Archive for November, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Sacred Commerce – Business as a Path of Awakening

This review is part of the Green Books campaign . Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a  a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website .

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FTC Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy to review this book, but promise that my opinions did not change given this fact. I will gladly send it to you next if you want to read it!

I chose to review Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path of Awakening (by Matthew & Terces Engelhart) because it was a book about business – about how what you do to make money is more than rote sustenance.  As a 20-something entering the workforce during a recession, I can’t help but be fascinated by jobs and vocations and livings and lives. The Engelharts are spouses and business partners, and own four Café Gratitude locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first was opened at 20th and Harrison in San Francisco’s Mission District. This book is written for fellow entrepreneurs hoping to start a business while focusing on a quadruple bottom line: economy, environment, community, and “spiritual awakening.”

“Sacred Commerce” is a concept created and written about by Ayman Sawaf and Rowan Gabrielle, and their original book inspired the Engelharts in the early days of their business. The Engelhart riff on the theme – Sacred Commerce – Business as a Path of Awakening blends quotations from famous religious and political figures (Rumi to St. Francis of Assisi to Gandhi) with the couple’s business philosophy and anecdotes from their experience to provide either an instruction manual or a manifesto – or both – for doing business that honors people’s lives.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m instantly skeptical of anything New Age. But the trouble with this book is that it has a lot of really great ideas and compelling stories that make it hard to write off completely. As soon as I was ready to throw the book and its New Agey lingo across the room, I’d come across a lovely, gentle idea, a lot quieter than the trumpeted quasi-religio-psychology that fills most of the chapters. Your expectations affect your perception of reality. Gossip doesn’t help anybody. Listen by acknowledging, not by trying to fix the problem, when all somebody wants is to be heard. We all want to give and receive love and approval. These are truisms we can all stand to hear again. I like how the book talks about the power of the community – Megan Marie Brien, an employee, wrote quite movingly in the book’s forward about her struggles with MS and the ways in which her work at Café Gratitude helped her cope and move on with her life in a positive way.

The book does not seem to have a natural progression through its many chapters, with practical mini-chapters thrown in in the last few pages almost as afterthoughts. Oh yeah! These are instructions for how we play games to help people get their work done! The pacing is uneven, with drudgery before page 30 and after page 60, with regular punctuation by bulleted lists and text boxes and even what seems to be a glossary smack dab in the middle of the book from pages 54 – 60. But there are pearls of wisdom sprinkled throughout – and certainly they are more pleasingly strung together if you are fluent in New Age thought and language.

And the book’s tone is aggressively New Agey. I couldn’t relax into reading it, what with its regular invocations of deities I did not understand – “Oneness” and “Hungry Ghost” were central characters in a book that I had hoped would be mostly about ordinary people. Matthew Engelhart begins by making some assumptions about his readers: “The word ‘spiritual’ may alienate some of you, since a material god requires that we scoff at alternatives and doubt the practicality and sense of those who propose them.” Well, page 2 and I’m alienated. Oh, or maybe that’s my “materialistic egotistical self resisting Love” talking?

But you plow through a few more chapters and you get to the good stuff. My favorite chapter is the fourth chapter, a how-to guide for “Clearing.” It’s a business process akin to a Catholic confessional slash summer camp check-in turned staff meeting. It’s an elegant concept – since your employees will be serving others all day long, take a moment to check in with them and see what’s on their minds. It’s in a section written by Terces Englehart, and it reads like practical big sisterly advice. Cafe Gratitude spends an estimated $230,000 in time clearing employees for their days at work, but they find it adds value in the quality of service as well as the quality of lives of their employees to make it worth it.

And as for the physical aspects – why North Atlantic Books chose to offer a review copy to the Green Books Campaign – the book’s pages are printed on 100% recycled paper! I would not have known had I not been told. No speckly flecks. No gray dinge. No phone book feel. Nothing to differentiate it from an ordinary book. Even the pages that infuriated me with their words delighted me with their feel. I’m not sure what percentage of the book is printed on post-consumer recycled paper, but I applaud the step in the right direction, at least.

My take: you can probably get a healthy dose of this same wisdom from your friendly neighborhood SCORE office, but if you are a fan of New Age this is a pretty good blend of philosophy with pragmatism: one section recommends setting an alarm clock to go off randomly, and then the next person who orders gets their order free because it reminds you how great it is to give. I think all of us can find something to like about that idea!

If you are excited to read this book, leave me a comment! I’ll send my review copy to the first person who asks for it.

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“Next week, your lucky color will be green.” — Fortune Cookie I Ate This Morning

My mom, dad, and boss have now all told me they’ve found my blog. Hi everybody! I promise not to say anything embarrassing, or politically incendiary! (Except that I’m super-duper excited that Vallay Moua Varro won the St. Paul School Board special election on Tuesday! But that’s not incendiary, that’s just exciting. Unless you’re Pat Igo.)

So, after much ado, we have downsized successfully! Well, sort of. We’re done with the furniture part of moving, at least, and have made dozens of trips to Goodwill and Half Price Books (three duffel bags full = $20 cash!). The whole house makes more sense. No more drafty walls. No more broken windows. No more $170 Xcel bills. No more random crap we never use. Well… or at least, less random crap we never use.

One of the joys of living in Lowertown that I hadn’t anticipated: I can walk to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market and buy bread, cheese, eggs, and any number of amazing fruits and vegetables (squash! cranberries! hello Thanksgiving!). Oh, and cups of Peace Coffee for $1.75. Did I mention coffee? I don’t know why I wasn’t counting this as a huge benefit to living here. I was fretting a little bit over grocery shopping – the closest grocery store is across the river in the west side – but now am excited about the produce literally at my front door. It’s open both in the summer and in the winter! Awesome!

Speaking of awesome, walking to work on the skyways is freaking awesome. I worked from home yesterday to take care of my boyfriend, who had his wisdom teeth out… (I am happy I took care of this as a young and fearless 17-year-old. And am doubly happy I was able to be unconscious. Ugggh.). I walked 5 minutes to get my laptop from my office, then walked back over in the afternoon for a meeting… I didn’t have to pay for parking or wait for the bus. I don’t know how possible it will be for me to live near where I work for the rest of my life, but this convenience is going to be tough to give up. Commuting is a waste of life!

Although.. I confess. I do miss the bus. Tons of busses go right by our living room windows and I can’t help but try to see who is riding and wonder if they’re talking to each other and what they’re saying. What stories will I have to tell from my commute now? Apart from the drunk guy passed out in Park Square Court on Sunday, I haven’t had anything interesting happen between home and work yet. No old man on the bus telling every woman, “You’re gorgeous,  you’re gorgeous, your gorgeous,” no overhearing teachers agreeing to buy cigarettes for their 14-year-old students, no getting stuck in the snow trying to get a several ton bus up the hill on John Ireland (funnest day of bus riding EVER, when all 30 of us on the bus ran from one stuck 21 to the other in 4′ high snow right outside the Cathedral). And certainly no more commuter friends, like Ecolab woman and pretty quilted purse woman and tall silent newspaper man. I do feel wistful. I’m not even being sarcastic. But one thing’s for sure: I will NOT miss grumpy Santa Claus, the white haired bearded driver of the 7:44 65.

And there have been so few green jobs posted in the last week that I’ll just include them here, as an awkward appendage to this entry:

Dodge Nature Center

Environmental Education Intern ($145/wk, 20 hours/wk, West St. Paul)

University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Adult Education Coordinator ($45-52k/yr, Chaska)

And now, I am going back outside to enjoy the fantastic weather! By which I mean, going to go continue moving the rest of our stuff. Have a great weekend, everybody!

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