Book summary of: Mistakes I made at work or “Living is a practice of learning to make better mistakes”

I hinted a friend to give this book for my birthday because I have no limits on the number of books I can buy for me to eventually read. This was an inexpensive paperback and sounded interesting when I heard of it on a podcast! After reading this book which I so LOVED and so HIGHLY RECOMMEND I feel I should listen to more podcasts to discover such gems.

The book basically interviews famous women professionals who you would have heard of but maybe not known their backgrounds. Each professional has wonderful life lessons to share. So here’s my summary of it

Laurel Toby: the freelance writers who sold her online media company, Mediabistro, for $23 million. Her first job almost fired her for being herself. Her tips include:

  1. Wherever you are, whatever job you take, you always want to be working on skills you can take with you.
  2. Know yourself, and don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to shove down your personality if you have too much personality for the corporate environment.
  3. Even in your own business you have to deal with office politics because you are managing people.

Rachel Simmons: An author, educator and coach helping girls and young women grow into authentic, emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.  She is also the author of “Odd Girl Out”, which was on Oprah a week after being published.Her tips to embrace failure were:

  1. Listen to your “internal voice”, listen to it now before you get in too deep.
  2. Life is not a game that you always need to be winning.
  3. Don’t privilege how you appear to others over how you feel inside.

Corinna Lathan:  Is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Board Chair of AnthroTronix, Inc., a woman-owned biomedical engineering research and development company creating diverse products in robotics, digital health, wearable technology, and augmented reality. I loved her profile and write up. She wrote-

  1. Even if you do advanced studies within an academic field, it doesn’t mean you have to go into academia.
  2. Taking risks is hard; so think of the ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ Failure doesn’t have to define you.
  3. Value your mess-ups and mistakes a little more and see them as part of the process of developing.

Lani Guinier- She became the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship at the Harvard Law School. Her tips for success at failing include:

  1. Sometimes it takes the wrong job to realize what’s a good fit for you.
  2. Sometimes being comfortable in a place isn’t good enough a reason to stay there. It’s okay to take risks.

Ileana Jimenez- For nearly 20 years, Ileana Jiménez has been a leader in the field of feminist and social justice education. In an effort to inspire teachers to bring intersectional feminism to the K-12 classroom, she launched her blog, Feminist Teacher, in 2009.  Her life lessons learnt through failure:

  1. If you are someone for whom it’s important to have your personal and political values align with those of your workplace, then take the time to find the right workplace.
  2. Being a whole person at work is crucial for feeling affirmed and productive.

Lisa Lutz- She is the New York Times bestselling author of nine novels who never even earned a Bachelor’s degree. Lessons she’s learned:

  1. Be flexible in thinking about how to use your talents.
  2. Prepare for public speaking events. If you don’t know how to work a crowd, then get help.
  3. It’s easier going through life being honest and owning up your to your less-than qualities than faking it.

Kim Gordon: She started a band Sonic Youth with her former husband. She became  a role model for young girls and later young men who wanted to create music of an untested nature. This is what wisdom she has to share:

  1. My favorite: Even when you are certain of your path from a young age, it’s good to be open to opportunities. And to the idea that having a career doesn’t have to mean doing one thing for the rest of your life.
  2. Know and remember that almost no one ends up following the straight line of starting life with a certain idea and following it through.
  3. Work-life balance may not be an attainable goal for all. If you are immersed in work and raising a family, you might feel a lot of good things. But it may not include “balance.”

Reshma Saujani: She is an American lawyer and politician. She is the founder of the tech organization Girls Who Code. Saujani was the first Indian-American woman (and the first South Asian American woman) to run for Congress. Her thoughts on failure include:

  1. Failures are hard on the soul, and there needs to be time given and steps taken to recover physically and emotionally from it.
  2. Take control of the story you want to tell about yourself.
  3. Find a way to work towards a goal, even if its not the way you thought it would be.

Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir WILD. I never read Wild but I have read Dear Sugar and found it useful to say the least.  Here are some of her jewels:

  1. Being a writer means failing every day. it means following the wrong path to find the right one.
  2. Feedback is scary but it makes your work better
  3. Spend time figuring out what is ideal for you, not what others expect of you.

Danielle OfriDanielle Ofri, MD, PhD, is a physician at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in country, and associate professor of medicine at NYU. She writes about medicine for the New York Times etc. I really loved her chapter. It was very heart felt and I could relate to it especially since I work at NYU SOM now. Here’s what she said:

  1. You and your bad decisions are two separate things
  2. Even when you are in charge, you can ask colleagues for their opinions.
  3. You don’t need to be the model of perfection to be good at your job.

Joanna Barsh: She is the director Emerita at McKinsey & Company. She is also the best-selling author of “How Remarkable Women Lead.” Her lessons were imparted through very memorable stories from the early days of career. Her tips include:

  1. If you are creative person, know that some tasks require sticking with the facts.
  2. If you don’t know what you want in terms of a career, focus on learning a skill.
  3. Always state what’s good and working before stating bad news that requires major changes.

Alina Tugend: Her first bookBetter by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, (2011) developed out of one of her Times’ columns. It has been widely praised and recommended by all. Being an authority in making mistakes, she says:

  1. Even when you are grateful to have that first job, it’s still a good idea to negotiate.
  2. It never hurts to ask. Allow for silence after you ask. It’s a powerful tool.
  3. Asking for money can be easier over e-mail.

Selena Rezvani: She is a recognized author, speaker, and consultant on leadership. Her tips to succeed in life include:

  1. Embrace challenges. Usually people don’t expect you to do something perfect the first time around.
  2. At work if you find yourself asking for a new kind of policy, then ask for it. Make a good solid proposal.
  3. Failing is sometimes the only way forward. Learning through experience is key.

Carla Harris: It’s hard to describe her in one line as she is successful in so many things and therefore has multiple identities. She’s a successful career professional, author and singer. Her ‘pearls of wisdom’ for all include:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  2. If you make a big public mistake, then own it in a big public way.
  3. Rarely is a mistake fatal. So ask yourself- How did I get here? What lessons did I learn? Learn and then move on.

Anna HolmesAnna Holmes is an award-winning writer and editor who has worked with numerous publications. In 2007, she created the popular website Jezebel.com, which helped to revolutionize popular discussions around the intersections of gender, race and culture. I liked her piece a lot too and here’s what she said:

  1. Whether you are part of the “cool kid’s club” or not- are not indicative of your wrorth.
  2. Do take risks if it’s financially feasible.
  3. Take care of yourself- both professionally and at home. Prioritize your needs a little more.

Luma MuflehShe cobbled together a team, called the Fugees, over a decade ago. At first, she was involved in their lives as their coach but realized that coaching would necessarily extend beyond the soccer field. I found her life story very very inspiring. Here are her tips:

  1. Remember what got you here in the first place.
  2.  You have to remember that at some point you will have career struggles.
  3. Don’t compare your life to others; life is about doing what you love.

Ruth Reichl: She didn’t have a career in food.  Yet her belief in herself and not pursuing what she didn’t like led her to publish her first cookbook at 22. Till the recent past, she was a food critic for LA Times. She says:

  1. It’s very tempting to settle for security. But don’t settle.
  2. Doing work that you love can inspire others to do the same.
  3.  Get the broadest education you can.

Sharon Pomerantz: Hers is possibly one of the most inspiring stories. Her courage in working in a bad job and then finally quitting one day after she had given it enough of a try and sticking to her passion of writing. Her old boss told her she would never be a success at anything. Yet..here’s her story and shares:

  1. Be brave enough to define your own future instead of letting a bad job define you
  2. Do what you can to not feel powerless and alone in a bad job

Judith Warner: She is best known for her 2005 New York Times best-seller. She speaks frequently on women’s issues and children’s mental health, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and children. Her sage advice includes:

  1. Don’t let a difficult work situation stop you from getting the most you can out of the experience.
  2. When a blow comes your way, you don’t have to lie down and die.
  3. Be open to external validations that come from sources outside the usual ones.

Rinku Sen: A visionary and a pragmatist, Sen is one of the leading voices in the racial justice movement, building upon the legacy of civil rights by transforming the way we talk about race. Her life lessons teach us that:

  1. Resistance from colleagues is not the same as “no”
  2. Listen to other people without overinternalizing their resistance to your ideas
  3. We don’t control everything and not everybody will love us. It’s part of taking risks and doing the work.

Shirley Malcom: Education administrator and science education advocate Shirley has done her fair part and more in life in promoting STEM education for all genders and all races. Here’s what she learnt from her lifetime of work and achievements:

  1. If you take a break from schooling and plan to return, do it before you get bogged down from other life demands.
  2. The respect of collegues can bring its own set of issues. You may choose to ignore or ask them directly.
  3. Don’t take a no for an answer just because it hasn’t been done before. Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer.

Ruth Ozeki: Ruth has 3 careers worth of experience, an author, a TV producer, and a buddhist priest. Her wise words include the following:

  1. Procrastination is not a good strategy for coping with perfectionism. Better to do, make a mistake and do it again than to never try.
  2. The art of bringing anything into this world and making it real,  means bringing it from the state of absolute perfection in your mind to a state of relative imperfection in reality. (possibly my second favorite one!)
  3. It is only through the making of mistakes we are able to live a creative life.

Courtney E. MartinCourtney has two lifelong obsessions: storytelling and solutions. She has been called “one of our most insightful culture critics and one of our finest young writers. I have watched and loved her TED talk. Just watch that instead.

J. Courtney Sullivan: She is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels CommencementMaine andThe Engagements. Her stories and life shares include:

  1. Always say Yes to new opportunities.
  2. Keep in touch with people and be kind and generous.

Carol S. Dweck: She is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. According to her:

  1. Developing a ‘growth mindset’ can help sustain you when you are taking risks at work. It makes you understand that mistakes and setbacks are an essential part of learning.
  2. In order to grow into the person we want to be, we need to let go of our need for constant validation

I hope you will benefit from this blog piece because I really did

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Looking for my “moai” Book summary of The Blue Zone Solutions

I was jealous when I read Dan Buettner’s book- “The Blue Zone Solutions”. The one thing he mentions in his book too as a key ingredient(and I instinct-fully knew too) to a successful life was something that had always proved elusive to me. But, let me assure you there are many benefits to reading the book (and therefore this summary)

But, let me assure you-jealousy was not the only emotion I felt reading this book. There are many benefits to reading the book (and therefore this summary). So let’s start-

According to this lovely NYT times article,  “The Blue Zones Solution,” takes a deep dive into five places around the world where people have a beguiling habit of forgetting to die. Each of these areas in the world is called a blue zone. Why? I believe it’s because blue is a symbol for water and water is a symbol for life and it’s also very calming; another key ingredient for a long life.

The five blue zones are as follows:

  • The Italian island of Sardinia: residents of this area are culturally isolated, and they have kept to a very traditional, healthy lifestyle. They still hunt, fish and harvest the food they eat. They remain close with friends and family throughout their lives. They laugh and drink wine together.
  • Okinawa, JapanOkinawans have less cancer, heart disease, and dementia than Americans, and women there live longer than any women on the planet.Perhaps their greatest secret is a strong dedication to friends and family. They maintain a powerful social network called a “moai,” a lifelong circle of friends that support people well into old age. Okinawans also have a strong sense of purpose in life, a driving force that the Japanese call “ikigai.
  • Loma Linda, California: They live as much as a decade longer than the rest of us, and much of their longevity can be attributed to vegetarianism and regular exercise. Plus, Adventists don’t smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula: The Caribbean nation is economically secure and has excellent health care. But besides this, they live longer because of “plan de vida,” or reason to live. Another is a focus on family and a special ability to listen and laugh.
  • Ikaria, an isolated Greek island: Today, Ikarians are almost entirely free of dementia; one in three makes it to their 90s. A combination of factors explains it, including geography, culture, diet, lifestyle, and outlook. They enjoy strong red wine, late-night domino games and relaxed pace of life that ignores clocks. Clean air, warm breezes, and rugged terrain draw them outdoors into an active lifestyle. Also family and friends are a priority.

The secrets of longevity they practice and we are recommended to for a healthy AND happy life are as follows. They are collectively called using the Power 9®.

  1. Move Naturally-  This means making movement a something you don’t need to make time for (such as a gym) but something that happens more each day without thinking about it. Examples of this are-participate in nearby activities, enjoy an active commute or easily walk to restaurants.
  2. Wine @5- People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly.  Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day, with friends and/or with food.
  3. Connect/Belong– This means physically to a few vs. virtually to more than many.The people we surround ourselves with strongly influence our health.  They recommend-belong to live long.

  4. Right outlook- This is very hard to do till it’s done. I am still struggling with this one (on the professional front).Finding a reason to wake up can help us live up to seven good years longer. I plan to check out purpose guru, Richard Leider’s website to work on this power.
  5. “Hara hachibu”-eat till 80% full  – the Okinawan, stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day. This one I try and work on daily; many days I fail, some days I succeed.
  6. Plant based diet: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork, and in very small portions—is eaten on average only five times per month. Eat less dairy too but eat more home cooked meals.
  7. Downshift- Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
  8. Right tribe: All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community.  Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
  9. Loved ones first: Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home.They commit to a life partner and invest in their children with time and love.

My additional few words and thoughts on this book:

The book obviously is very well written and has a lot more tips than I mention here but my purpose in writing this summary is first- to introduce the book and concept to those who may have not heard about it and second- to give a 1000 foot highlight of what it’s all about. The reason why I titled this blog the way I did is because even if we follow all the better eating guidelines; getting lifelong friends and family in our today’s world has become truly rare and yes just as essential. I would feel very blessed if I had my own ‘moai’ and if you do, so should you!

 

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Book review and somewhat summary: Straight talk on investment by Jack Brennan

The book is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1 Master the Basics
  • Part 2 Construct a Sensible
  • Part 3 Manage your investment with Focus and Discipline
  • Portfolio Part 4 Stay on Course

The first six chapters are an easy breeze and I didn’t feel there was anything worth repeating or summarizing. Chapter 7 onwards, I wish everyone could read, learn, invest. Since it’s a wish that I can’t fulfil, here’s the next best thing; some of my takeaways that I believe is important to revisit every so often.

Investment Horizon:
Two general rules of thumb apply

  1. For an investment horizon of less than 5 years, don’t invest in stocks. That’s because of volatility risk.
  2. For a long time-horizon of 20 or more years, invest a good portion of your money in stocks.
  3. For a time-horizon somewhere in the middle, a mix of bonds and stocks is appropriate.

Power of Bonds:

  • Aren’t just for retired people. It helps offset stock volatility
  • Don’t need to have a bond gene to invest in them
  • Most important thing to understand is that bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions

Rules for constructing an investment portfolio: Take the OTROC approach by addressing these issues

  • Objectives: What is your purpose in investing?
  • Time Horizon: How soon will you need the money? Short-term, mid-term, long-term?
  • Risk Tolerance: How much stomach do you have for volatility?
  • Other investments: What holdings do you have? How much do they offer in terms of balance and diversification?
  • Choose: Use above four to decide your portfolio’s asset mix

 Bond Funds:
Before buying bond funds, be clear on the role you want bonds to play in your portfolio.
Two roles they can play- provide income or price stability
The major types of bond funds need to address following questions:

  • Tax status. Taxable or tax exempt? -Never pick tax-exempt funds for an IRA or a 401(k) or any account already tax sheltered. Tax-exempt funds typically have lower yields than similar taxable funds.
  • Credit quality. High, medium or low? The credit quality relates to the issuer’s ability to pay interest on the bond and, ultimately, to repay the principal upon maturity. Lower credits pay higher interest.
  • Short, medium, or long? Longer maturity means more sensitive to change in prevailing market interest rates. Duration is a handy statistic to judge this interest rate sensitivity.

Reading a Prospectus:
Think like an owner: Eight Important Reasons to read the Prospectus

  1. What is the fund’s investment objectives? A money market fund’s objective is to provide current income while keeping the share price constant. An aggressive growth fund’s objective is capital appreciation- it is trying to buy stocks that will rise in value over time.
  2. How will the fund go about making money? Look for the section on investment strategy. They should tell you types of securities the fund typically holds.
  3. What risk will you encounter? Read the section about primary risks.
  4. Who’s running the fund? Look for the section on the fund’s “investment adviser”, the manager (or team) in charge of the fund. How long have they been managing the fund?
  5. What are you paying? In the summary, you will find a full list of the feeds and expenses charged by the fund, including its expense ratio and any sales commissions, purchase or redemption fees, low-balance fees etc.
  6. How long has the fund been around?
  7. What services does it offer? Do you want to write checks or conduct transactions online?
  8. How has the fund performed? Past performance is not a good indicator of how a fund will perform for you. Look at the “financial highlights” portion of the prospectus for more on this.

Characteristics of a good fund:

  • Low costs
  • Solid performance
  • Consistency

Three simple tips for reducing your investment costs:

  • Avoid sales charges or “loads”. This happens when you buy a fund through a broker, financial adviser, or other intermediaries. If not doing online, the way to buy no-load funds is to call the fund’s toll-free number after researching it, ask for a prospectus of that fund and then send in a check with a completed application form.
  • Choose low-cost funds. Every fund has an expense ratio. Expenses covered include legal and accounting services, telephone services, postage, printing etc. These expenses are subtracted from the fund’s gross investment return before shareholders see any of the return. Keep cost within industry average which is between 0.2% and 2.5%. Be skeptical of 12b-1 fees. These fees cover distribution-related expenses, including advertising and broker feeds.
  • Be aware of transaction costs. The more frequently a fund buys and sells securities, the higher its transaction costs are likely to be. Some funds have turnovers as high as 300% to 400%. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but a warning sign. These information pieces are also on the Prospectus.

Taxes are costs too!

  • Tax tip #1- Resist the temptation to trade a lot. As a mutual fund investor, you can incur taxes in 3 ways
    • When the fund distributes income dividends
    • When the fund distributes capital gains from the sales of securities
    • When we as investors sell or exchange fund shares at a profit
    • US Treasury securities and municipal bond funds are exempt from federal income tax.
  • Tax tip#2- Choose tax-efficient funds. Three types are tax-friendly.
    • Stock index funds
    • Tax-managed funds
    • Tax-exempt funds
  • Tax tip#3- Use tax-deferred and taxable accounts wisely. Bond funds, income-oriented stock funds, aggressive stock funds with high turnover rates all can heighten the tax bill. Hold these kinds of funds in your retirement plan or your IRA

How to cleanup a messy portfolio:

  1. Do you know why you own each of your funds? Each should be part of this grid

  1. Do two or more of your funds share the same investment objectives or style? Again, refer to the above grid.
  2. Think about some pruning if you have more than 10 funds in your portfolio

 

Rebalancing your portfolio:

  1. It’s done to fend off the risk monster
  2. Should be done in a disciplined manner periodically; one a year, semi-annually or once a quarter
  3. Rebalance only if your asset mix has strayed from its target by more than 5%
  4. Consider tax liabilities when rebalancing.

Stupid math tricks for smart investors:

  • Estimate your yearly rate of return and divide into 72. The result is the number of years it will take for your investment to roughly double in value.
  • Cumulative returns can be misleading. 250% over 20 years is same as a 6% annual return.
  • Sometimes falling share prices is good news.

In a nutshell:

  1. Develop a financial game plan
  2. Become a disciplined saver
  3. Start investing early and keep it up
  4. Invest with balance and diversification
  5. Control your costs
  6. Manage risks prudentially
  7. Be a buy and hold investor
  8. Avoid fads and “can’t miss” opportunities
  9. Tune out distractions
  10. Maintain a long-term perspective

 

 

 

 

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Book review:The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

I am a student of sustainability. I have therefore read many books on this subject that have influenced my thought process over the years and has also allowed me to influence other people’s thinking. But it is not often that you come across a book that opens up new worlds and pastures for you of a landscape you thought you knew so well and does so in such a pleasant and delicious manner. I was so impressed by this book that I considered gifting it to all giftees that I will for sure come across this year.

For those of us who consider ourselves serious foodies (myself not included), this book is a must read because it really talks about food as something that not only nourishes our souls (and perhaps our dreams too) but also is part of our culture (as in the case of the almadraba or the dehesa in Spain) and in many ways shapes our geopolitical future ( as was the case in the making of this country’s Dustbowl.)

As I was reading the book I was looking forward to writing a book review on it but then realized, no book review IMHO could do it justice. So I decided to do the next best thing (again IMHO.) I decided to include this link from NYT’s review of the book and word by word transcribe a few passages from each of the four sections of the book which I found so exquisite that I wish I was there in first person to experience the feelings behind the word.

Like a well cooked and served meal, enjoy!

Soil:


When asked by the moderator to describe his work, Wes simply said, “I’m solving the ten-thousand-year-old problem of agriculture.” To his mind, agriculture’s problem is not mega-farms or feedlots or chemical fertilizers. The problem is agriculture itself. On the walk back to the hotel that evening, I asked him about the possibility of his perennial wheat appearing anytime soon, a question I later learned annoys Wes, because he hears it so often. But he only cranked up his slow prairie drawl and said, not immodestly, “If you’re working on a problem you can solve in your own lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.” He said he wanted to show me what he meant.

I followed him to his room, where he handed me a cardboard shipping tube. I started uncorking the tube. He stopped me. “Go ahead and roll it out, but do it in the hallway. It won’t fit in the room.” I unfurled the photographic banner onto the hallway carpet. It was twenty-two feet long and reached down the corridor, past the doorways of two other rooms. Wes bent down and evened out the crinkles. On the left was a life-size profile of perennial prairie wheat, showing the plant both above and below the soil. Above ground, the stalks, leaves, and seed head took up less than half the photograph. Belowground, the wheat’s root system was at least eight feet long–a Rapunzel-like tangle of thick fibers anchored deep in the soil. I stepped back. The roots merged into what looked like the trunk of a sequoia tree, only growing down instead of up. “That’s nature investing–digging into the soil, seeking nutrients and moisture,” Wes said as I studied what once had been the underbelly of the prairie.

To the right of this, a photo showed another patch of wheat, above and below ground. But this was modern wheat, the kind that’s planted each year and, as Wes reminded me, “occupies sixty million acres of real estate in this country alone.” Above ground, the wheat was a much shorter copy of its perennial cousin. But below ground, the roots were wispy, thin hairs, barely an arm’s length in depth. Compared with the perennial, they looked laughably anemic, needle threads next to those dreadlocks. Such are the roots that blanket the prairie and fill those bags of white flour dumped into the bin in front of my office. I was looking at the roots of my cuisine. “Those wimpy little things,” Wes said, smiling. “There’s your problem right there.”

Until the 1800s, almost everyone who visited the Great Plains thought the problem was the prairie itself. The massive land area was called the Great American Desert, which, from the perspective of people accustomed to things like trees, is a forgivable first impression. But also a mistaken one. In fact, there was plenty of aboveground diversity in the prairie. Add to the grasses the surrounding two hundred or so broadleaf flowering plants, the forbs, shrubs, and sedges, and what you had was a kaleidoscope of natural variety–a richly purposeful system in which grass and plant depended on one another to thrive. And yet, the true wealth of any prairie exists in the soil, where the majority of the biomass resides (unlike, say, a rainforest ecology, where the richness, or biomass, is mostly above the surface).

Over the course of the next decade, our country’s midsection heaved hundreds of thousands of years’ worth of incomparably rich soil into the air. Some regions lost more than 75 percent of their topsoil. The decade came to be known as the Dirty Thirties, and it marks one of the worst environmental disasters in our history. In his book The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.


Courtesy: https://leavingbabylon.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/roots.jpg

Land:

During one of my first nights in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, in 1994, a desert leaving the pastry station caught my eye. Actually I more or less gasped in disbelief, and that’s not because the desert was so beautiful (it was) or because I hadn’t seen a dessert like it before (I hadn’t). I gasped because it was a single peach on a dessert plate, no sprig of mint, no swish of raspberry sauce. It was Peach, unadorned.

A few weeks of observation on the kitchen turned into several months of exploration of the farms that supplied the restaurant. I stayed largely on account of that peach. When I took a bite of it later that night, did the lights dim and the warmth of a religious spirit come over me? No, but I’ve never tasted something quite so peachy. As I bit into it, I remember thinking that the peach had a fullness of flavor to it- bold, like a stew of meat- that made you think you had in your mouth something much richer than fruit.

It was the best peach of my life, but I have to qualify that, because, like most Americans born in the past fifty years, I didn’t know what a peach should taste like. Breeders in the 1970s and ‘80s created new varieties for functionality, not for flavor.

Masumoto’s peaches were incredibly delicious. Alice was saying. Taste what Mas Masumoto created; I can’t do better.

When you eat in season, you are close to nature and get the best of nature’s products. Even a perfect peach when it’s flown halfway around the world to be eaten can’t provide that same sense of satisfaction or flavor or nutrients.Eating with the seasons allows us to experience peak freshness and intense flavor.


Courtesy: http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/causes/3135/3134413.large.jpg

Sea:

Barbate is the most famous of the almadraba towns along the coast, and El Campero, as restaurants go, is bluefin ground zero. Nose-to-tail dining is how a place like El Campero would be described in Brooklyn or Berkeley. (And that may be underplaying it; you can order tuna face, heart, ear, and semen.) As we waited for Miguel, Lisa explained how bluefin is a way of life there.” Like Eskimos and their fifty name for snow, the people of Barbate have twenty-five words to describe parts of the tuna,” she told me.

“The almadraba tuna are at the peak of flavor. All of the energy goes into great intramuscular fat, producing a tuna that is at the moment of perfect flavor.” I thought of the Copper River salmon that David Bouley had exalted in his kitchen. I had always assumed the Japanese purchased from the almadraba because of dwindling stocks-a desperate move to satiate their world-leading appetite for tuna. But now I realized that the superior flavor must have driven the interest as well.

“The legend is that the tuna hear a siren call from the Mediterranean at a certain point in their lives. It’s at the point that their meat is at its best- the most optimal point to eat tuna. So they go to spawn. But what brings them into the nets?” “ There’s a legend to this too. It’s that the tuna’s fatty belly gets an itch, like a pregnant woman. They are drawn to the shallow waters to satisfy the itch. This is when they stumble into the nets.”

While pepe shared his legend of the tuna, I impulsively dunked a slice of toro in the soy sauce and dropped it into the mouth. I couldn’t believe the flavor. It was richer and more intense than any tuna I had ever tasted, a fact that I noted to Pepe.


Courtesy: http://c8.alamy.com/comp/A3KAN6/tuna-wall-painting-mural-barbate-where-it-takes-place-the-almadraba-A3KAN6.jpg

Seed:

The day Klaas’s wheat first arrived at the restaurant, no one knew what to do with it. That night, Alex couldn’t sleep. “Because I am the pastry chef,” he said. “So of course, I should know flour. A carpenter knows a hammer, doesn’t he? If you hand him another kind of hammer, an older hammer, maybe it’s longer and heavier and really weird, and maybe it takes him a moment to adjust, but he can still use the hammer, no? He doesn’t put the hammer down and say, ‘I am sorry, but I can no longer build this table here.” The next day, he rebounded with an idea. He made a classic brioche loaf but substituted the whole emmer wheat for white flour.

Alex milled the emmer wheat in the same tabletop grinder we had used for the Eight Row Flint corn. “The more we ground”, he said, “the more the kitchen started to smell like dirt. No, not dirt. Nature. It smelled like nature, like going on vacation with my parents in the summertime when I was a kid, in the field when the wind blows through the wheat.”

For me the tip-off came from the dusty-smelling brioche that Alex made with conventional wheat flour. It didn’t taste good. The truth is, most of the whole wheat grown in this country does not taste good. So the question is why- why did that batch of pre-ground conventional whole wheat flour taste so different from Klaas’s?

One answer has to do with fresh milling. The natural oil in the wheat germ are what imbue it with flavor, but they have a short shelf life. Seriously short, they begin to spoil as soon as they are released. That’s true for nutrients as well- flour has been shown to lose almost half its nutrients within just twenty-four hours of milling. Another answer is soil. Whereas Klaas employed thoughtful crop rotation and careful soil management, the conventional batch undoubtedly came from chemically doused fields, starved of nutrients.

But I have come to understand that even soil doesn’t dial back far enough. You can still end up with flavorless wheat- because modern wheat is not bred for flavor. We’ve lost the taste of wheat, in part, because we’ve stopped breeding it for flavor.


Courtesy:
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Book review: How to get sound sleep

I bought this book with a lot of expectations; hoping it will make me a sound sleeper so much so that I can part the knowledge to others in my family and help their sleep deprivation as well. Although that was certainly not the case, I do notice a lot more people are complaining about lack of restful sleep. It makes me wonder when did we as a society transition from inventing things to keep us awake to now inventing things to put us back to sleep! We are never satisfied and always seek what we don’t have; even something as fundamental as sleep.

I still thought the book had some nuggets of wisdom worth sharing; especially if you know anything about the author and his world famous organization. The book is written by a an erstwhile spiritual leader of India named Swami Sivananda who along with his disciples started Sivananda Yoga centers all around the world. This organization is often credited for spreading yoga in the western world. I love practicing at my local NYC center as I feel it’s the truest form of yoga practiced which incorporates proper breathing exercises, prayers, yoga stretches interspersed with rest periods. Try it out if you are looking to start a yoga practice.

Coming back to the book, below are the main learnings I wanted to share (in no particular order):

  1. Relax the body and mind when you go to sleep
  2. Give up planning for the next day
  3. Give up any ill feelings you have against someone or something and focus on pleasant thoughts
  4. Quality of sleep is much more important than quantity of sleep
  5. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon, take 10 minutes relaxation breaks. Just sit and do nothing- no talk, no phone, no browsing, no listening to music. Just sit. Close the eyes. Make the mind blank.
  6. Avoid fatigue by adopting a correct standing posture. Keep the knees and heels close together, this makes a strong pillar on which the body can rest. The weight of the body is not thrown on one leg or the other but distributed evenly.
  7.  Best hours of sleep are between 12 and 2
  8. More sound sleep one has, the more healthy the person will be. Sleep is nature’s tonic for a healthy life.
  9. Keep the same time of sleep everyday
  10. Wear lose clothing
  11. Don’t cover yourself with too heavy a blanket
  12. Try not to sleep on the back but on the left side. Food will be digested well
  13. Do not sleep in rooms which have no windows
  14. Do not take a heavy meal before going to bed
  15. Finish your evening meal by 7-8 pm and make it a light one

Bon nuit (good night)!

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Eastern Europe Spring vacation -2017

Many of my friends say I am very well travelled.

I do not think so. This is because having spent close to four decades on this planet, my total number of visited countries (the definition of visited being spent a night there purposefully) is maybe in the thirties and the number of countries we have in our society is almost two hundred.

I do think I am fortunate to have travelled somewhat and learnt a little bit more about the world through my sojourns. This blog is related to my most recent trip.

When I was still in my early thirties I used to tell anyone who asked where I am from that I was from three countries: India – where I was born and probably spent ten years of my life, Botswana (in Africa) – where I spent my childhood years, attending school and living the life of an expat (at least that’s what it felt like then) and finally USA – where I came for higher studies and to build a better and more secure (in all sense of that word) life.

I have now lived the longest part of my life in USA and consider it to be as much home as India is; where I still have my roots and more importantly; most of my family.

Living in the USA definitely has it’s advantages and amongst the many there are two I would like to mention here. First is – you start appreciating and working around all the holidays you get; just to get away from the busy monday-friday life and second is that – because of it’s location and high currency value you do get the opportunity to visit a wide range of countries and continents.

I feel grateful to have the freedom to visit different countries with a spouse who is equally into traveling to explore culture, nature, and definitely not the least; cuisine. Last November we went to Japan and I was very much enamored by the culture and the people. It led me to write a three piece blog on Japan which you can read here. I thought I would continue the tradition and blog about my experience visiting two European countries in April 2017- Croatia and Austria

Austria:
My strongest memory of this country will be how much dessert they eat and subsequently we ate in our three days in Vienna! I didn’t know this fact till after our travel plans were made.  As it usually happens once you learn about a new place you start noticing articles and conversations about that place. I learnt about Austria both through this NYT article on Viennese desserts and about Austria’s contribution to world history and art through an interesting BBC documentary I watched. I think it’s a great way to prepare for a trip- watch a documentary or movie, read a book, article or talk to someone who knows that place. That really helps you enjoy the destination you are visiting even more; the familiarity of what you learn before the trip about the place feels like meeting a relative you haven’t seen in awhile and yet leaving enough room for discoveries akin to the pleasure of making a new friend in a new country. Some of my other memories of Austria are below.

Everyone associates the artist Klimt with Austria but I learnt about another equally talented artist I had never heard of before named Egon Schiele whose work I fell in love with and was so pleased to recognize later on back in NYC. I loved the fact that coffee is an actual drink here which is enjoyed in leisure and not taken for “to go”. Austria is not only the dessert but also the coffee capital of the world with at least 20 different coffee drinks to choose from and no starbucks in sight anywhere. Imagine that! Here’s a typical coffee menu which I may add I was first introduced to on the flight itself. And last but not the least, the former royalty of Austria left a huge impression on me- be it princess Sisi with her beautiful face displayed in every tourist store or Queen Maria Theresa- one of the few women rulers as well as one of the most powerful rulers of her time. There’s so much more to Austria, especially for such a small country. Freud, Hitler, Mozart- are all Austrian by birth. But now it’s time to look back and  visit another country, so off we go to Croatia.

Croatia:
I must say I didn’t know much about Croatia before we decided to visit it this Spring. A quick search online yielded this video which instantly made me like the country. Another quick search on images.google.com (I always use that tool when planning a trip) showed beautiful multi-colored azure coastlines and emerald colored forests. These two Croatian beauties turned out to be Hvar and Plitvice National Park. We were sold. We were going to visit this Eastern European country and was that a good decision! It was a lovely dream come true and when I was later on compiling my online album of pictures taken there, I couldn’t believe I had been to this postcard perfect country.

We were there during Easter and it is quite a treat to visit a deeply religious country during one of their major religious festivals. There were eggs and bunny decorations everywhere. There was sun and turquoise water and relaxed people with cute kids everywhere we turned.

It wasn’t peak season which had some disadvantages- less frequently running ferries, not all restaurants open for all meals, not all attractions are open but the benefits are equal in number- perfect weather, very less people to compete for and with (peak tourist season in June holds 10,000 people compared 2500 (average) in April, which is when we visited), and most importantly; much more affordable hotel rooms. Definitely recommend the country if you are looking for real R&R, especially the natural kind.

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Book review- earning it by Joann S. Lublin

Like Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, I too have hit upon a universally acknowledged truth. Mine is that, “at the beginning of every year, all men and women in possession of a good brain must be in want of a new year resolution.”

Literary jokes apart, I do believe that all of us use the coming of a new year as a stepping stone to revive our dreams, hopes, wishes-what have you-for a better year, a better themselves, and a better future. We all make new year resolutions to learn something new, do something better, achieve better health, have a more balanced work life balance in addition to better and greater professional achievements. The last two may be a little conflicting, but hey- this is our dream and our hopes- all is possible in this realm.

With that in mind, I too decided to start the year with some new and some recycled goals. One of them is to blog more often and read one bestselling book a month. I started of the year reading All the Light We Cannot See (May,2014), which I do recommend if you are interested in fiction, French countryside descriptions and some really beautiful and haunting writing.  But my blog today is about my February’s read called Earning it- Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World (Oct, 2016) by Joann S. Lublin, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and current WSJ editor. I recommend this book to all women as a must read and to men too if they want to admire and remind themselves how far women have come in the professional world and what they can do to support this positive journey.

The book interviews fifty women executives about their journey to success.  Each one of those journeys is inspiring and has lessons for us all to learn from and apply in our own professional AND personal lives. Incidentally, the author’s journey is no less moving and message worthy and she delves into it as appropriate in her book.

Some of the women interviewed are more famous than others such as- Meg Whitman (one of my personal hero!), Carly Fiorina, and Sheryl Sandberg. Others I learnt about for the first time after reading this book but am equally enamored by, such as Anne M. Mulcahy, who was given pushback to success at every step of her career at Xerox but still by sheer hard work and determination rose to the top;  Sallie Krawcheck (a new personal hero!), who  is a wall street veteran and now heads a women-specific digital investment firm called ellevest.com; and last but not the least, Denise Morrison, who was always taught by her parents to aim big and make a difference. She and her sister both took that lesson to heart and went on to have very successful and inspiring careers.

The book chronicles each person’s rise to the top and delves on the struggles they faced and how they overcame the same. Some fights we are all aware of such as sexual harassment in the workplace, directly being ignored for promotions, not enough board, balancing work life situations, gender based pay scale but there are others that many in our generation take for granted which wasn’t always the case and we are where we are because of the fight put up by such pioneers.

After reading the book I feel a lot more aware of the professional world I work in and a lot more blessed too. Most importantly, I feel inspired and brave enough to face life challenges- it’s all part of the package called living it and loving it.

Below are some of the tips and practical inspiration I remember after putting down the book. The book is wonderful in that each chapter ends with bullet point lessons covered in that chapter, so here goes:

  1. Doors open with a strong push: Be tenacious about looking outside your comfort zone for an open door. That’s especially important when obstacles loom, as they invariably will. Confront self-doubts about your capabilities. Be willing to start at the bottom. If you are good, you will shine.
  1. Bloom when you are planted: Your experience with a bad boss can teach you how to become a better manager. Focus on your managerial strengths rather than weaknesses. View your career as a zigzag. Stand out on a trivial project by going the extra mile.
  1. Sexual Harassment never vanished: Seek justice on the job rather than individual revenge. Act as role model for your subordinates by enforcing standards of acceptable decorum in the workplace. Look for indirect influence so you can stand up for yourself.
  1. Pain of the pay pinch: Keep your boss well informed about your accomplishments. Hire an attorney to create a generous employment contract. Be willing to jump ship to achieve pay equity.
  1. Getting ahead sooner: Make sure you have a clear sense of how your boss defines success before you take a mission impossible. Close your knowledge gaps rapidly and focus on making a memorable impact. Get out of your comfort zone to develop leadership muscles. Have a “no-regrets policy” if it doesn’t work out.
  1. Getting ahead later: Be brave about taking high-risk roles. Pick team members who can help you thrive.  Diffuse imposter anxiety by initially pursuing a small-scale assignment. Be receptive to criticism and use it to fix your mistakes fast.
  1. Manager moms are not acrobats: Keep your boss informed about your critical parenting needs. Adapt your supervisory style to every staffer. Practice workplace empathy based on your work-life crises.
  1. Career couple conundrums: Take a tag-team approach in deciding whose career takes priority. Alternate which spouse chooses the timing and venue for your next location. Ask your employer to assist your spouse finding a new job.
  1. Male mentors mean business: Look for mentors and sponsors where your professional relationship will benefit both of you. Being chosen as a protégé takes time and multiple small steps.
  1. Managing men well: View yourself as a confident leader, and your male lieutenants will do so too. Help men you supervise succeed and they’ll root for your success. Deal with subtle forms of gender bias.
  1. Spotlight on Executive Presence: Dress, talk, and act in ways that match the next job you seek as well as the high-level executives you want to impress. Don’t behave in an overly emotional manner. Make sure your body language reinforces the impression of strength
  1. Beating Board Bias: Find colleagues, suppliers, customers, and executives of target companies and ask them to promote your board candidacy. Develop specialized board talents that are in high demand such as expertise in cybersecurity and digital commerce. Anticipate repeated turndowns before you win your first success.

Bottom-line: I want to end this blog with two quotes from the back cover of the book which I thought are good summary sentences. The women interviewed here are at the end of the day “trailblazers who have showed great courage in the face of great odds” and the other quote that states “This book is a work of history, reminding us how far we’ve come in the past 40 years.” So, buy, borrow, steal and read it and then go earn it!

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America’s best kept secret- Our National Parks!

America’s National Parks are in the news this year because 2016 marks their 100 years of existence. For me, however, they have always held a special place- in my heart, in my annual travel plans, and as one of my lifetime goals. My goal is to visit all 59 (as of 2016) of this country’s national parks during my lifetime.

Some relevant statistics and facts are:

  • The National Park Service is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • The National Park System covers more than 84 million acres.
  • It is comprised of 413 different sites with at least 19 different designations.
  • These designations include 128 historical parks, 84 national monuments, 59 national parks, 25 battlefields or military parks, 19 preserves, 18 recreational areas, 10 seashores, 4 parkways, 4 lakeshores,  and two reserves.
  • Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 as the nation’s (and the world’s) first national park.
  • According to the US National Park Services (nps.org) website; since 1916, the National Park Service with the help of volunteers and partners cater to more than 275 million visitors every year.

What attracts me to national parks?

I am not really sure if one can codify the feeling one gets being in nature. I think the best quote that sums it up for me is this one from John Muir, the founder of Sierra Club and the man instrumental in the creation of the national park system. It is:

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

I like that visiting a national park takes me away from everything artificial, that you can see, and hear, and admire birds and animals, that you can smell and breathe fresh air, that you can work up a sweat in the most pleasant manner possible by hiking through and in nature, that you don’t have wifi but are more connected than ever with yourself and your surroundings.  That last quote, by the way, was something I read recently when I visited a state park in upstate NY.

List of National Parks I have visited and one line memory of it:

I decided to write this blog because I myself wanted to have a list to refer to of all the parks visited and the ones that remain to be stamped. I thought it would be a good trip down memory lane and also be a good inspiration for the future. I promise to update it every year but here’s the list for now:

Name State Location My memories of it
Acadia Maine East coast Love it, can be visited in a day if in a time crunch. Try Maine wild blueberries when there.
Arches Utah Central Go when not crowded. The arches are made completely of sand so be careful when standing under one.
Canyonland Utah Central Very close to Arches. I spent less than a full day there so I would probably want to go there again. A little similar to Grand Canyon.
Channel Islands CA West coast Loved it for so many reasons. You have to get there by ferry (book in advance) and then you can spend the whole day or go prepared to spend overnight. Very raw. Lots of birds and wind and water all around.
Congaree South Carolina East coast It’s a very different park. The only  park that’s marshy (IMHO), and because of that, it’s mosquito infested. Make sure to wear bug spray before going in (wish I knew this when I went.)
Cuyahoga Valley Ohio East coast One of my favorites as it’s so accessible. It’s nature in a very urban setting. Brandywine waterfall is a must visit in this park. The scenic train that takes you through out the park is very busy in fall so plan ahead.
Denali Alaska West coast I guess this is the most exotic (in distance) park I have visited till date. It was lovely, very wide open. I was fearful of encountering bears whenever we took a hike in it.
Everglades Florida South Such a different park. It is alive in both day and night. You will be able to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator after visiting this park. We took a hike through a swamp and it was a scary experience because you never know when and where you will come across a muddy crocodile’s jaws; especially after you sign your life away before starting on the hike!
Glacier Montana West coast This park we had to visit before its name became an oxymoron. Claimed to have 125 active glaciers when the park was first created, now it has less than 25. A very sad state indeed.
Grand Canyon Arizona West coast Most Americans and tourists have visited this park. It really is that special. Sunrise or sunset at this park will remain a lifelong memory. I have had the opportunity to hike down the canyon and will remember that trip very fondly.
Grand Teton Wyoming West coast Although I consider this visited, I could go back here again and spend more time. I stopped here when passing by as part of a bus tour to Yellowstone. We didn’t do much exploring in the park. It is the reality behind the Paramount pictures logo.
Haleakala Hawaii Pacific coast Hawaii itself is a beauty, on top of that visiting a national park in such a place; felt twice as good. I attempted biking down the mountain but found the turns a little too sharp. I decided to choose ‘certain life’ over ‘certain anxious adventure’.
Joshua Tree CA West coast This park is famous for two things- the uniquely shaped Joshua trees and the star-spangled night sky. We saw the former but were too cold to stay late to see the star-studded sky. We were compensated with an early morning beautiful pink-orange sky; one of my favorite sunrises.
Kenai Fjords Alaska West coast I didn’t even realize I had visited this park since it’s not really a land park. It’s all water and we had taken a glacier boat tour of the park which started at 10 pm and ended at 1 am; all in bright daylight. What an experience.
Kings Canyon CA West coast Again one of my favorite parks (can they all be my favorite?). It was very pretty because the entry way to the park is along a river on one side and beautiful rock formations on the other. I remember it being very green and very peaceful to wander around in.
Lassen Volcanic CA West coast This is a very underrated park because it’s almost a mini-version of Yellowstone. I would say it’s as nice and definitely worth visiting when in the area.
Mount Rainier Washington West coast This park is very Instagram-friendly because it has just amazing wildflowers for many months in the year. I visited it in August so didn’t see much but had a great time never the less. Would love to see it in more leisure.
Petrified Forest Arizona West coast I loved this park. It’s so different and really brings the concept of evolution directly in front of your eyes. The fact that route 66 cuts through it makes it that much more special.
Rocky Mountain Colorado Central I always say one can experience all four seasons in one day in this park. It’s that majestic and beautiful; even the road leading up to it is worth the visit.
Saguaro Arizona West coast I went there in 2015 and learned so much about this particular type of desert plant; especially how to pronounce the name correctly (the g is silent.) My friend who visited with me was very intrigued by the name of a particular native lizard called ‘Gila monster’. She did not want to encounter it!
Sequoia CA West coast You feel humbled standing near these old and giant trees. You feel awe-inspired and you feel grateful and thankful to be in and a part of nature. If we could only remember that thought and feeling more often.
Shenandoah Virginia East coast This is a no frills park but just as lovely as any other. It has a beautiful road that goes through the park-up, down, up, down. You do need a car to enjoy this park.
Yosemite CA West coast This park is very popular amongst the more athletic folks; climbing up the mountains (El Capitan) is the thing to do for rock climbers I guess. I find this park too crowded to be enjoyed but Ansel Adams loved it and therefore it’s special to me.
Yellowstone Wyoming West coast And the last but definitely not the least..the park that started it all. To me it was visiting this park that started my life long goal of visiting them all, so in that respect, I consider this park the most special and close to my heart.
Saguaro NP

Saguaro NP

Everglades NP

Everglades NP

Arches NP

Arches NP

Petrified Forest NP

Petrified Forest NP

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Memories and reflections of Japan- part III

Part 3: Perfect R&R destination: Sapporo

Our 3rd and final destination was to the island of Hokkaido, famous for it’s milk products (think ice-cream, milk-cake, milk shake) and for the city of Sapporo, a former winter Olympic destination as well as a ski town. Although most popular in winter, it was a nice place to be in September too. It was much cooler than Tokyo or Kyoto. Because of their long winters, they almost have an underground city vibe to it. You can do all your shopping and eating underground. We did both. Since it was cooler than we expected we all “needed” to go shopping and bought a bunch of clothes.

Then Sapporo is famous for Japanese chocolate brand Royce, so again we went out for chocolate shopping and stumbled upon a huge depachika, which we promised to return to the next day.

Sapporo is also famous for a type of Japanese cuisine popular everywhere in the world called Ramen. They have two alleys of just ramen shops. I was very happy to get a hot, spicy, vegetarian meal after so many days and really enjoyed my Ramen experience.

Sanjay really liked Sapporo because it felt like a large city minus all the crowd, noise, and dirt- almost like a “Goldilocks city”; just perfect.

We spent one day taking the local train to Otaru- a nearby fishing village. It was amusing because although considered a fishing village, it had a pretty large French bakery, our only spotting of Pizza Hut and KFC in Japan.

But it did have good sushi, great ice cream, a very beautiful blue coast (which was visible from the train itself) and lots of good sake. We were able to take a factory tour of a Sake factory, which everyone in our group (except me) was fascinated by. We all came back happy and ready to head back to home after 2 weeks in Japan.

One complaint we had of the country, which probably needs to be investigated more, is they use a lot of packaging on their products- both paper and plastic and they don’t believe in displaying trashcans. My guess is that they haven’t figured out how to make trashcans look pretty yet. So we had to more or less carry our trash with us or offer it to some store or city officials, who gladly took it away to dispose it ‘who knows where’.

But besides that we all really liked Japan- for it’s pace, sense of beauty, hospitality, and for Japan’s futuristic adaptability but without forgetting its past and its culture.

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Memories and reflections of Japan- part II

Part 2: City of Beauty and Temples: Kyoto

The next part of our trip took us to another of Japan’s major cities, Kyoto, which is also on the island of Honshu. In total, Japan has 6,852 islands but only 80% are inhabited. Honshu is the main island. The other three main islands are Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu.

We got to Kyoto by the famous bullet train, called the Shinkansen. Not only does it look grand and very technically cool, it is very fast, very clean, and quiet. Japan has a term for fans of anything; such people are called ‘otakus’. By the end of our visit we had become train ‘otakus’. To confirm our otaku status we went on a 5-hour round trip train ride, touching another island and then heading back.

The other aspect of the country we really got into was ‘manga’; the common craze all Japanese have for storytelling in the form of comics. We even visited the International manga museum in Kyoto and the manga district in Tokyo. Sanjay bought his first manga book too!

Coming back to Kyoto- it’s very different than Tokyo. Life is a lot less buzzy here, a lot less night-lights and tall buildings too. But what Kyoto lacks in technical glitz it makes up in cultural heritage. There’s a temple almost on every street. We were heading to a popular tourist temple on our first day in Kyoto and ended up stopping at another equally beautiful but unknown temple. My favorite of course was Fushimi Inari; everyone will recognize this temple as it is so well photographed. For 10 years in a row it is now considered Kyoto’s #1 tourist attraction. It’s about 10,000 orange wooden gates (called Toris) that lead up to a temple on a mountain. It was a fun and spiritual climb despite the oppressive heat.

Kyoto is also the land of matcha (green tea in powder form) and geishas (female entertainers often found in the Gion district) and maikos (apprentice geishas), and of course kimonos (traditional Japanese wear.) We took part in a traditional tea ceremony (called cha-do) and even got to wear Kimonos. Kyoto has a lot of rental kimono shops (since a real one is too expensive to own I think!) It was a lot of fun but very elaborate. We have to end drinking your cup of tea by slurping to show our host we enjoyed it.

One day I got to explore Kyoto on my own by going for a long morning walk along the river. That was fun and it was fun to see locals fishing, walking, cycling, and jogging, over all a very livable city.

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