Support the Grameen cause

Thanks to Grameen Foundation West Coast Development VP Julia Wilson, we were fortunate enough to be with Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and author of Banker to the Poor, this time at L.A. Central Library downtown. Dr. Yunus was eloquent, inspiring, a living prophet, about Grameen’s success in enabling the impoverished. His track record, since 1982, is prodigious. His thinking is crystal clear. In promoting his new book, Creating a World without Poverty, he talked about the difference between his beggars’ program in Bangladesh and the U.S. welfare system. “If you give beggars a grant of $15, they will go out and enjoy it, then come back to you and ask for another one.” Instead Grameen provides them with things to sell—candies, toys, etc. Turns them into door to door salespeople. “How do they feel about it? Well, they tell us, when we come to the door these days it’s open to us. When we were just begging, the door was never open—people handed us what they could. They didn’t want to look at us.” As it stands today U.S. law makes it impossible to lend money, in the fashion of his micro-financing program, to anyone on welfare. “You don’t want them to improve,” he said. “You want them to stay as they are.”

He was told that his program to introduce cell phones into villages in the 23 countries where Grameen makes unsecured loans would not work. “Who will the women call?” he was told. “I don’t care who they call,” he said. “I want people who need to make a call have to come to them. Instead of a cash cow, they will now have a cash phone!” Experts predicted he might be able to place 250,000 phones in his home country. Within four years he had placed 18 million in a country of 350 million (the size of Wisconsin).

Most recently he’s founded Grameen Dannon, a program that’s delivering nutrition-enrich yoghurt in edible cups in villages throughout Bangladesh to encourage malnourished young people to adopt it as their daily snack. It’s the paradigm of his “social business” (as opposed to “profit-maximizing business”: a joint venture between Grameen and Dannon in which both sides put up an equal amount of money and have agreed that they can both recoup the investment but will take no further dividends from the project so as to minimize the cost of the yoghurt!

If only we could have this kind of revolutionary, clear thinking in the next president of the United States!

I could go on and on. It was inspiring to be in his presence. Buy his books. Support the Grameen cause. I’ve posted some of Kayoko’s photos from Grameen Koota, and will soon post others from the 3 villages she visited when we were in Bangalore for the purpose of yoking Grameen with the Yoga Journal.

Ran across Future Me where you can send your future self a note. Whatever your writing goal is, and however strongly you doubt you’ll accomplish it, tell yourself from the future that it got done—and published or produced!

Picasso via Taki

ʽFrom the moment that art ceases to be the nourishment of the best brains, the artist can use all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan. The refined people, the rich ones and the professional layabouts, only want what is sensational or scandalous in modern art. And since the days of Cubism I have fed these boys what they wanted and pacified the critics with all the idiotic ideas that went through my head. Whilst I amused myself with all these pranks, I became famous and very rich. I am just a public clown, a fair-ground barker. It is painful for me to confess this, but in the end it pays to be honest.ʼ

Picasso was no fool. The above words were first printed in the American Mercury in August of 1957. Some of you may remember that H.L. Mencken was the editor of the American Mercury, a magazine that told it like no other. Picasso was 75 years old in 1957, an age when one wants to come clean once and for all. Little did he know that he was to live another 16 years.

Last Note on Japan

On leaving Tokyo we ran into an immediate “wake up” reminder of how different the concept of service is in India, Japan, and the U.S. On board Northwest Airlines Business Class, a high-strung flight attendant poured me a third of a glass of the California Merlot. When she moved to pour Kayoko’s wine—full to the brim--and then started to move off, Kayoko asked her: “Do you have any more of the Merlot?” indicating my glass. The stewardess gave us a withering look and said, “If I had any more I’d have poured a full glass.” That’s it. No explanation. No, “I’ll be back with another bottle.” It’s not about my needing more wine—I had more than my share of fun on this trip. An hour or two later she came back with bottled water and offered one to each of us. “No, thanks,” I said. “If you don’t take it now,” she said, “It’s your last chance. We don’t offer it again.” Aside from feeling distinctly coach, I gave her some bad eyes. “Do you have a problem with me, sir?” she asked. I didn’t restrain myself: “Actually, I do. First you made the comment about ‘if I had more wine I’d have poured a full glass,’ now you’re telling me I’d better take this water now or go without! I don’t understand why you’d speak to a customer that way.” Her response was that we had ten hours to go and wouldn’t it be better if we were friends! Well, I dunno. With friends like that…

Neither of us could imagine an exchange like that happening on an Indian or Japanese airline—not to mention that the food on NWA in both directions was so mediocre we packed our own sandwiches for the return trip. It’s truly sad that our airlines represent America in this shabby way, all in the name of earning a few bucks more. Next time we fly JAL or Singapore, where service and pride and good food are considered par for the course and where taking out your frustrations on the passenger is unimaginable.

For more on the Japan trip see:

Goblins Cover

Delighted to receive the finalized cover of the second novel from our client Royce Buckingham (Demonkeeper). Congratulations, Royce. It’s a great cover for a great book.

Last Meal in Tokyoiz

One misty evening we walked to the Ogikubo station, and took the train one stop to Asagaya where the Mitsumatsus introduced us to their favorite local pub-- run by Yutaka Ishida and his wife. The place was no longer than 20 feet, no wider than 10. For the next two hours, the couple--who provide the Mitsumatsus with their home-grown organic vegetables (like beautiful yellow cauliflower) on a regular basis--served some of their favorites, all washed down by delicately delicious Kuri shochu (chestnut shochu).--

Sudomame, big fat juicy black beans
Hi Ika, tiny squid, sautéed and served whole
Inca potato salad, the best potato salad ever
Citrus buckwheat pickles, no way to describe!
Atsu Age, fried tofu with hot chili pepper
Gingko nuts roasted with sea salt
Sautéed shisho buds
Pickled cherry blossom buds--green and scraggly, but you could taste a springtime of cherries in each bite
Shishamo (grilled whole fish, meant to eat the head first)
Saku Neba Age (grilled tofu with slimy soy beans)--oishii!
Saske Buta -- three-gene pork, served medium-rare and melting in your mouth.

As a farm boy who learned that pork should be well done, I'm always surprised by Japanese smoke bacon that looks like it hasn't been cooked at all. But since a lot of people like me order their bacon well-done obviously many others don't--yet survive.This humble place--room only for 8 at the counter, and all they have isa counter--absolutely deserves to be ranked in Michelin, who hopefully will never find it, tucked discreetly into a hotel beneath the station in this "suburb."

Much to be said for Japanese slipper culture. Street shoes give way to eelskin slippers in the house; different ones for the bathroom; different ones for the porch. Even at restaurants, clogs are provided if you leave the tatami to use the restroom. All very civilized--but nothing more civilized than the heated toilet seats (that raise automatically) with full plumbing facilities. Quite different from the bucket found in even the swankiest bathrooms in India.

Civilized and peaceful, homogeneous through and through (we saw one black man on this trip, no Muslims, only one radio truck proclaiming Communism, several militant Christians), Japan seems frozen in its own world, shunning America, thawing toward China, and avidly courting India. Obama's victories give hope that the image of America may brighten--may have already brightened a little--to think that its people might accept the diversity Japan fears for itself.

En route to Narita now on the bus (1.5 hours), to leave this afternoonand arrive back in L.A. the same morning.

That's all, folks. Will not even bother you with the bicycling sumos we caught on camera as we pulled away from the Shinjuku Merriott.

Thanks for your great responses.

Scroll down to Minami Izu Umi Ga Hama for more on the Japan trip.


Make the most of your regrets. To regret deeply is to live afresh.—Henry David Thoreau

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.—Arthur Miller

Special Feature: Forecast

by Jane Tara

It’s difficult to pinpoint the inspiration behind Forecast. There was never a moment or event that led to that light bulb going off, which is what normally happens to me. Instead, a family of psychics simply strolled into my head and wouldn’t leave. It wasn’t a matter of telling their story, but deciding which part of their story to tell. While I eventually stuck to modern day events, my characters and their ancestors mapped out a myriad of tales for me, dating back to the 1500’s.

It has been a long road to publication, one that began years before I met my characters. I grew up in a small Australian beach town, where the inability to tan was virtually illegal. All good Aussie kids were meant to be sporty little sun-worshippers. But I was (and still am) a pale skinned, freckle-faced bookworm, who would while away the summer days in shady spots, reading and writing love stories and fairy tales. It was during this time that I developed a lifelong love of romance and magic. As an adult, I’ve written everything from plays to children’s books, but I’ve never been happier than when I recently returned to my romance roots.

The day I started writing Forecast, I knew it would be published. I believe I was given a sign. I, like the Shakespeare women in my book, believe in signs.

I’ve always adored bees. They are an ancient symbol of good fortune and happiness. They remind us to embrace our creativity, and enjoy the moment. I love that it’s aerodynamically impossible for the bumblebee to actually fly; yet it does anyway. The bumblebee has so much belief in itself that it performs miracles every time it flutters its wings. We can learn from that.

I clearly remember the first page I wrote, because within minutes of starting there was the most almighty roar. I thought a plane was headed for my house. I rushed over to the window and saw a swarm of bees coming towards me. I quickly shut the window and, for the next two hours, watched the bees hit the glass. Eventually they continued on their way. I returned to my writing, and immersed myself in the second page…followed by the third. I decided to flap my wings and fly, even though the laws of nature were probably against me.

The Shakespeare women came to me fully formed and quite forceful in the direction they wished to take. While I enjoyed immersing myself in their colorful world, the subject matter certainly wasn’t alien to me. I grew up surrounded by highly intuitive women and spent part of my childhood in a delightfully haunted house. It was in this house that I saw my first ghost. Yes, that’s right, not only was I a freckle-faced bookworm, but I was also “a bit odd.” At least to others. It was all completely normal to me. Which is why, when I wrote about the Shakespeare women and their gifts, I didn’t want them to be too outlandish. Unconventional perhaps, but still normal. Their gifts aren’t superpowers. They don’t save the world with them. Their psychic abilities and eccentricities are more routine than that.

As the book hits the shelves, I feel like I’m saying goodbye to some old friends. It’s their journey now. I hope you enjoy reading Forecast as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Jane Tara

Click Here to Buy Forecast

Minami Izu Umi Ga Hama

Orion’s belt
fades into the pink.
Breeze conducts
The sounds of surf
into singing pines
that greet the sun
rising from distant
Color by
color, awakening birds
add their voices
one by one by one.

The final crescendo of a magnificent trip was our 'anniversary trip' to Minami Izu Umi Ga Hama--a on sen (hotsprings) hotel 2.5 hours south of Tokyo. The train ride was gorgeous--beach after beach, quaint villages, clear water, fantastic views of the Pacific--traffic on Japan's PCH! The tatami room was wonderful.

Dinner this time was 12 courses, highlighted by the steamed bream and the sashimi service for two (see photo). I canceled the last 2 courses--just too much. Our own kimono-clad waitress both in the room (complete with its outside bath--roten buro--in the open air balcony under the Carmel-like pines) and in the restaurant. Several walks on the beach, clad in our hotel garb.

Preparing and presenting food is the universal art of Japan. In a country where the architecture is mostly utilitarian, and dress is meant to NOT draw attention to yourself as "standing out," the opposite applies to food. Every morsel is prepared, displayed, and partaken of with reverence--and is a celebration of life.

Some farewell observations:
  • subway cars reserved for women only on weekends, so rampant is the harassment situation
  • young women walking awkwardly on very high heels with bows in the back of them, as if ready to fall to their knees and assume kimonos
  • one of the most obvious fashions: dress shorts, with black boots
  • white coats definitely “in,” in all lengths
  • New Year’s “fortune bags” at all the stores. You pay $10 or $20 or more, and then open the bag at home to see what’s inside: cake, pillow, stress squeezie, etc. Only in today’s Japan, people are looking into the bags before they buy them. I mentioned this was the end of a tradition. No, they say, it’s just a new variation on it!
  • in the spas, you know if you’re in trouble if anyone is looking at you; if they’re not, you’re not doing anything wrong
  • Last lunch at Mitsumatsus was exquisite sushi delivered in exquisite lacquer Bento boxes from a local sushi restaurant! The restaurant picks up the empty boxes the next day.

Akashimate Omedeto Goazaimasu -- Happy New Year

First photos are us going to the nearby Shrine at midnight and standing an hour in the freezing cold with 100,000 people to wait ourchance to bow twice, clap twice, then bow once again to give thanks and make prayes for the New Year. Following that a stop at the "sweet hot sake" stand (Ama Zake) and to peruse the shrine Korean dishes.

Stayed up till 3:15 drinking sake and Grey Goose, alternately, and celebrating being up past our bedtimes!
Traditional New Year's feast at the Mitsumatsu manse--preparedby Izumi, Mama, Kayoko. Closeup, left to right starting with the Ise Ebi(Japanese lobster, $40 each, a present from friends), Kamaboko(pink/white fish cake), 2-color Tamago (egg), Datemaki (egg
roll), Konyaku (jellied yam!), Gobo, Butterflied Yuba (Tofu skin), Roasted Shitake, Roasted Seaweed, Renkon (lotus root), Hamaguri (skewered cherrystones), and Kohada (vinegared bluefish) -- all drunk with Otoso,a lightly herbed form of New Year's sake, to promote digestion and generally underline "tradition." served in progressively smaller cups with I being honored with the first and largest. Side dishes include Kuromame (black beans, with gold & silver foil),

Mama's tori-yam-daikon-carrot-shitake stew, colorful carrot-
daikon salad with subtle vinaigrette, etc. Chicken soup included rice cake and tiny Mitsuba individually tied into bows. Kayo and I took the train to Harajuku Station to see the teenagers, shrine-goers, and food merchants celebrating another perfectly clear day--with snowcapped Fuji-san perfectly visible. The 'emperor's platform' was open, this one day of the year, to give easier access to the shrine. Instead of the shrine, we worked the street market: My favorite were the potato twists on a sick and the dancing bananas--as well as a band of female drummers drumming up a storm. Today,--after a much needed one hour walk with Papa -- for the visit of Cousin Junko and her family I am improvising a gumbo with Japanese sausage and various other daring or dubious substitutes depending on how it turns out! Tabasco is, thank God, everywhere available. Yes, Fred, uokka and sake throughout!

Clouds over Tokyo Bay greeted us as the sun set. Bus ride to Shinjuku, then Papa-san picked us up for the last lap to Okigubo--where Mama and Izumi had a welcome feast prepared. Next night, the best sushi bar in Tokyo--Isohan with Mr. Ishi presiding. Japanese New Year starts 12/26 and is all about eating different 'traditional' meals every day! Fortunately the portions are perfectly manageable and we are working out every day! The city very orderly, the people happy, everything spic & span!

A rainy day in Ogikubo and the house filled with the aroma of a double pork roast. I'm cooking for tonight's feast--Yoshi to provide the vintage French wine. Meanwhile some dishes that slipped my mind (apologies!):
At Isohan: cod-sperm soup. Oh My God. Once you get over the thought, it's like drinking liquid pate.

At Ukai-Tori-Yama: minced quail cake soup. The area is famous for its quail. This dish is prepared by charcoaling whole quails then mincing them, bones included, to make a crabcake-like cake that has a pleasant light crunch to it along with the subtle flavors of quail, in scrumptious broth.

At Beijing-Park, Chinese-Japanese restaurant here in Ogikubo: kanage-daikon salad--jellyfish and radish. Absolutely unforgettable. Slightly better than the bes
t sizzling rice soup I've ever had--three weeks in the making. And my all-time favorite snack (from food courts at either Lumine or Takashimaya): flash-fried river shrimp--those tiny little shrimp, with a flavor twice their size. Try them sipping your favorite vodka (or, in fact, any vodka!). And, oddly enough, vodka is less expensive in the grocery stores here than it is in the duty free shop at LAX.

One of the most hilarious, and awful, experiences was seeing this huge line and discovering that it was the "around the corner line" for Crispy Crème (Ivonne--see photos), where the 'time to get in' is posted like a line at Disneyland: 1:00 hour, when we saw it! Can you imagine waiting an hour for a donut, when there's no wait at all at gorgeous little coffee shops filled with
pastry delicacies (see meringue photo).

One thing that's clear: this is a nation based on merchandising. Because almost everything here is imported except sake, things are more expensive (though the dollar's rise has helped us!) AND come in much smaller portions. To enhance the price, the packaging and merchandising are exquisite (see photos of Takashimaya and Lumine department stores). Buyers value what they get more because the actual opening of a food package turns it into a delicacy--so you feel more or less ok about a bag of 'Japanese pickles' that costs $30! And you open them with reverence, and gratitude for having this wonderful food at your disposal.

Some odd contrasts with U.S. and India: where at home and in India, ATMS are everywhere, here almost none of them work for US bank cards or cred
it cards--only for local banks. Getting cash is a real challenge, except at the airport where it's cash for cash. Although the streets and stores are spotless, it's very difficult to find a trash can! Recycling is so advanced here, that the cans that are available--very rarely--are super-sophisticated and divided into flammables, non-flammables, etc. Don't come to Tokyo looking for wireless cafes, either. Although folks have wi-fi at home, we haven't found a single coffee shop with one yet! And forget about decaf coffee. Here it's strictly the caf standard or nothing, the way it was in NY until a few years ago when Californication set in there as well.