Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This is one of those books that should be made compulsory reading.

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are the first couple to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. In this book they tell stories of women around the world, sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes uplifting. It shows how a helping hand can lift a woman out of poverty and misery: a woman in Burundi is transformed from abused-wife to husband-tamer (who decides how much allowance her husband can have!) with the money she earned through the CARE program. Stories like Usha Narayane standing up to the village bully make me yelp with joy. Sadly there are also incidents when the problem is deeper than what a gentle lift can help, or how foreign aid can have unexpected results: like the Cambodian girl who returns to prostitution, after the authors “bought” her freedom, because she cannot break free of the drug addiction the brothel introduced her to; or the Cameroonian woman who was refused treatment despite the authors’ offer of payment and blood transfusion.

The book also cited many studies which are quite eye openers. One shows that, interestingly, in rural India, soap operas on TV actually is a good thing! When villagers see how in modern cities women have jobs and freedom, it changes the culture and reduces family abuse! Or that American is relatively more violent than Europe because of its legacy of male surplus (think wild wild west!)

As great journalists, more than just stirring the readers’ emotions, the authors outline simple steps that readers can take to address the issues. They also talk of how well-meaning aids can back fire, and what are the most effective ways to help. Throughout the book they mention many heroes who work hard to advocate the causes, many ordinary people who do the extraordinary, and women who, after given a hand up, in turn offer her help to others.

I have been sponsoring many loans on Kiva for a long time, and it’s great to read in this book how the loans can actually help a woman. In the past I had wondered why people keep returning for more loans, and wondered if it means we are keep giving money to a losing business. After reading this I get a better idea how it operates. I am also glad to find an appendix with list of organizations supporting women in developing countries, such as Apne Aap, Women For Women, Fistula Foundation, Somaly Mam Foundation and more.

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Published in: on January 31, 2013 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

by Ammon Shea

Reading OED

The moment I first held the book in my hands, I felt a kinship with the author. As a kid, I read dictionary. It wasn’t exactly by choice but rather because it was the only book in my whole family collection besides my text book. Obviously I was not interested in reading text book more than absolute necessity – except the part about reproduction that the teacher totally skipped over – and while dictionary is not up there in the fun list, it could be entertaining to stumble upon new words, and it sure helps boost my vocabulary. So there I was, sitting on the couch with the student version of OED in my lap, until the day a classmate’s mom took me to a magical place called library. I haven’t seriously read a dictionary since, but I always feel like it is a treasure chest, and whenever I open one up, I always end up reading more than one entry.

At first I thought this book may be a little boring, as much fun as reading a shopping list, but the author’s witty, humorous comments on his juicy choice of dictionary entries, interlaced with his personal musings and experience, makes the read a sheer delight.

Some of my favorite entries (italics is dictionary definition, dash indicates the author’s annonations, and parenthesis my thoughts):

Advesperate (v) To approach evening.
– For all intents and purposes this word is almost useless, for I doubt that anyone will ever use it in converstaion with me, and I fervently hope that I myself am never prone to utterances such as “Let’s hurry! It’ advesperating!” Nevertheless, this word brings me a great deal of pleasure, as occasionally when I am walking down the street and the light of day is about to change to the light of early evening, the word will flit through my mind, and I have a rush of joy from knowing how to name such an ephermeral moment.
((I whisper the word, advesperate. It’s not that far from “desperate”, but it sounds much softer, with a wispy quality to it, like sharing a beautiful secret. As if you are do not want to scare away the faeries that are coming out, or disturb the dancing of light, or be disrespectful of the glorious sunset.)

Antithalian (adj.) Opposed to fun or merriment.
Am I just being too serious in life, or am I Antithalian?

Conspue (v.) To spit on someone or something with contempt.
-I have not yet found any word that defines the action of spitting on someone or something for a reason other than contempt (can you split on someone out of friendship or admiration?), and I have a strong suspicion that I will not. One who conspues is referred to as a consputator.
(Boy, a consputator sounds like worthy of an arrest!)

-ee (suffix) One who is the recipient or beneficiary of a specific action or thing.
– …In the interest of expanding your descriptive range I have included the following examples:
Beatee – a person who has been beaten, as oposed to beater.
Boree – one who is bored.
Flingee – a person at whom something is fling.
Gazee – a person who is stared at.
Laughee – someone who is laughed at.

Elucubration (n.) Studying or writing by candlelight.
– From the Latin elucubrare (to compose by candlelight), elucubration is the word to describe staying up late while engaged in putatively productive endeavors, as opposed to just staying up late and watching TV.

Fard (v.) To paint the face with cosmetics, so as to hide blemishes.
– I suspect there is a reason no one ever gets up from the table and says, “Excuse me while I go to the ladies’ room and fard.” It seems to be very difficult to make a four-letter word that begins with f sound like an activity that is polite to discuss at the dinner table.

Finifugal (adj.) Shunning the end of anything.
– Many things in life deserve being finifugal about: the last twenty pages of a good book, a special meal that someone has just spent hours preparing for you, a slow walk in a light rain.

Gymnologize (v.) “To dispute naked, like an Indian philosopher.”
– There are only several plausible reasons I can think of for having an argument while naked, and none of them happens to involve Indian philosophers.
(Who thinks you can laugh out loud reading a dictionary?)

Heterophemize (v.) To say something different from what you mean to say.
(So there IS a word for it…)

Introuvable (adj.) Not capable of being found, specifically of books.
(No kidding, there IS a word for this? And does it mean it’s the books’ problem, not mine? I don’t have too many books, just some that happen to be sneaky and introuvable.)

Jehu (n.) A fast or reckless driver.
– Jehu was a king of Isreal in the ninth century BCE, renowned for both his furious chariot driving and his extermination of the worshippers of Baal.
(Fast and Furious, BCE version?)

Lipoxeny (n.) The deserting of a host by the parasites that have been living on it.
– Lipoxeny is a very serious and very technical botanical word. Under no ciercumstances should you ever use it in a manner that is not respectful of the English language and the biologists who worked tirelessly to fill it with words such as this.

Microphily (n.) The friendship between people who are not equals in intelligence of status.

Obmutescence (n.) The state or condition of obstinately or willfully refusing to speak.
– Anyone who has even been the parent of, or been related to, or been in the same room with an obstinate child will immediately recognize the behavior defined by the word. On the one hand obmutescence can hardly be characterized as a sterling trait, but on the other hand, it is far preferable to a tantrum.

Onomatomania (n.) Vexation at having difficulty in finding the right word.
(I am afraid I am no more likely to remember the word describing the vexation I have than resolving the vexation itself.)

Petecure (n.) Modest cooking; cooking on a small scale.
– Very few people eat in an epicurean fashion, yet many of them know what the word epicure means. A great many people eat in a simple fashion, and yet no one knows the word for this.
(Perchance because it sounds too much like pedicure?

Propassion (n.) The initial stirrings of a passion.

Psithurism (n.) The whispering of leaves moved by the wind.
(another word, like Advesperate, that is fun to sound out.

Residentarian (n.) A person who is given to remaining at table.

Scourge (v.) To inconvenience or discomfort a person by pressing against him or her or by standing too close.
– For passengers of modern transportation everywhere, this word has tremendous and unfortunate resonance. It falls firmly within the category of words that one wishes one did not have occasion to use on a daily basis, but are fascinating nonetheless.
(Another one of these really-there-is-a-word-for-it? words. Ahh indeed an unfortunate resonance. It’s part of the reason why I loved America when I first moved here. No more scourging on the bus or metro with nasty men. Incidentally, sourging is the reason why I still have that habit of not putting on lipstick till I arrive at work. I sincerely hope that I had never caused any marital discord when I accidentally rubbed my lipstick on some guy’s shirt when the bus jerked to a stop…)

Shot-clog (n.) An unwelcome companion tolerated because he pays the shot for the rest.

Silentiary (n.) An official whose job it is to command silence.

Somnificator (n.) One who induces sleep in others.

Twi-thought (n.) A vague or indistinct thought.
((I like this word. Not quite a thought, just something drifting in the mind, fledging, teasing…)

Unbepissed (adj.) Not having been urinated on; unwet with urine.
– Who ever thought there was an actual need for such a word? Is it possible that at some time there was such a profusion of things that had been urinated on that there was a pressing need to distinguish those that had not?
(Troubling thought indeed.)

“I’m reading the OED so you don’t have to. If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on…” says the author.

Now, I’ve written a review and excerpt of the book, so you don’t even have to read his. No, I’m just kidding. Really, it’s a great book. Enjoyable even if you are not word-obsessed. Really, you should go read it, even if you don’t ever plan to read a page of the OED.

Published in: on October 12, 2012 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Harry, A History

by Melissa Anelli

Anelli, the webmistress of the Leaky Cauldron website, wrote this lovely tribute to Harry Potter, a must-read for any Harry Potter fan. It recalls how Anellis fell in love with the books, and how she got drawn deeper and deeper into the magical world created by J K Rowling. Her excitement and passion is infectious, and together with the reader she relives the moments of the book releases and movie releases. It makes me want to read the books and watch the movies again. Just like a chatting friend, Anellis gushes about meeting J K Rowling and the actors of the movies, as well as the various music bands and fan fic writers, in ways that makes you both happy for her but also a bit jealous too.

There are some trivia that is interesting, though I suspect that a true Potter fan would likely have read of it somewhere else already. Dumbledore’s sexual orientation, for example, is no news to my friend when I told her about it. The author also tries to make the book more substantial by including some facts and stats about the Potter phenomenon and other social/cultural aspects, though her attempt is not very skilled. I also wish there is more Harry/Rowling and less Harry. Or maybe a more accurate title, for the book is not quite a comprehensive book about Harry; it’s a girl’s fascination with a book and a fan’s view and experience.

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Orchid Fever

by Eric Hansen

This is such an entertaining book! Well, how could one with a chapter titled Fox Testicle Ice Cream not be?

Orchid is not a particular favorite of mine, but after reading, this book does pique my interest a lot. I went googling for pictures of the flowers mentioned in the book, and started noticing the orchids when I go shopping. I am even considering of attending an orchid show the next time one comes to town. Though thankfully I don’t think I will ever get bitten by the orchid bug.

Being a foodie, my favorite chapter is naturally on the ice cream. Hansen traveled to Turkey to find out about the origin and production of the said ice cream. A little bit more googling brought me to this website:
http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/worlds-strangest-ice-cream/

While some I won’t care for – I most certainly will hate the licorice ice cream – I am pleasantly surprised that I have tried two out of the listed eleven. I did get to try the garlic one at Gilroy’s festival itself, and durian… that’s my favorite. In fact, I do still have a cup in my fridge. It has been there for a while, as for several months now my local grocery store seems to stop carrying it, so I can’t quite bear to eat the very last cup of the six pack.

Er, back to orchids… This book is a fascinating look into a world I’m an outsider of. The absurdity of laws forbidden someone to remove and rescue wild orchids but allow bulldozers to uproot them; the variety of personalities of growers; in some way I am glad my passion is books, not orchids. Well, maybe as an ice cream, but I will have to try that first.

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Accidental Explorer

by Sherry Simpson

One day Sherry Simpson realizes that she has never scaled the mountains or trekked across wild tundra, despiting having lived in Alaska since the age of seven. However, what is wilderness in a place where black bears can wander into your backyard. Or consider the fact that natives who survive for thousands of years on these lands explorers tried and often failed to conquer?

This book is not such much about travelling, but rumination of it. The mapping and the map, the finding versus the found. It is a very honest and humble reminiscence that touches the heart of the reader.

“On that first difficult day, I realized I am not one of those people of whom it is said, after something terrible happens to them outdoors, ‘She died doing wht she loved.’ I did not want to die out here at all.”

I just read Into The Wild a few weeks ago so it was interesting to read of Simpson’s visit to the bus, the site where McCandless died. I also enjoyed her description of Inuksuit, as I’ve fallen in love with those human-shaped cairns when I visited Vancouver.

Another passage that made me paused for thoughts:
“One night in bed, I said (to her husband), You’re a speed bump in my life. It may have bee the cruelest thing I’ve ever said.”

I thought about it. Maybe a speed bump is not a bad thing. It makes you slow down when you are going too fast. It gives me time to notice the neighborhood. If you relax you can even enjoy that funny little wiggle as the car rolls over the bump. In some way I guess I am thankful to my husband, for being the speed bump in my life.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

by Stacey O’Brien

I admit I am an animal lover, so any book about animals will touch a soft spot in my heart, and give my tear ducts a good flush.

Five minutes into reading the book, I was like, I want an owl!! I want my own baby owl to pamper and cuddle. A few more minutes and I was like, I wish I had become a biologist!! Why didn’t I want to be a biologist when I was a kid? Took me a few more minutes to remember that the reason I didn’t pick biology was that I love animals too much to be dissecting them. That was at a less enlightened time and place, unlike today when more students voice their objection to dissecting animals and animal experiments, and are given alternatives.

O’Brien was a student researcher at Caltech, and when an injured four-day-old barn owl was found, and it was determined that he could not survive in the wild, the young girl adopted him. She cared for him, and forged a deep relationship with the at-times wild, at-times adorable bird. Her observation provided valuable scientific information about owls, and the tidbits about weird biologists and animal trivia make it an even more captivating read. What makes this outstanding though, was the abundance of love between a bird and his human: the commitment and sacrifice the author made for the owl, and the owl’s love and trust in return.

Like Marley and Me, it has plenty of funny moments, and some sad ones that make me cry. Totally heart warming, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Published in: on October 5, 2010 at 2:50 am  Comments (1)  

All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo

All Elevations Unknown

by Sam Lightner Jr.

Ever since seeing a black & white photo of a phallic-shaped mountain shrouded in mist, Lightner and his friend Volker had decided to climb it. The problem was, they didn’t know where exactly it is. The mountain is not on any map, though it’s known to be deep in the jungles of Boreno, where much of the land are uncharted, “all elevations unknown”.

During Lightner’s research, he found out about Tom Harrison and the Allies’ fight in WWII against the Japanese in Borneo. Harrison was parachuted into the jungle of Borneo. He and his army had to hide from the brutal Japanese; to survive in a jungle that has the world’s highest density and variety of poisonous snakes, not to mention deadly parasites which larvae fest on the lung or brain of the host; and to befriend the native headhunting tribes renowned for their lethal blow darts and whom would most likely consider a white man’s head a prize addition to their head collections.

The book juxtaposes Lightner’s adventure to the summit, with a vivid recreation of a little-known piece of WWII history. Together they created a highly entertaining and exhilirating read.

Batu Lawit

After reading the book, I naturally wanted to google for images of Batu Lawi. Interestingly, almost of all what I found was taken against a sunny blue sky.

Published in: on September 22, 2010 at 2:52 am  Leave a Comment  

The Food of a Younger Land

A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal

by Mark Kurlansky

I didn’t know that Mark Kurlansky is considered a food historian, I simply consider him one of my favorite yummy book authors.

The background of the material in this book is intriguing on its own: The Federal Writers Project (FWP) was established during the Great Depression to improve employment. Hundreds of writers are put on the government’s payroll. Some may be established writers, some journalists, some just worked marginally with writing. The FWP’s first project was a series of travel guides of the states and deemed a success. However, when the guides were completed in 1938, and there was still no end in sight to the Depression, a new project was started. America Eats was intended as a guide to regional recipes and social traditions involving food. The project was halted after Pearl Harbor, and the materials collected thus far were archived in the Library of Congress.

Author Mark Kurlansky dug through those old papers, and from them emerged an interesting look about American food circa 1938. Some of the original writings are recipes, and some are valuable and illuminating glimpse into the past of how American, especially ethnic Americans and Native American tribes, prepared and enjoyed their food. Which, needless to say, is very different from what we have today.

While some parts, such as recipes, of the book are rather boring, some of the articles included are writing with zest and humor, and reflect the different personalities of the authors. Mark Kurlansky’s introduction to each session binds the articles together beautifully. It was delightful to read about the origins of dishes, and the description of the parties certainly makes me wish I were there, even if those were food I don’t usually crave for. It’s a shame that with ease of transportation and travel, as well as the disappearance of local wildlife, many of these regional specialties only survive in memory now.

My favorite line is the one about geoduck clam: “There is no polite way to describe geoduck clam. It looks like a giant clam which has bitten off an even larger penis.” Ha ha ha… It also surprises me to hear of the preparation of duck wrapped and baked in clay… it’s similar to a Chinese dish called beggar chicken (supposed the beggar didn’t have anything to cook the chicken with after he stole it, so he just wrapped it in mud and baked it in a fire). I also didn’t know of the Basque population in Boise, Idaho. Indeed, this is an eye-opening book.

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads With an Indian Elder

by Kent Nerburn

I won this book in an BookObsessed’s swap, which begets the question: if I stole neither wolf nor dog, what did I get? A coyote? A German Shephard?

Against an unflinching backdrop of contemporary reservation life and the majestic spaces of the western Dakotas, Neither Wolf Nor Dog tells the story of two men, one white and one Indian, locked in their own understandings yet struggling to find a common voice. Each of the men is just one individual, yet each is very aware that he is the representation of the race, and every word, every action, every mistake, is magnified as a stereotype. With the bloody history between the two races, a history still young, the scar still unhealed, this is indeed some very thin ice the author is treading on. He is really brave in undertaking the writing of the book, and baring so much of himself. I hope Dan and his granddaughters, and Grover are happy with the book. I suppose they are happy enough to let it be published, but I am curious what their comments are. I try to imagine… just a non commital grunt? A smile?

Being someone of neither race, I am able to observe the interaction from a more removed standpoint. It is easy to share the sentiments Dan (the Indian elder) expressed about white men and their treatment and discrimination of other races.

I hope by quoting Dan’s words I am not reducing him to an Indian elder spurting mystic wisdom while smoking a pipe, but when I read the book, sometimes his eloquent words move me so much I just have to bookmark the page, so I can copy down the words to be treasured.

“…anger is only for the one who speaks. It never opens the heart of one who listens… The enemy is blindness to each other’s ways.”

“There are leadres and there are rulers… When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them… How can a calendar tell us how long a person is a leader? That’s crazy. Aleader is a leader as long as the people believe in him andas long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as the people will follow. In the past when we needed a warrior wemade a warrior our leader. But when the war was over and we needed a healer to lead us, he became our leader. Or maybe we needed a great speaker or a deep thinker.”

“The most important thing for white people is freedom. The most important thing for Indian people is honor. But the Indian has always been free. We have always been freer thnthe white man, even when he first came here… Your world was made of cages and you thought ours was, too… Your turned the land into cages… You made all the cages then you wondered why you didn’t feel free.”

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood

by Taras Grescoe

This is the type of book that you will keep quoting from to share with your friends and families, as you discover one nugget of fascinating information after another. You are, however, most likely told to shut up as you would totally ruin their appetite, and most people prefer to enjoy life with a conveniently ignorant but easier conscious.

Wanting to enjoy seafood with a good conscious, Taras Grescoe set out on a nine-month, worldwide search for a delicious—and humane—plate of seafood. From North American Red Lobsters to fish farms and research centers in China, Bottomfeeder takes readers on an illuminating tour through the $55-billion-dollar-a-year seafood industry. Grescoe examines how out-of-control pollution, unregulated fishing practices, and climate change affect what ends up on our plate.

For those who are interested in the subject of how man’s action affect the ocean, and the world at large, this is a book not to miss. It makes me shameful how men treats the environment, the lives of other animals and even the lives of other human beings. Needless to say, it makes me view a plate of seafood with new eyes and understanding. This is an eye-opening look at aquaculture that does for seafood what Fast Food Nation did for beef.

If a restaurant puts out a menu with dishes prepared from the meat of panda, jaguar, chimpanzee and grey wolf, most of us will feel indignant and a picket line will form outside th establishment. However, hardly anybody protests when a restaurant offers the seafood equivalent of such menu. In fact, diners may be delighted and considered this an indicator that this is a high calibre restaurant capable of offering such rare delicacies.

Maybe it’s because everything is hidden under the ocean, and what’s out of sight is out of mind? Just as most people can comfortably push out of their mind the question of how their meat comes onto their plate? Or maybe fish doesn’t look as cute as pandas and seal pups so it’s harder to stir up our urge to save it from distinction? Maybe the ocean is so vast that we fail to contemplate it could have a limited supply?

With farmed salmons, we create a system where we input more protein than the output. We are taking food away from fishermen living along seacoasts worldwide. We weaken the wild salmon stock. With farmed shrimps, we create a toxic environment that poisons water supplies in villages, causes lesions and sicknesses in villagers, turns marsh and rice fields into wastelands. Does all that help with ending world hunger? No. It just allows the greedy consumers in developed countries cheap salmon sashimi and cocktail shrimps at buffets. Cheap and very unhealthy. For the farmed salmons, due to lack of exercise and a diet of vegetable oil and soy, their flesh is an unappertizing grey, which has to be colored up… with addictives offered in a convenient chart of colors ranging from salmon pink to neon orange. And farmed shrimps are likely the most chemical laden seafood you can find.

I consider this book excellent, as it does not just scare the reader, but rather offer something practical. The author shows what we could do: from being a more conscience consumer and pay attention to what we eat, to fishermen adopting a more conversing approach to fishing.

If you can’t go vegetarian, if you want to continue eating seafood, at least do yourself a favor: read this book and know better what to avoid.

ETA April 11, 2010: I came across an article about Shark Fin Soup, and here’s my blog post about it:
http://tinyurl.com/y9gjedf
You can also sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/11/save-the-sharks

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Voluntary Madness

by Norah Vincent

This is an excellent read, for its subject matter and the many thoughts it provokes.

Back when I read Self Made Man, I lent it to a friend, and she commented that she couldn’t understand why the author made a big deal out of some “insights” that could otherwise be deducted or found by reading articles. When I read Voluntary Madness, I am reminded of her words, for indeed what Vincent discovered in her experience is probably reported in some research papers already. I do appreciate Vincent as a hands-on learner and her determination to plunge herself in for a first hand experience, instead of our approach to just contend with reading about somthing and taking it as a fact.

Vincent visited three insituations, which varies from an almost jail-like, intimidating environment, to an enriching, resort-like care center. Her first hand experience provides clear looks into how the difference in treatment can affect one’s psyche and make one improve or deterioate. The book starts out as a journalistic investigation, and ends as a poignant memoir of the author’s own transformation. The best parts of the book are when she remunates over her experience and the overall mental care system: if the will of the patient is the most crucial difference, how does one justify spending more money on the system? Is psychiatry a science if the diagnosis is based solely on what the patient says? When insitutions like Meriwether deprive patients of human interaction, are they keeping the patients from getting better?

And the funniest part of the book: When the author offered to reimburse her insurance for the stay at the mental insitution (as it would be a research expense on writing the book, although the claim as a NYT bestseller author comes out suspiciously psychotic), the insurance company called to evaluate if she’s really mental.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga

by Rolf Gates, Katrina Kenison

I have tried yoga. My mom does it for over 20 years. Plenty of friends do it, and lots of them recommend it. For whatever reason, I just don’t like it enough to say, when is the next class? So I suppose it’s somewhat weird that I would pick this up at the library book sale.

This is a day by day meditation. 365 quotes from a variety of religions, authors and celebrities: from yoga sutras, Rumi, the bible, Buddhist monks, rabbis, Confucius, new age gurus, to Homer, Shakespeare, JFK, Florence Nightingale, Nelson Mandela… Following the quote, the author expands on the sayings in relation to yoga, anyone can find something of value just by flipping through a few pages. It doesn’t just help with yoga practice, but in living a happier life in general. Most of the ideas are about letting go, breathing, accepting.

As a non practitioner, I decide to just save the gems I gathered from the book and let it go. As the quote of Day 133 says, “Try to do everything in the world with a mind that lets go… If you let go completely, you will know complete peace an freedom.” ~ Achaan Chah

A few more words of wisdom:

The ego asks a thousand questions for which there are no answers. ~ A Course in Miracle

For those who have come to grow, the whole world is a garden. For those who have come to learn, the wole world is a university. For those who have come to know GOd, the whole world is a prayer mat. ~ M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

I recently ran across a story about a Native American tribal leader descibing his own inner struggles. He said, “There are two dogs inside me. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The otherdog is good. Th mean dog fights the good dog all the time.” Someone aske him which dog usually wins, and after a moemnt’s reflection, he answered. “The one I feed the most.” ~ Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Meditation practive is regarded as a good and in fact excellent way to overcome warfare in the world: our own warfare as well as greater warfare. ~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Why Gay Guys Are a Girl’s Best Friend

by Jeff Fessler, Karen Rauch

This is a thin 100-page illustration of fifty reasons why gay guy are truly a girl’s best friends.

“A gay guy sends flowers just because you are you.
A straight guy sends flowers when he has screwed up big-time.

A gay guy hugs you to show he cares.
A straight guy hugs you to determine if your bra is front- or back-opening.

A gay guy’s reaction when you have PMS? Plenty of sympahty and an endless supply of Ben & Jerry’s.
A straight guy’s reaction to your PMS: Call me when you snap out of it.”

A laugh-out-loud quick read that I enjoyed sharing with my husband (who now declared Ben & Jerry’s to be ice cream for gays and chicks.) I don’t have any gay buddies to attest to the truth of these pearls of wisdom but at least the straight guy parts are spot on.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate

by Felicity Lawrence

This book is written by a British author, and while I have read plenty of books about the sad state of our food industry: unsustainable industrial farming, farm animal abuse, illegal immigrant workers, harmful addictives, obesity crisis, food mileage, and so forth, I figure it would be interesting to read about the same issues from a different perspective.

In some way, you can call it “comforting” to know that we Americans don’t face these problems alone. Nonetheless, in some way I have, like many Americans, a more picturesque image of Europe. We think of the French, the Italian and the Spanish cuisine when we hear the word gourmet… excellent wine from vineyards older than our country, homemade dishes prepared for hours by loving matriachs, farmers markets selling the freshest pick of the season, rustic bread from brick ovens, lunch and dinner enjoyed at a leisurely pace. It is therefore, a sad and rude awakening to know that the pasture is not that much greener on the other side of the pond.

This book is however much better than I thought, and I gleamed a lot of new knowledge. When it started out with the meat processing plant and undocumented labor, I was like, oh yeah, I read that ten million times already (though American’s labor is from South America, not Eastern Europe and Middle East), but after that it was one eye-opener after the next. For example:

Chicken meat can be “beefed up” with hydrolyzed beef protein (make from cow waste) so it can hold up to 50% water in weight, though latest technology can break up the bovine protein so much that DNA testing may not reveal its presence. Some chicken nuggets were found to be made up of as little as 16% chicken, and a good portion of that from chicken skin and mechanically recovered meat.

In prepacked salad leaves using modified atmosphere packaging to increase shelf life, the chemcial used to disinfect the leaves may cause cancer, not to mention that a study found that people who eat these salad leaves show no increase in antioxidants in their blood sample, compare to a control group who ate regular lettuce leaves.

In 2002 the British grocery retailers accounted for nearly 1 billion kilometers of food transportation. And England is no bigger than a small state in size! It’s too mind boggling to even begin to do the math for the United States. No wonder it’s said that eating local helps save the environment a lot more than driving less.

Traditional bread baking requires the dough to be left to ferment and prove over extended periods. In industrial baking, they incorporate air and water into the dough with intense energy at high speed, and by adding chemical oxidants (to get the gas in), higher level of salt (as there is no time to develop flavor as in traditional dough fermentation) and hydrogenated fat (to provide structure) they save time, labor, and have higher yield (usually it contains 8% more water than bread made from traditional method). It is however found that the traditional fermentation allows the wheat to become digestible, and modern methods of baking bread may be the cuplit for increased cases of gluten allergies.

In the chapter titled Apples and Bananas, the book mentioned how fruits and vegetables are not selected for their flavors. An apple has to go through a “beauty parade”. A machine has cameras to take up t seventy pictures of each apple as it passe along a conveyor belt to grade it by size and color. If the specs call for 15-17% blush red on green, an apple that is 18% or 14% red will be rejected, and end up either as fruit juice or just go to waste. Another machine, the penetrometer, will measure the firmness of the fruit. A buyer told a farmer that while his apples taste great, they don’t pass the test, and so the fruits are rejected. To measure up to the ripeness requirement will mean fruits that are picked too early.

The narrow specifications also mean that plenty of food go to waste if they don’t measure up to the standards. For every 30 tonnes of carrots harvested, just 10 tonnes are used. Only 35% of green beans meet the supermarket grade: they may be curved, too long, too short, too thick, or too thin. The high cosmetic standards also require heavy use of chemicals to achieve.

The part about coffee planters make me especially sad. The farmer kept thinking that the translator made a mistake as he couldn’t fathom how a product he sells for 200 Ugandan shillings a kilo can end up in a London cafe for 5000 shillings a cup. Meanwhile, he couldn’t pay the 5000 shillings needed for medicines for his children with malaria, and his children have to drop out of school when he couldn’t pay tuition, dashing any hope that the next generation can get educated and move out of poverty.

I kept reading it to my hubby till he complained that his appetite was totally ruined. I read it to several coworkers (during lunch time no less)… Really a good book worth sharing.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

by Thich Nhat Hanh

I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, because its so beautiful in its simplicity, and so universal and trans-religion in its teaching. This is a short book, so it’s great for re-reading.

The book begins with a short Buddhist explanation on the four components of love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and freedom, and he offers examples for us to self examine our love to see how true it is. There are also practices such as meditation, mantras and breathing exercise.

One interesting exercise is telephone meditation. Whenever the phone rings, take it as the bell in a meditation. Draw a few breathes to center and calm the mind before answering. Very simple to do and it most certainly helps one reach a calmer and more focused state.

Another concept that really stays with me is “I think, therefore I am not here.” A lot of time we worry about the future, about the past, about things far away, and ignore what is here and present with us. We may hear but not listen to the person we are talking with face to face. We do not notice things on the path we walk, we are not aware of what we are eating, because our mind is somewhere else. This little twist on Descartes’ famous words is a wonderful way to remind ourselves to be more present and mindful, to be more fully immersed in our lives, so that we can respect the people we interact with, appreciate the food we intake, and experience our life. Whenever we find ourselves thinking too much, our mind too scattered, it’s worth repeating these words, to bring ourselves back to where we belong.

Published in: on May 30, 2009 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment