCK

51TDPXhrydL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_If you want to find out how unglamorous writing life can be, you need to read this book. It is a beautiful writing about writing and working and living through it all. It is a nice book, but not an uplifting one. It’s quite simple, basic prose but honest and true. I value that more than anything in writing.

Nancy Peacock tells it again, so maybe we get it this time: writing rarely makes one rich. As a matter of fact, it barely helps one support oneself with the basic necessities. One might need to keep doing odd jobs long time after one is a “published author”. Not fair, right? That’s what I’m thinking. But, I guess, all artists struggle this way. Not everybody makes it big. Some just don’t make it in their lifetime. How unlucky and unfair is that?!

Sometimes, making a living out of writing might mean compromising yourself, writing less than your soul and spirit, for lesser reasons than to educate and move the masses. What am I saying here? Writing is hard. I can tell you that too. Disciplining it might be impossible and you cannot make much money out of undisciplined work. Sometimes writing needs to be supported. By some wealth in the family, by a Maecenas, or by housecleaning.

All throughout history artists, writer have gone without food, without covering their basic needs. I wonder why is that? What makes an artist incapable of working a normal job? As Nancy Peacock shows, it is not necessarily a question of time. There is time for a part time job and writing. Writing cannot be done from 9 to 5. That would be too much to ask from the muses. But maybe the rest of the time must be spent in inspirational ways, not inclosed in a suffocating, soul-killing, corporate office. Housekeeping, actually, seems like a brilliant idea – solitude, family lives to be inspired by, houses that tell stories. Right? Why not? Be open-minded. Be open-minded. That’s a good mantra.

I liked Nancy Peacock’s book and I am planning to read another one of her novels. Life Without Water. It sounds good. About hippies!

THE CARCINOGENIC INCENSE

IncenseBorderI just found this article online, and I am completely upset: really, even incense is not safe anymore? What’s next? Is there anything left?

I do love my incense. Being blessed with a husband who comes from the land of incense sticks, I do frequently go to Indian stores (to buy weird stuff that I cannot pronounce but use in food all day long) and I do get some incense (agarbatti, as it seems to be called) all the time. I cannot say that I use it daily at home, but I do use it a lot and with great pleasure. At least I did. Before I read the aforementioned article.

I do have to confess that not just once I wondered how exactly are these incense sticks made and what’s in the Moon incense that I like so much. I kind of thought that maybe it is safer to buy the traditional Rose, Sandalwood and Jasmine, that have a better chance of not having added chemicals in the form of artificial fragrance. But I refused to think farther than that.

I also enjoy the reed diffusers that are very popular these days, but I am aware that I need to use my own natural oils with those, instead of the dubious fragrances they come with.

Now, usually I apply this theory to everything: if it has been used for centuries, it is safe, if it’s a modern thing, beware, beware, run. But what if the incense production process has been changed dramatically in the modern times? I mean, India now has to produce it not only for their own temples, but for all the hippies in the world, and there are quite a few of us.

Now I am determined to find out which incense sticks are more natural and safe. This article mentions the “dipped incense” which is usually ladened with chemicals. So that’s to be avoided, whatever it is.

From another source I become aware that most incense sticks are handmade and this industry is a major employer of women in India. Well, that is a big plus in my book. But still, I am more worried about the chemicals. Even the health of this women will suffer if they handle chemicals all day, right?

Well, my research, although not very deep, I have to confess, shows that most incense sticks contain chemical fragrances. Aha. But are some that don’t? Natural incense, please!

I have found the Lucky Mojo Incense which is “made with traditional herbs and roots and with botanical oils instead of synthetic fragrances”.

Another place, which looks very good to me, is Diabetes Balance: Natural Ayurveda and Herbs. They sell Calming, Cooling, Purifying and Warming incense. I am going to order a few of those, because they are quite cheap, right? Only $1.95.

Mountain Rose Herbs, which is a great company that many people rely on for their natural herbs and oils, sells a good variety of natural incense sticks, both the Indian fragranced from Surya (Rose, Saffron, Jasmine and others) and the more North American inspired from Pacific Northwest Incense with aromas like Douglas Fir, Cedar and White Sage.

Another interesting place I’ve found is BlueStar Incense, started by somebody just like us, lover of incense and interested in natural alternatives.

The internet is also an wonderful source of tutorials on making your own, if you are so inclined. I liked this one.

Happy burning!

P.S. I am just editing this to mention that now that I’ve been looking, I noticed that in every natural store there will be a selection of natural incense available. So it is not that hard to find, after all.

BAGS AND TIN BOXES

What it is about bags and boxes I’ll never know entirely. The fascination of the secrets hidden inside, maybe. As a child, I remember, one of my most favorite imagination games was thinking of what people have stashed in closed drawers. All the treasures the eye cannot see. The forgotten pieces of other times, of other feelings, of the other people who we used to be.

I used to spend whole summers in my grandparents’ village and an aunt would come from Bucharest with all sorts of goodies I would never see anywhere else. Some of them were tucked, I remember perfectly, at the low ceiling beams of my great-grandmother’s tiny house. Oh, where my imagination would take me: salty, crunchy breadsticks, chewy, colorful, sugar-sprinkled Turkish delights.

The fascination never left and few things are so attractive to me as tin boxes. Especially when they are so exquisite as this Chinese moon cake box or so evocative as this Indian sweets box. Or even as simple as the “Crafty girl” tiny mints box. When have I become a collector?

The bag in the first photo is for my new camera. No, it’s not an actual camera bag, but it will work, simply because it’s so cute. As soon as I saw it, I imagined my camera inside. I imagined myself never going out without it on my shoulder, never missing any great shot that happens to come my way.

Bags and tin boxes … how they make me dream.

WHAT’S LEFT OF SPRING’S DREAMS

The groundhog never actually touched the tomatoes (or the eggplants, as a matter of fact). Not to their liking, I suspect. But that didn’t mean that we enjoyed these glorious vegetables either. No. Because we had planted them in a spot that doesn’t get enough sun, we were going to realize much later.

Well, we learned. We worked happily. We waited patiently for our plants to grow. We watered. We jumped with joy at the sight of flowers, small fruits. We watched our garden grow and transform every day with amazement and love.

Our dreams of abundance didn’t come true, but they won’t stop here. There are many more springs to come. We carry dreams for each of them. And we learn cherish the dreams for themselves, for what they make us do, for how they help us grow. If they come true, is a secondary matter, isn’t it? The dream produce that never made it to our table has nourished us in multiple ways.

WARDROBE SIMPLICITY: THE UNIFORM?

I have just recently stumbled upon the concept of “uniform” as in a set of similar clothes that make up one’s wardrobe: jeans and black shirts, or black pants and colorful T-shirts, and so on. It’s starting to look to me like many people adhere to this idea. They are mostly men (read here about A Man in Uniform). But women are bravely looking in that direction too, and sometimes go to extremes, just to prove the point: The Uniform Project, The Little Brown Dress Project.

The first time I read about it, it was in a book about simplifying, and the author was saying that she reduced her wardrobe to only three colors, I believe. Like navy blue, black and white. And her life became much easier. I thought it was smart, although a little too severe. Not for creative types, I thought. Not for those of us with imagination and flair.

I am don’t care much about fashion, but I do like clothes and I like to match them, alter them, make them my own. It doesn’t scare or overwhelm me. Still, I see the benefits of reducing your wardrobe to a few elements that fit your style.

My favorite color to wear is brown. I prefer to call it “chocolate”. I like to pair it with green, teal, burnt orange. Mostly solid colors, sometimes flowery or paisley prints. Sometimes a little dark grey and some black make their way into the bottoms’ colors.

I like to wear long, A-line skirts and loose blouses. Many times I layer with tank tops and cardigans. Sometimes, rarely, I go for jeans and corduroy in winter, jeans and linen pants in summer.

I wear mostly cotton and linen, avoiding all synthetic fabrics, even bamboo lately, because it just seems too processed.

Accessories do tend to become slightly more important. I am trying to reduce the jewelry that I wear. I don’t want to change earrings and bracelets frequently (although I am so tempted to do so). So I am working on wearing one necklace, pair of earrings at all times, except for very special occasions. I am reducing my accessory craziness to a few bags and scarfs. Even in the bag department I am working toward simplifying: this summer it has been a teal canvas tote bag wore alternatively with a small leather pouch, with a long strap to wear messenger style (perfect for vacation days, because it’s light, holding only wallet, phone, keys along with lipstick, perfume and handkerchief). Shawls and scarfs I haven’t been able to pair down successfully yet. I don’t even want to go there yet.

It’s a long process. I don’t know if I want to go as far as a uniform, but I am almost there. People ask question when I’m not wearing one of my skirts. I believe that tunic-style tops are absolutely beautiful (and have a few from India) but I never wear them because… I just wear other things.

So, few colors, few styles, few fabrics, few items.

Benefits of the uniform, as I see them are several,

– When you go shopping, you are not overwhelmed by the choices. They are minimal. You know what you want.
You buy less (save money) because you don’t fall prey to the latest fashion and you can’t find clothes that you would like to have in every shop window.
when you pack for a trip, it’s easy to find a few matching outfits: they all match.
When you get dressed for the day, the choice is easy.
You have your closet full of things that fit and look good on you.
There is no clutter of stuff bought on impulse, that you never wear because it doesn’t go well with anything.
You create a personal style that makes you feel comfortable in your skin at all times.
You think less of clothing and fashion, you feel lighter, more relaxed and happier.
You create a space of order, where according to Feng Shui, energies can flow freely and help you grow and advance in your own life.
You own less, create less waste, help the planet.

There are some disadvantages too,

You have to do your laundry when you have to do laundry, because with a small wardrobe, there won’t be much left to wear.
For those who derive great pleasure from buying clothes, it is a downer.
It takes effort and time to learn to live with less and enjoy it, when you were used to find your bliss in shopping and owning things (lots of things).

But, if you are looking for a change, try simplifying your closet. See how it makes you feel. See if you’re lighter and smiling a bit more often.

IMAGES OF ROMANIA AND INDIA

Yesterday I discovered a web site with old Romanian postcards and I decided that this is my new passion. I’m going to start collecting this stuff. I always wanted to collect something. So if you stumble upon an old postcard from Romania or India, I’m interested.

Isn’t this one with Romanian men sewing just amazing? This is what’s probably written on the back of this postcard, which was also a Singer commercial of the time (1892):
ROUMANIA
A kingdom of Southern Europe, comprising the old principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Dobrudja. It is bounded East and North by the Pruth, South by the Danube, West and North-West by the Carpathian Mountains. It is mountainous in the West, but level towards the East.The climate is subject to extremes of cold and heat. Large numbers of horses, sheep and cattle are raised. Also grains in abundance. The first authentic inhabitants were the Daciens, who were conquered and the country colonized by the Romans, The Roumanian of today is a mixture of the indo-caucasian and mongol races. They are good looking, intelligent and fairly energetic. The national dress is rich in embroidery and lacings. There are the typical Roumanians. Their rich brunette complexion enhanced by their highly colored dress. The Singer company have several offices here and sell numbers of machines.
The Singer Singer Manufacturing Co.

On the back of the women’s postcard, the text is the same, except at the end: The national dess is rich in embroidery and lacings. Our picture represents three young Roumanian women in their fanciful dress around a Singer machine, which has helped to embroider their costumes.

I love the Romanian national costumes. They are indeed very rich in embroidery which is done by hand, not by machine, even today.

I am also fascinated by these postcards of a Romanian and an Indian woman carrying water.

Aren’t women carrying water just beautiful? I look at them, how different and how similar they are, and think of my daughter who embodies both these cultures, one with its glamour and spiritual depth, the other with its earthy simplicity and unbounded faith.

Out of curtains and dreams

Curtain bag blueIt’s been a pathetic summer till now. Out of the six swimming classes my daughter had this summer (once every Wednesday), we enjoyed the sun only once. Three times it rained torrentially. For the pool, we pack swim suit, dress, pants, socks, hoodie and rain jacket. Obviously, no sunscreen. I am imagining that the sunscreen producers are all going out of business this summer. Well, what can I say, not a big loss–just read the Environmental Working Group’s 2009 report on sunscreens, which shows that three out of five are completely inefficient.
 Beach dress
Anyway, the ugly, bad, bad summer that’s been until now doesn’t stop me from dreaming of better times, of perfect beach days. Perfect beach bag days. Perfect beach dress days. So I’ve been making summer dresses (just one actually, but I went with the flow and plural sounded better).
And tote bags. Out of curtains. I bought these new curtains that needed to be shortened and from the leftover fabric I imagined bags. Aren’t they gorgeous? The crochet doilies that I appliqued on the red bag are made by my great-grandmother.  I feel so happy to be able to use them.
I am sure that summer will follow soon, and my handmades will get to meet the beach and my beloved, glorious sea, right? Right?