July, 2011
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 Recommended reading

Finding your own North Star - Martha Beck

Bible verses for July

"The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop."
Luke 8:14-15



 Saying of the month

"Summer afternoon - Summer afternoon... the two most beautiful words in the English language."
-   Henry James


Bible verses for July


Saying of the month


Reading recommendation


Be sure to use alternatives to chlorine bleach


Ten books for lifetime reading
Color therapy can hlep you reject consumerism
"From scratch" recipe of the month  - Creamed Cabbage and Potato Soup



Everyone seems to agree that disinfecting around the house and having whites clothes white are good things. Right? We used to use clorox or other chlorine bleach products to keep things white and clean. But, the news is out that chlorine bleach is not a safe product. Yes, your mother (and your grandmother) probably used it - as did most of us because we thought it was necessary. But don't continue to be fooled -chlorine bleach is a highly poisonous substance! It is a respiratory irritant and when mixed with other common household products, gives off a toxic gas. Chlorine exposure can harm your skin, eyes, and teeth and has been linked to birth defects. Yet it’s one of the most used chemicals - in drinking water, swimming pools, plastics, textiles, insecticides, paints, building materials, household cleaning products, and in white paper products (wood pulp is bleached to make paper).

Chlorine bleach is very hazardous to the environment. There are unintended byproducts of chlorine use (organochlorines and dioxins), and these do not break down readily and therefore bio-accumulate in our waste streams and eventually get into our rivers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found dioxin, a toxic byproduct of chlorine, to be 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT. Yet chlorine bleach continues to be used, despite its dangers because it’s a cheap disinfectant to manufacture. Currently environmental groups are calling on manufacturers and government officials to ban the use of chlorine in all products. In response to these dangers, a number of important companies have begun to remove the use of chlorine and chlorine based plastics from their products.

There is also something that you and I can do. We can limit our use of this dangerous chemical by using chlorine bleach alternatives in our homes. Read the labels on the products on your cleaning shelf. Besides the bottle of bleach itself, you should check into chlorine use in automatic dishwashing detergents, chlorinated disinfectant cleaners, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners.

The good news is that there are some good, inexpensive alternatives to use instead of chlorinated products. And many of these alternatives are a lot more eco-friendly.

If you want white, sweet smelling clothes, line dry your clothes in the sun. The UV’s in the sunshine are great for disinfecting and whitening your clothes. Also, half a cup of vinegar or borax in the laundry will brighten whites and colors and are good fabric softeners.

You can also make your own laundry soap at home. All you need is some borax, washing soda, and bar soap. It’s eco-friendly and can be made at a fraction of the cost of commercial products. You can find out how to make it with a search on the Internet.

Got stains on your clothes -- some will lift off when soaked in a half-bucket of cold water with a quarter cup of salt. Others can be treated with a paste of bicarbonate of soda or with a spray of full-strength hydrogen peroxide. And don’t worry about rinsing out these pre-treated items, they can safely be added to your regular wash. You can also use hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and vinegar for kitchen, bathroom and general cleanup around the house.

If you don’t have time for these kinds of alternatives, there are a number of commercial cleaning and clothes washing products without chlorine bleach. These are made with biodegradable, non-toxic, and 100% natural ingredients, and many don’t cost more than the chlorinated products. So spend a few moments looking at product labels and choose non-chlorine products that are also free of other worrisome ingredients like  perfumes, phosphates, enzymes and petroleum.


 One of the problems with modern society is the amount of information that comes our way, day and night. There's just too much of it, out there. And, it is important to step back a bit and consider this situation. In particular, I want to point out that there is a world of difference between information and knowledge. We don't get knowledge by tuning into our favorite news program or listening to political pundits. No doubt we can occasionally get some useful news from these sources, but how it mostly serves us is to reaffirm to ourselves and comment to others about what’s going on in our world -- whether or not what we heard and repeat is true.

What can bring knowledge to our existence are actual people around us, day-to-day and -- yes, and just as in the past -- books. Even in these days of 24-7 Internet access and TV programming, books continue to be the real deal. Books, good books, beckon to us -- to put our feet up and read, quieting out all that uproar that characterizes our daily life, and permit us an hour or so of reflection on ideas. Some of the ideas from these books have changed our lives at some point or, in the case of a very few books, are the ones that we go back to and reread one or more times.

Here's a scenario for you.
You have found out that you are going to be on an island for the rest of your life - far from the cares of our early 21st century culture. Let's say that the island provides your basic necessities - coconuts, fish, fruits, and root vegetables, and that there are no enemies or large wild animals running around. So, you will be able to sit, reflect, and meditate as much as you like. Also, there is a community of people on the island, some like you and others a bit different. So, even on your island, you haven't escaped your interaction and duties to your fellow islanders.

Well, luckily you knew you were going to take this final trip and took a few essentials with you. Among the things that you took are some books. Unfortunately, you were only permitted one trunk with everything that could be carried to your island. So, there was room for only 10 books. You know that there will be no more opportunities to buy or obtain books.

So, under the conditions outlined above, here's my challenge to you today. What 10 books would you want to take with you to your island home?

The 10 books you carry with you, should be stories, essays or poems, or collections that have intrinsic value. They should have shaped or be capable of shaping the way you think and how you live. And since, in this challenge, you won't ever be returning to the place where you are now, where there are any number of bookstores and book clubs, you need to have chosen the very best. So, the knowledge, the impact or the inspiration of these books has to be universal. It needs to be just as useful in your new existence on an island, as it was in your busier former life.

My search for lifetime books
I spent some time on the Internet, reading the lists of life changing books of many people - the famous and not so famous, the well educated and not so well educated. There were a lot of lists of top 100 books, and a lot of different books were mentioned.


When I thought up this scenario, I felt confident that I could choose my list of 10 books easily. But, when I tried to come up with a list, I realized that this was a tough challenge. To choose just a few great books, those that most have influenced my ideas, took a lot of reflection. However, I came up with a list. I've decided to share with you a few of the books that have shaped the way I think, and helped me to grow as a spiritual and social being. Without any reservation, I would highly recommend all of them to you.

Sifting through the rubbish is fairly easy, but settling on only ten books of perhaps a hundred or more excellent ones is a real test. But here's my first try at ten books. These are the books, and not necessarily in order, that have really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. They have broadened my view or the world, and I hope to reread all of them again – some again and again -- before I close my eyes a final time.

My list of ten
First and foremost is the Bible. It represents my faith. It has to be with me wherever I go. Through it, I find knowledge of God's plan for humankind and for me, personally. It offers me comfort and strength.

What follows are nine others of great merit, at least in my life, and I believe would be invaluable, being read again and again in my “island home”.

Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda

To Be Human, Jiddu Krishnamurti

Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin.

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, James Lovelock.

The Life of Mahatma Ghandi, Louis Fischer

Travels in Alaska, John Muir

A Simple Path, Mother Teresa

Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe

The Dhammapada, Eknath Easwaran (translation)

(Note: Those are the ones that that have had a great impact on me, and I thought of them right away. Of course, there are many other books that could have been in my list. but for the moment these are the most marvelous books that make it worthwhile for me to be alive on the earth at this time.  



Many times I have encouraged others to do what I try to do – reject consumerism and celebrate a more traditional and enduring way of life. Our society is all about mindless materialism, and it’s not easy to combat that toxic influence in our homes and our workspaces. We are constantly told, through the mass media, that real success for modern people involves having big homes, fancy cars, expensive restaurants, exciting night-life, and exotic vacations. (Wait, just a minute... that formula for success doesn't include at least 95% of us! What about the rest of us?)

We need tools to overcome the forces that urge us to define ourselves through consumer activity. We need ways to define our own values and get the strength to pursue our own personal causes. My search for strength-building tools led me to read about color therapy. I found out something that I already felt deeply - that colors have a symbolic or subconscious meaning, and that we can change our lives by surrounding ourselves with certain colors. It also worth noting that color therapy is totally in line with feng shui principles.

Recently, I wrote a blog about how I edited my wardrobe to include only black, blue, and white items. My wardrobe-editing venture allowed me to limit the total number of pieces in my closet and drawers to 40 items. When I chose clothes in these colors, I had 3 objectives: 1) practicality (I already owned a lot of clothes in these colors), 2) versatility (shades that were “primary” colors - weren’t tones of the same colors and were harmonious together), and 3) “felt right” - when I’m wearing these colors I tend to feel confident and at ease. After successfully reducing my wardrobe to three colors, I considered limiting the colors that appear in my home.

My research into color therapy reinforced some of my ideas. I discovered that a focus on blue-and-white is a very positive influence in my life. And, it's actually helpful to me in redefining my personal goals. When I see blue-and-white around me in my personal space, I feel harmony and confidence. My home and I are complete and because of this, I have no need to accumulate a lot of gadgets and toys. The repetition of blue-and-white makes my home truly my sanctuary – where I find meaningful work, meditation and simple pleasures.

You might ask: Why blue and white? Why not blue-and-green or red-and-white or some other combination? My research in color therapy has shown that the combination of blue and white is a very special one that represents simplicity, sensibility, and aesthetics.

Our pro-high-tech, consumerist society is plagued with industrial chrome, plastic grays and glossy black, colors which reinforce human-inspired activity and complexity. Bright chrome, plastic grays and glossy black are not found in nature. To achieve harmony and simplicity of spirit, we need to rediscover the colors of our natural world. The combination of blue and white can help us rediscover our true roots in nature. The blue signifies blue sky and the sea and symbolizes fidelity (as in true blue) and serenity. White is the color of clouds, stars, and candle light and stands for purity, new beginnings, and unity. When combined, blue-and-white creates a sense of completeness and aesthetic harmony.

Personally, I have always been drawn to traditional Japanese home decoration and applaud their simple and dignified homes. The combination of blue-and-white is a part of Japan’s sense of beauty and, over the centuries, has been a great inspiration for Japanese crafts, arts, and house decoration. But, of course, the Japanese aren’t the only people to emphasize blue and white, and the folk art of many countries has a blue-and-white tradition. 

I want my home to celebrate the blue-and-white tradition. I want the bulk of the things I acquire, make, and display in my home to include these colors. I’m aware that this process will take a long time. I can’t just throw out or give away a lot of things in my home just because they aren’t white or blue. What I’ve done up to now is add some blue-and-white things to my home – for example, a bedspread, some sheets, a tablecloth, napkins, dishes, and small accessories. The change to blue-and-white will be somewhat slow - a few things now and some later – as, over time, I choose what I buy and make for my home. (As you might imagine, I'm also emphasizing natural materials - wood, stone, cotton, linen, ceramics, and etc.- in my home.)

Try out the power of blue-and-white in your home decoration and see if it doesn’t help you to have a more complete and harmonious home. Choosing these colors should also help you find the strength to follow your causes, including, hopefully, the rejection of consumerism. (It goes without saying that you mustn’t let your color choice be a reason to do more mindless shopping!) Obviously, domestic peace and harmony depends on a little more than house decoration. You must also simplify, de-clutter and clean your home.


Creamed Cabbage and Potato Soup

(preparation in less than an hour)
1 medium onion
2 cloves of crushed
3 lbs. cabbage, shredded
- Optional: 1 diced carrot or small squash
1 large diced potato
3/4 quart of vegetable or chicken stock
1 TPS apple cider vinegar
2 TBS olive oil or butter
1 cup or more of soymilk, evaporated milk or half cream, according to your taste

- Sauté the onion, cabbage, and garlic in olive oil in a large pot until all the veggies are translucent but don't allow them to brown.
- Add the stock, potato and any other veggies to the pot and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Blend the contents and return them to the pot.
- Add the milk or cream to thin it to the consistency you like.
(The cooked, unblended or pressed veggies can also be the basis for another sort of creamed cabbage soup, but, of course, the texture and taste will be different.)
- Reheat the soup for 10 minutes.
- Serve the soup in bowls topped off with any combination of: sour cream, parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, cilantro, toasted peanuts, sliced almonds, pine nuts or soy nuts. With a bowl of rice or whole-grain bread, you’ll have a satisfying meal. Serves 4 – 6 people.

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