fauxklore: (Default)
I have much catching up to do, but let's start with the quarterly things.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on both household organizing and crafting projects, but am nowhere near completing anything. I have not really paid any attention to writing projects, nor have I been reading anything from my life list. (However, I have been making progress on my goal of learning a story from every country in the world.) I’ve contacted a few "lost" family members, with quite interesting results. And I am good at self-indulgence. So maybe a score of just under 50% for the first half of the year?

Movies – Second Quarter 2017:
Film festivals and airplanes affect my movie-watching pace.

  1. Moos: This is a Dutch movie I saw at the Washington Jewish Film Festival. Moos is a young woman who has been spending her time caring for her father. A childhood friend, Sam, returns from Israel and encourages her to follow her dreams, so she auditions for a performing arts school. Her failure to actually get accepted doesn’t stop her. Some of it was pretty predictable romantic comedy fare, but the characters were interesting and Jip Smit was likeable in the title role. There’s also a guest performance by Asaf Hertz. Overall, I thought this was sweet and enjoyable, if not as funny as I’d been led to expect.

  2. OMG, I’m a Robot: This is the other movie I saw at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and I have to admit I chose it largely because of the title. The story involves Danny, whose girlfriend leaves him because he is too sensitive. In attempting to commit suicide, he discovers he is actually a robot. It turns out his girlfriend didn’t actually leave, but was kidnapped and sets out to rescue her, with the help of his boss and an Orthodox Jewish robot named Robo-Joseph. There is plenty of absurdity, so watching this requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But it is also very funny. If you can deal with a fairly high level of violence and like silly science fiction, I recommend it.

  3. Lion: Based on a true story, this involves a young boy, Saroo, who gets on a train and ends up in Calcutta. He wants to go home, but nobody can figure out where that is. He gets adopted by a family in Australia. As an adult, Saroo tells some friends his story, gets the suggestion of using Google Earth to help find where he came from. This is really an extraordinary film. I was particularly pleased with the way that Saroo interacts with his adoptive family, making it clear that he’s not rejecting them. The story is the sort of thing that could be played up as mawkish inspiration. That it isn’t is a true tribute to the art that can happen on film. I highly recommend watching this – but do have a box of tissues at your side when doing so.

  4. La La Land I like musicals, I like jazz, and I own a book of Ryan Gosling paper dolls. So I was set to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, I found it dull, predictable, and slow-paced. Very disappointing.

  5. Arrival: I liked the concept of this movie, in which a linguist has to figure out how to communicate with aliens. But the execution annoyed me for a number of reasons. It may just be that I was tired (and, in fact, had to go back and rewatch some sections a few times), but the non-linear storytelling was sometimes hard to follow. Mostly, though, it seemed that nothing changed at the end for anybody but the main character. In which case, why bother?

  6. The Lobster: This is one of the weirdest movies I’ve seen in ages. The premise is that people have to be coupled up, so single people (including the main character, who is recently divorced) are sent to a hotel where they have to find a suitable mate or be turned into an animal. The matchmaking is based on superficial things, e.g. both partners limping or both getting nosebleeds. They also go on hunts for loners. The whole thing takes a very dark and twisted turn. While this held my attention, I can’t say it was pleasant to watch. It was provocative enough to be worth seeing, but one would have to be in the right mood.

  7. Loving: Richard and Mildred Loving were quiet people, but their arrest for interracial marriage led to a multi-year battle, culminating in a Supreme Court decision in their favor. The thing that was most powerful in this movie was how understated it was. They were just a couple who loved each other and wanted to live a quiet country life. I was particularly impressed by Ruth Negga’s performance as Mildred. The one thing missing is a bit more of the backstory of how they met and got involved in the first place. This is a well-done and important movie and was well worth seeing.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2016 was not a great year for me, though I did have a few great things happen. I had certainly underestimated the impact of changing jobs, mostly in terms of how much mental energy that absorbed. I can't count how many nights I went to bed more or less right after supper.

I did finish one life list item, namely seeing the stone monoliths of Babeldaop. I got somewhat more involved with the Style Invitational Loser community, going to a few related social events. I started doing graze, which has, in addition to providing interesting snacks, given me something to write about here. And I had a particularly interesting year with respect to storytelling and to genealogy. Here are the details, in my usual categories.

Books: I only read 88 books last year, 48 of which were fiction. Only 6 were rereads. The ones I disliked include Lenore Glenn Offord’s Clues to Burn and Parnell Hall’s The Puzzle Lady and the Sudoku Lady. The absolute worst was a Laos Travel Guide which had about 40 pages about Laos and 100+ pages about studying mixed martial arts in Thailand, plus a chapter on ketogenic diets. I described this as the literary equivalent of the movie Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

On the positive side, some of the nonfiction books I enjoyed wereCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Leaving Before the Rains Come (two of Alexandra Fuller’s memoirs), Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (about his travels in Angola), Crossworld by Marc Romano (about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), and Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen (about Yemen). As for fiction, I enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady, To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman (who often writes teenage girls well), and three books by Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice, Ice Cold, and, especially, The Bone Garden.

Volksmarch: Nothing, zero, nada, nil. Sigh. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t seem to have been very interested in walking other than as a means of transportation.

Travel: The biggest trip of the year was, obviously, the eclipse cruise in the South Pacific, which included the visit to Babeldaop, as well as seeing the giant stone money of Yap, and, of course, my third total solar eclipse. It also pushed me over the edge of qualifying for the Travelers’ Century Club, so I joined it, even though I still think their country list is pretty silly. My only other international trip of the year was to Martinique, mostly to take advantage of a cheap airfare.

I had business trips to Los Angeles, Florida (the Space Coast), and Colorado Springs.

Personal domestic travel included a trip to L.A. and Denver for Captain Denny Flanagan’s pre-retirement get-together, Stamford (Connecticut, that is, for the ACPT), Salt Lake City (for the NPL con), New York (for Lolapuzzoola and for my high school reunion), Pittsburgh (for Loserfest), Chicago (to see the Art Institute and go to an Elvis Costello concert), and Key West. On the way home from Salt Lake City, I achieved Million Mile status on United.

I should also note that I flew a few times on Jet Blue, which I hadn’t done before. I’m fairly impressed with their service, though I don’t think much of their frequent flyer program.

Culture: I went to several story swaps, of course, as well as several of the shows at The Grapevine and a couple of storytelling-related fringe shows. In terms of performing, I did the Washington Folk Festival. But, more importantly, I performed in three Better Said Than Done shows, including the Best in Show competition. I’m particularly happy to have the summer camp story on video. And I’m glad to be working with some family material in a way that I think works for humor without being disrespectful.

I saw 11 movies over the past year, with only one in a theatre. I think the best of them was The Imitation Game. I went to three music events. Both of those categories are things I would like to do more of this coming year. I also went to a Cirque du Soleil show and to a comedy show.

My biggest cultural activity of the year was going to the theatre. If I’ve counted right, I went to six non-musicals and 21 musicals. The worst of those was The Flick at Signature Theatre. As a friend said, "How many people walked out when you saw it?" Highlights included Matilda at the Kennedy Center, 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre, The Lonesome West at Keegan Theatre, The Wild Party at Iron Crow in Baltimore, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, and, especially, Caroline, or Change and Monsters of the Villa Diodati at Creative Cauldron. The latter has become one of my favorite theatres in the region, with high quality performances in an intimate setting.

Genealogy: Note that I added this category this year. I made a fair amount of progress, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, with highlights including meeting a cousin and tracking down info on a couple of my grandfather’s siblings. I’m also proud of having funded the translation of the chapters my paternal grandfather contributed to the Lite Yizkor Book. And I got my DNA tested, though that hasn’t led me to any major revelations yet.

Goals: I pretty much failed miserably on my goals for last year, other than reaching million mile status on United. It isn’t even worth enumerating progress on others, all of which were, at best, one step forward and two steps back. I’m giving myself a 25% for the year.

As for the coming year, I still have hope that I can get things done. I’m tempted to write something like "oh, just grow up already," but let’s be somewhat specific and measurable.

  • Complete at least one household organizing project.

  • Complete at least one knitting or crochet project.

  • Complete at least one writing project.

  • Contact one "lost" family member every month to request genealogical information.

  • Spend at least a half hour each week reading things from the reading goals on my life list.

  • Treat myself to one indulgence (e.g. spa treatment or special meal or the like) every month.

fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: The only death that crossed my radar this time out was that of Shimon Peres. He served a couple of terms as Prime Minister of Israel, as well as holding several other prominent political jobs there, notably Foreign Minister. I’d say his most significant accomplishment was the peace treaty with Jordan. But he also deserves a lot of credit for Israel being as much of a technologically advanced nation as it is. He also wrote poetry, but I am loathe to list that as an accomplishment for any politician after having heard praise for Stalin’s poetry at his house museum in Georgia.

Baseball: The Red Sox clinched the American League East. Yay! I am also reasonably pleased that the Nationals won the National League East. As for the wild card slots, I’d kind of like to see Detroit pull things out and beat out Toronto, just because the Tigers have some appealing history.

Quarterly Movies: Well, make that "movie," singular. The only movie I saw over the past few months was Seven Psychopaths. I chose it because it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Like pretty much all of McDonagh’s work, it is weird and violent, but funny. At any rate, it held my attention.

The Quarterly Goal Update: I didn’t make much of an attempt over the past few months, largely because I’ve been so swamped at work. My email inbox at work is ridiculous – back up over 6000 items. The only other thing I’ve made any actual progress on is dealing with papers, having handled about 2/3 of what had migrated to the bedroom floor.

Speaking of Paperwork: I went to pay my county property tax bill for my car on-line. And I discovered that they had changed my address to some address in a town I’d never heard of that isn’t even in the same county. I called and got it changed back, but the point is that they should notify people when there is an address change so they can verify that they did it. (Apparently, someone did it by phone and the clerk typed in the wrong property number.) The whole thing was bizarre and the security implications are scary.

New Years Rosh Hashanah is Monday and Tuesday, so let me pass along my wishes for a happy, healthy 5777. I will also pass along wishes for a happy fiscal year 2017 for all of my friends who have some sort of U.S. government affiliations.

Two, two, two new years in one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
It's time for the quarterly goal progress round-up. I've stared at afghans and travelogues and tapes / LPs, but done damn little beyond that. I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

As for email, 5800 is just about 1000, isn't it? At least as close as I've gotten on the paper decluttering, though I have really good intentions for that this weekend. I have been working on this, but I still hear the rustling coming from the stacks of paper late at night and the piles seem to grow.

As for volksmarch events, there have been issues with weather. And weekend exhaustion. And sheer laziness.

However, the quarter was not a complete failure. I am officially a United million-miler. Gold status forever!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I keep thinking I've gotten things done, but then I look at what I planned and I'm not so sure.

  • Re: travelogues, the major progress I've made is getting a new computer. The reason this is significant is that writing on the old one was becoming more and more challenging for a number of reasons. However, I've also taken another major trip.

  • I've worked some on one afghan, but I am way behind.

  • I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

  • I've deleted a lot of email from 2 of my accounts. The third account is, alas, free of progress. On the other hand, the ones I have worked on are still around inbox=5000, so there is a lot more to go.'

  • I've done nothing about digitizing LPs and tapes.

  • I also haven't done any volksmarch events, largely due to winter weather and travel. But I did buy new walking shoes.

  • I have made significant progress towards my million mile status on United and now have under 7300 miles to go.

  • As for papers at home, I'm making very slow progress. I believe that I've cleared out all of the ones that were lurking near the entryway. I expect to get a fair amount done in the next couple of weeks, though, between cleaning for Pesach and being deep in the heart of taxes.

Bottom line is that travel-related goals are the easiest ones to motivate myself to work on.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2015 was a complex year. I had underestimated the impact of grieving for my mother and of trying to deal with her stuff. Changing jobs also had an impact. It will be positive in the long run but is inherently stressful. All of this definitely affected my energy level. Despite that, I did accomplish a few things. I managed two travel related life list items (the Hurtigruten cruise up the coast of Norway and the trip to Iguacu Falls), one non-travel related life list item (tracing my genealogy back into the 18th century on at least a couple of branches of my family), and made some progress on other items, e.g. seeing two more Best Picture Oscar winners.

Click here to read the details )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Goals: I have not yet given up on my goals for 2015, but I haven’t done a hell of a lot regarding them, either. I did a little bit more afghan square knitting and a little more Bible reading (like maybe about 4 pages).

I did sort out some genealogical info and, more importantly, partially figure out how I want to file various papers related to that. I have a tree up on geni.com, though I am not really impressed with it as a tool. But a start is a start, right?

I also did 3 Volksmarch events. There would have been more, but the weather has not really cooperated.

It wasn’t quite so explicit a goal, but I’ve also made a dent in the chaos that is my house. Given the crappy weather forecast for the weekend, I am expecting further progress then.

Admirable Restraint: Nobody is allowed to bring electronics (cell phones, tablets, even fitness bands) into our suite at work. So we have this big red box at the front desk for people to put their stuff in. I guess that there was too much stuff for just one box, so this week a second big red box appeared.

I have managed to resist the temptation to go out and buy several small red boxes to scatter around the two big ones.

Strange Theory re: Ear Worms: Songs with titles referencing the names of celebrities are particularly likely to infect me. It is possible that mere lyrics involving celebrities are sufficient. The infectiousness has no correlation with how much I do or don’t like the celebrity. This may also explain why I went around singing "David Duchovny, why don’t you love me?" for much of 1999.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Goals: I normally do a quarterly wrap-up of progress on my goals for the year. But I have done next to nothing in that direction over the past 3 months. I even fell behind on keeping track of spending in April and May, though I got back on track in June. And I knitted almost all of another big afghan square (the ones that count as 4).

Most of that lack of progress has been due to a certain general malaise, largely out of feeling overwhelmed with dealing with the estate stuff. Oddly, the past week has suddenly been better, largely out of having figured out where I can out stacks of books so they are out of my way but I can still get to them to go through them. And that realization has me filled with energy, which I’ve put to use the past couple of days trying to catch up on household paperwork.

So things are getting better and will get done.

Celebrity Death Watch: Patrick Macnee played Mr. Steed on The Avengers. Sir Nicholas Winton organized the rescue of a large number of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

Sleep and Weather: There were severe storms here last night. My neighborhood was spared the worst of them, but I know there was still plenty of wind and rain, based on the wet, leaf and petal covered pavement this morning. Normally, that sort of thing wakes me up and I complain about feeling like I am trying to sleep inside a shower.

What is weird is that I did wake up a couple of times last night, but was completely unaware of this storm until this morning.

Product Mockery: There is always the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue to provide amusement should all else fail. The most recent one includes the following gems:

  • Fish Catching RC Boat: So suppose you want to go fishing. But you don’t want to actually sit in a boat or stand on the shore or hold a fishing pole or anything like that. This lets you hold the controllers for a radio-controlled boat that does the fishing automatically for you. That sounds like all the boredom of waiting for fish to bite with none of the challenges or pleasures of actually fighting for a fish.

  • Automatic Tile Shuffling Mahjong Table: Because shuffling the tiles with your hands takes too long. At least your $1700 (plus $350 for shipping since it weighs 200 pounds) does get you a set of mah jong tiles included.

  • Identity Theft Thwarting Aluminum Wallet: The idea here is to block RFID chips. Except that credit cards don’t have RFID chips. And there is nothing that actually stops a thief from stealing the whole bloody wallet.

  • Front and Rear Roadtrip Recorder: I know people who are obsessed enough with photographic evidence of their lives that I can imagine them wanting this. But it only keeps about 90 minutes of video. I don’t know about you, but my roadtrips tend to be longer than that. (I do realize this could be useful for documenting accidents. So my mockery is a bit mixed. But, still …)

  • 12 MPH Cooler: This is, basically, a riding cooler. I’m not imagining that – the picture shows a guy straddling it and steering. Apparently, pulling a wheeled cooler is not sufficiently low effort. It has a 320 pound riding capacity, but it isn’t clear if you have to subtract off the weight of the beer or soda from that.

  • Transparent Canoe Kayak: Because … no, I cannot for the life of me imagine why one might want a transparent canoe kayak.

fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I've really made bloody little progress on anything this past quarter. Though I did get a fair amount of organizing done at home, which should enable me to get more things done. (Right now doesn't count, because of jet lag.)

I am doing a halfway reasonable job of tracking my spending. I should also have specified what size afghan squares count, because I knitted one and a half, but they were 12 inch squares, so they should really count as more. If a normal afghan square is 6 inches on a side, a 12 inch square should count as 4 squares. So I should really count it as if I did 6.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I think this is the latest I have done a year in review for the previous year. But I was trying to get various things done at home over the past few days and sitting down at the computer (beyond checking email and facebook) was a low priority. Behind a cut due to length )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have a bunch of catching up to do, so let’s start with the easy thing. Namely, the quarterly update on my goals for the year.

I got nothing done on either travelogues or on digitizing LPs and cassettes.

I didn’t make it to any more minor league ballparks, so, given that the season is over, I have failed miserably at that goal. In addition to the plans that had gotten canceled in June, I had a few vaguer plans that got rained out. Oh, well, there’s always next year.

I didn’t add any baseball volksmarch events, largely because one event I did was rerouted and no longer passed a ballpark. I have pretty solid plans for a couple of events soon, though. So I think that finishing that program remains achievable.

Reading the New Testament remains a slog. I think I made it about another 20 pages this quarter. Again, this is still achievable.

On the plus side, I’ve continued doing at least 2 crossword puzzles a day. I’ve gone to 2 National Parks (Acadia and Haleakala). And I’ve memorized 3 more poems - Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson, In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus by X. J. Kennedy and Resume by Dorothy Parker. The latter should probably not count, since it is so short, but I get to make the rules here. Next up is The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens.

Overall, I could do better, but I could do worse.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Here is the usual quarterly run-down on my goals for the year.

I got nothing done on travelogues. In fact, since I did another major trip, I got further behind. I also got nothing done on digitizing LPs and cassettes.

I didn’t add any baseball volksmarch events and, in fact, did only one volksmarch at all during the past few months. I haven’t been to any National Parks, either, but I have solidifying plans for two.

I am still crawling along through the New Testament. I read maybe another 15-20 pages.

I went to a game at one minor league ballpark (Lexington Legends). I had had plans for another, but they got cancelled for complicated reasons.

On the plus side, I have continued doing at least 2 crossword puzzles a day. I finished memorizing The Owl and the Pussycat and learned Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse. I stalled for a bit out of indecision over which poem to do next, but I’m making good progress now on Richard Cory.

Overall, it was a pretty meh quarter, but I still think I can achieve what I intend to. And I did check off a life list item (the spa at the Hotel Hershey), as well as getting ink in the Washington Post Style Invitational. So I don’t feel entirely unaccomplished.


May. 20th, 2014 04:46 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
You may (but probably don't) recall that a couple of years ago one of my goals involved sending entries in for the Washington Post Style Invitational. I accomplished that, but didn't get any ink out of them. Since then, I have sent in an entry now and again, though infrequently. Because it takes time and thought, which are commodities in short supply today.

Last night, as part of pre-vacation preparations, I opened a bunch of mail from the past week and a half or so. And I found a loser magnet (the "Puns of Steel" one). That's what you get for an honorable mention, though I believe I should technically have gotten the pine air freshener ("fir stink") for first ink.

At any rate, I got ink!

(And, yes, I know nobody else on the planet is as excited about this as I am.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Actually, I believe that Belgium is the sweetest place on earth, but it was Hershey, Pennsylvania I spent a weekend in a few weeks ago. (Yes, I am behind. I've been busy. And, yes, that is not news.)

I don’t remember when I first heard about the spa at the Hotel Hershey, but as soon as I did, I knew it was something I had to experience and, hence, added it to my life list. Reading the descriptions, it sounded like I could luxuriate in warm chocolately goodness. I’d mentioned this to my friend, Suzanne, who is much more of a spa person than I am and game for all sorts of adventures. (For example, she did the fish pedicure with me a couple of years ago.) It took a bit of effort to find a time that worked for both of us, but we finally managed to make it work.

Part of what makes Suzanne a good person for me to travel with is that she is not into constant togetherness. She flew in (to Harrisburg) on Thursday night. I spent Friday working at home in the morning, followed by finishing my taxes. So it was early afternoon by the time I got out of the house to drive north. Most of the drive was pleasant, but I got stuck in some crawling traffic within the last 30 miles or so. Still, I got to the Hotel Hershey in just about 3 hours. When you check in, they ask you whether you prefer milk or dark chocolate and then give you a chocolate bar. (I am, of course, a dark chocolate person, though Hershey’s dark barely qualifies based on cacao percentage.) I called Suzanne and we set a time and place to meet for drinks, leaving me a little time to rest beforehand.

The Iberian Lounge had some chocolate themed drinks on its menu (misnamed as martinis. Sorry, but just using a martini glass does not a martini make. It must contain vermouth and either gin or, if one is being liberal, vodka.) Ignoring such atrocities, I had a glass of pinot noir, while Suzanne noticed that the beer list had Smithwick’s, which is her favorite. We moved on to dinner at Harvest, where I had a tasty cream of onion soup and a very nice beet and arugula salad. We figured that we would email and text to coordinate plans for the rest of the weekend, with no actual necessity to do things together.

As it happened, she was up when I emailed her that I was going down to breakfast (included in the hotel package we’d booked), so we ate together. Breakfast is served in The Circular and the buffet has a reasonable variety, including made to order omelets and little waffles with the shape of a Hershey’s kiss pressed into them. We then used the tickets to The Hershey Story (also included in the hotel package). This is a museum of Hershey history – both Milton Hershey’s and the company’s – and is reasonably well done. I can’t say that I learned anything much new, but, then, I’d been to Hershey before (and taken the trolley tour around town.) Overall, I’d say it was worth an hour and a half.

While Suzanne drove back to the hotel for her first spa appointment, I drove over to Chocolate World, where I did the (free) Great American Chocolate Tour. This is a ride past animatronic singing cows and such. Key word is free, and you do get a chocolate sample at the end, but it’s really pretty forgettable. The sad part is that I had actually done this ride once before, so I had apparently not learned my lesson.

The Chocolate Tasting Adventure (about ten bucks) is more educational. There’s a lecture on the history of chocolate. Then you get to do the tasting. There’s a chart with various flavors listed (e.g. caramel, cinnamon, tobacco, leather, etc.) and there are small bars of a number of different Hershey products. Starting with their regular milk chocolate, the instructions were to let the sample melt in your mouth and not to chew. That one was pretty simple, dominated by the (slightly sour) cream flavor. The Hershey’s special dark was more complex. Then came Hershey’s bliss, which is slightly darker. The best piece was a Scharfenberger sample, though it was one of their milk chocolate pieces, not one of their darks (which have a much higher cacao content than the products Hershey makes themselves). Finally, there was a candy kiss. While this was entertaining enough for a 20 minute session, I would have preferred something less mainstream. I am clearly not the target demographic, however, since most of the people present expressed clear preferences for the insipid milk chocolate varieties.

The hotel package also included admission to Hershey Gardens. This was not the optimal time of year for that, but it was still pleasant to stroll around for an hour or so.

Then it was spa time. The check-in area is poorly designed, in that the chairs to fill out their forms are actually out in the hall outside the spa. Your spa host gives you a robe and a locker (and, if your feet are not as average sized as mine, gets you different sized sandals). I changed, then got shown to the three rooms where one can wait for treatments – the aromatherapy room, the silent room, and the quiet room. The latter has tea and muffins (and, of course, chocolate – both hot chocolate and bowls of candy kisses) available and I settled in with some tea and a book. It wasn’t long before my name was called and I was off for the "sweet feet" pedicure. This included a nice chocolate sugar scrub and a cocoa oil hydration thing (as well as more normal pedicure stuff). It was enjoyable but the pedicure area was crowded, so it was kind of weird having all these other conversations going on around me. I did buy some cocoa sugar scrub so I can replicate the best part of the experience.

After that I went back to the quiet room. Suzanne showed up there eventually (in between her pedicure and massage) and we noted that we had chosen way too similar nail polish colors. I was summoned for my other appointment – chocolate hydrotherapy. This was, frankly, disappointing. I love soaking in Jacuzzis, but I was expecting something with more chocolate scent. The water (which did have cocoa essence) had little scent, though the cool washcloth provided had more. And the room was rather bland.

Bottom line is, that as spa experiences go, this was not quite up to what either of us expected, especially for the price. It was worth trying once, but there are other, nicer spas in the U.S. (and, of course, for good value, one should go to Asian spas, like the mud baths I once went to in Vietnam).

Our chocolate adventures were not done, however, as Suzanne insisted that we go to play Chocolate Bingo in the early evening. We were the only adults there without children, but why should that stop us? They used the sort of bingo cards that have sliding windows over the numbers. They started with normal bingo and moved on to several variants. The prizes were, of course, chocolate. I won a 2 piece prize with an H-shaped victory and was ashamed of depriving young children of the victory. Suzanne, who won three pieces (a one piece and a 2 piece prize) and a large bag in the final round, had no such scruples. It was pretty entertaining. We followed that with dinner at Trevi 5, which was reasonably nice. I should note that we had expected the restaurants to have more interesting dessert menus than they did. For chocolate-themed food, one would be better off going to Co Co Sala in D.C.

Sunday morning saw us back to Chocolate World, where we did the Make Your Own Candy Bar attraction. This was fun. You put on an apron and shower cap and swipe your card at various stations to make choices. I selected a white chocolate base with toffee brickle and chocolate cookie crumbs. I watched it go down the conveyor belt and get filled (rather unevenly), then enrobed in milk chocolate. You get to design your wrapper, too. It’s as close to a factory tour as you can get at Hershey nowadays, so think of it that way, versus spending fifteen bucks for a few ounces of mediocre chocolate.

Chocolate World also has a huge gift store. I bought a couple of things for the office. I am pleased to say the bag of little Scharfenberger bars was far more popular than the box of kisses. Suzanne bought a lot more, but it’s more of a novelty for people who live in California. Then I drove home, via the longer route. I ran a few errands along the way. Unfortunately, the outlet mall did not have the right type of pantyhose (it is hard to find the sandal foot ones so I had hoped to stock up). I did get rid of a box of books and magazines at The Book Thing in Baltimore. And, since this was just before Passover, I stopped in Pikesville and bought all sorts of things at the large kosher supermarket there.

All in all, it was a relaxing, albeit expensive, weekend. It is always good to check off a life list item, too. The relaxation was, alas, undone within minutes at work on Monday, but that’s another story.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
So how did I do on my annual goals over the past few months? Well, I have excuses.

  1. No progress on travelogues because I still don’t have a new computer. My excuse is that I have been unable to shop for one because of the weather. Maybe, now that it is approaching actual springtime…

  2. I got through maybe another 15 pages of the New Testament. And I don’t even have an actual reason for that one.

  3. I did one Volksmarch baseball event. There would have been more, but I had other commitments whenever the weather might have allowed walking.

  4. I didn’t go to any Minor League baseball games because baseball hadn’t started yet. I have plans, however, possibly as soon as this weekend, weather permitting.

  5. I have done at least two crossword puzzles every day. I’ve done more many of those days. So one goal is on track.

  6. I haven’t gone to any National Parks, but I have firm plans for two.

  7. I’ve memorized 2 poems - Invictus by William Ernest Henley and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. I am close to having Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat down. That is pretty much on track, I think. I am open to suggestions on poems to memorize, by the way.

  8. I haven’t started on digitizing LPs and cassettes I need to make some room in the living room to get moving on this, because the equipment takes up space.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Here’s my annual year in review. I put it behind a cut due to length. Click here for the details. )
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Before we get too much into July, I should do the quarterly update for April through June.

  1. I have made no progress on travelogues. Sigh.

  2. I have sorted some papers but that is a very minimal start to organizing my finances.

  3. I did use up scrap yarn in the Artisphere Yarn Bomb project and in the Butterfly Project (for which I mailed off 11 crocheted butterflies to the Holocaust Museum of Houston at the end of July). But I keep finding more. I need to work on some charity afghans with it.

  4. I did the One Day Hike! I can claim complete victory over a goal for the year! Yay, me!

  5. I am about 25 pages into the New Testament. So, there’s a long way to go, but at least I made a start.

  6. I’ve added another 3 Oscar winning movies, so I am up to 9 for the year so far. I expect to complete this goal within the next couple of weeks, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

  7. I’ve been to 2 minor league games – the Portland Sea Dogs and the Potomac Nationals.

  8. I didn’t add on any Volksmarch baseball events, alas, largely because the weather transitioned from too hot to too cold. That means I still have 14 to go.

I also completed two life list items. I’ve seen every extant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta live. And I drank a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Overall, I’d say the year is going reasonably well, though I have a few challenges I am coping with right now.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I am slowly catching up on things. Being perpetually busy does not help.

Celebrity Death Watch: The celebrity deaths I want to note for May include Dr. Joyce Brothers (newspaper psychologist and boxing trivia maven), Andrew Greeley (Catholic priest and author), and Jean Stapleton (actress, best known as Edith Bunker). But the one that stands out the most for me is that of Billie Sol Estes. Unless you are a fan of the Chad Mitchell Trio, the name may not mean much to you, but the short version is that he was convicted of fraud for a scheme involving mortgages on non-existent fertilizer tanks. As the song goes,"“Here’s to the greatest biggest embezzler of all." (By the way, this isn’t just me. My mother made a point of mentioning his death when I called her after getting back from my vacation and we sang, "Hey Billie Billie, Hey Billie Billie Sol" together. That may be proof of a congenital basis for earworms.)

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Ralph Chatham is gone. I’m somewhat at a loss for what to say. Ralph was a storyteller and organizer / promoter of storytelling events, retired naval submarine officer, and physicist. He spent a couple of years at DARPA and worked on things like the Grand Challenge (involving autonomous vehicles) and training tools for language learning. He told Jack tales, personal stories, and literary stories. He shared my fondness for Saki and Gilbert and Sullivan and narrative poetry. I carpooled with Ralph and his widow, Margaret, to many an event and he was always full of wide-ranging conversation. His death was not a surprise as he had been diagnosed with brain cancer about a year ago, but it is still a huge loss to our community. I am honored to have called him friend.

The Yeoman of the Guard: The first weekend in May featured a trip up to Delaware to see The Ardensingers’ production of The Yeoman of the Guard. The significance of this is that I have now seen every extant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta live, which is a life list item. (The "extant" qualifier is there because of Thespis which is mostly lost, though there are sporadic attempts to recreate it.) Anyway, the production was fun. I thought Jay Anstee was good as Colonel Fairfax, but Jeffrey Grant stole the show as Wilfred Shadbolt. I also want to note Mary Punshon as Elsie Maynard. My favorite song from this show remains "A man who would woo a fair maid."

By the way, I stayed up that way (well, a bit further south) overnight and stopped in at Delaware Park for dinner and a bit of gambling. It was amazingly crowded. I’d have thought that the spread of casino gambling to Maryland would have an impact, but it didn’t appear to.

Maryland Sheep and Wool: Part of the reason for staying overnight in Delaware was to make it more direct to stop off at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on Sunday morning. As I have probably explained before, this is the largest fiber festival in the Eastern United States and is something of a cross between a county fair and the world’s largest yarn store. I was trying to stick to just buying things I needed for a couple of specific projects but a couple of other things (e.g. a book of patterns for knitted dinosaurs) jumped into my bags. Afterwards, I stopped off at knitting group and showed off my purchases.

Washington Jewish Music Festival: I made it to two shows at this year’s WJMF. The first was Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars Klezmer Bhangra Extravaganza. This featured Deep Singh on percussion and vocalist Manu Narayan, along with the klezmer band. The mash-up of Yiddish and Indian traditions (with a hefty dose of jazz thrown in) worked amazingly well. My only complaint is that the set-up at the Jewish Community Center had nowhere to dance.

The second show was a Broadway sing-along. Joshua Morgan led things at the piano, with Bayla Whitten and Will Gartshore as song leaders. I was disappointed for two reasons. The first was that I thought Morgan did too much shtick. Shut up about how much of the audience you’ve slept with, stop the rambling stories about your horrible auditions, and let everybody enjoy singing! The other issue was some dubious choices of songs. Many of the selections were fine and obvious (e.g. "If I Were a Rich Man") but there were several that were chosen without much thought of their singability by amateurs. I found it particularly egregious to choose "Children Will Listen" as one of the Sondheim selections. "Comedy Tonight" would be a much better choice. Not that the event was a complete flop, but I’d give it a B-minus. Since the premise is one you would think would be an easy A for me, that’s a significant miss.

Ballet – The Sun Also Rises: This was the final show of my Washington Ballet season subscription. An adaptation of a Hemingway novel seemed an unlikely choice for a ballet, but it turned out to be my favorite of the season. (Well, maybe tied with Dracula.) The score (by Billy Novick) suited the story and Septime Webre’s choreography meshed with the music and atmosphere and scenery. I expected the Pamplona scene to be visually exciting (and it was, with added video). That the rest of the ballet worked as well as it did was both a surprise and a delight.

I should also note that prior to this season, I would have said I favor going to ballet programs that consist of a few one act ballets. But it has been the full-length ballets (both from the Washington Ballet and other companies) that I’ve enjoyed and the mixed repertory programs I’ve found unsatisfying. It appears that I need to rethink my strategy.

Story Swap: I know I went to a story swap. I know it was a small group, possibly because of weather. I have to admit I don’t remember anything else specific about it.

Pro Musica Hebraica: I go to this series largely to support the idea of presenting Jewish classical music. The spring concert featured the Apollo Ensemble performing Jewish baroque music from Italy and Amsterdam. If you are at all knowledgeable about the subject, you are already muttering something about Salamone de Rossi, who is pretty much considered the first major Jewish composer. There were also pieces by Marco Uccellini, Giacobo Basevi Cervetto and M. Mani, as well as by non-Jewish composers (notably Lidarti and Handel) touching on Jewish themes. Many of the pieces were rescued from fragments in the Etz Chayim library of Amsterdam and much of the appeal of the evening (and of the series) was getting to hear rarities. I continue to question what (if anything) makes much of this work identifiably Jewish, but I suspect the answer is similar to the one Howard Schwartz gives regarding Jewish stories. To wit, a story is Jewish if it is told (or written) by a Jew, involves Jewish times (e.g. holidays) or places (all stories set in Jerusalem are Jewish until proven otherwise) or has some other Jewish connection. That still leaves me puzzled over Bernstein’s Mass, but so be it. Getting back to the concert at hand, I should also note that I particularly appreciate the extensive notes by Professor James Loeffler of the University of Virginia.

Vacation: And then I flew off on a trip to Singapore (with a side trip to Melaka, Malaysia), Australia (Perth for OzFest, followed by taking the Indian Pacific Railroad to Adelaide) and Hong Kong / Macau. I accomplished another life list item by drinking a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel. It was very pricy (SGD30 ish with the service charge) and decidedly not worth it.

Which brings me to June and other things I need to catch up about later.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I am not entirely sure how I first found out about The One Day Hike but I stumbled upon their website a few years ago and was intrigued by the idea of walking 50 or 100 kilometers (31.1 or 62.1 miles) along the C&O canal towpath in one day. The dates never worked and the distance was daunting. But, when my friend, Suzanne, was asking about an interesting challenge to pursue this year, I thought of this. We decided the 50K was challenging enough and marked our calendars. It's a good thing we were paying attention to when registration opened as the event is limited to 350 hikers and it sold out in under half an hour. By the way, we had tried to talk other people into signing up, too, but everyone we know universally agreed it was an insane thing to do.

I didn't manage nearly as much training as I'd intended to, but I did enough to figure that I could survive hike day. There is a shuttle bus for 50K hikers to their start point (at White's Ferry). The shuttle goes from the Shady Grove metro station, so it made sense to stay at a hotel out that way overnight and not deal with potential metro delays. (I actually stayed in Gaithersburg both Friday and Saturday nights, figuring that I'd be tired enough not to want to drive all the way home after the hike. That was definitely a good decision.) Suzanne flew out from Los Angeles on Thursday and was staying at a different hotel nearby, by the way.

Finding the shuttle bus in the morning was slightly challenging since the directions said to go to the "old parking structure." It would be better to identify that as the 2-story parking structure since the new one is 6 stories and relative height is a lot more obvious than relative age. Still, that was the only real glitch in an extremely well-organized event.

On arrival at White’s Ferry, we picked up our bibs and signed the liability waiver. I had filled out the medical form on-line, but others did it on site. We also got a handout with a map and miscellaneous information about the hike. Then we had a bit of a wait for the official start time. Finally, hike director Mike Darzi gathered us around, gave a short talk, and we were off. I am towards the left (facing sideways and wearing a blue plaid hat) in this picture from the start point:

50Khikestart by fauxklore
50Khikestart, a photo by fauxklore on Flickr.

The first stretch of the 50K hike was actually going back towards Washington for about 3.5K. People started bunched off and gradually spread out along the way. Suzanne was, of course, already way ahead of me, allowing her to get this picture of me while I was still out-bound and she had already turned around. By the way, the turn-around point was well marked with people and bicycle patrols, so it would have been effectively impossible to miss it.

me on c&o canal towpath by fauxklore
me on c&o canal towpath, a photo by fauxklore on Flickr.

50K hikers don’t need to check in when they get back to White’s Ferry, but they can still avail themselves of the support station there. I grabbed a peanut butter sandwich for an early lunch, which I ate while I continued on the path. The next support station was at the 17.5K mark at the Moncacy River. I had stopped a little before that to use a port-a-potty, bandage a developing blister, and change socks. That enabled me to fall in with a group of people who were also changing socks at that point, and we would walk together off and on for much of the day.

Because I had made that atop, I pretty much just checked in and out at the Monocacy River support station, other than refilling my water bottles. (I had my platypus water system filled with plain water and a small bottle of water which I added half a nuum electrolyte tablet to. This combination worked very well for me.) Should one have needed it, there were plenty of food options and a first aid station available there.

The next stretch was 10K to Point of Rocks. This was actually the hardest part of the hike for me, primarily because of the one thing I had not brought along – namely, insect repellant. I felt surrounded by gnats and, combined with growing blisters, was wondering exactly why I was doing this. There was an Amtrak train passing by and I thought about how nice it would be to be sitting comfortably watching the same scenery passing by. But I gave myself a “you can do it” lecture and kept pushing on. When I got to the Point of Rocks support station, I got a bowl of soup and took off my shoes. By the time I was done eating, I felt ready to re-bandage my feet, change socks again, and push on.

I felt really good for a while after that. The Brunswick support station (aka Camp Flamingo) was 10.6K away and I enjoyed the first 7 or so kilometers of that. I was starting to fade, when one of the people on bike patrol asked me if there was anything I needed. I had plenty of water and snacks, so I said, “no.” And she said, “okay, how about a joke?” That’s an offer I never turn down and it proved to be just what I needed. By the time I got to Camp Flamingo, I realized what I really wanted was caffeine. And, right at the entrance to that support station, there was a nice big urn of coffee! I’m normally way too much of a coffee snob to drink commercial coffee, but it was exactly what I needed at that moment. I also decided that it was a good idea to get a more professional job on my blisters, so stopped by the first aid area. Patched up (and with a final change of socks), caffeinated, and refreshed (I also ate an orange), I was ready to go on. (By the way, I see now that there was supposed to a map of the final leg as a handout at this station. If there was one, I never saw it.)

The group I had been walking with off and on decided to drop out, largely because one guy’s feet were in bad shape. But I soon ended up walking with a woman who had done the hike 4 times before. Eventually we reached the spiral metal staircase up to the footbridge over the Potomac to Harper’s Ferry. I’d worried about missing this point, too, but there was a volunteer on hand to make sure people turned off the towpath to it.

The towpath is very flat but the route through Harper's Ferry involves a steep uphill climb. That's on a sidewalk, but still, it is a steep uphill climb at a point after you have already walked more than a marathon. Still, there's just about a mile to go at that point, so there really wouldn't be any reason to quit. I trudged onwards, telling myself "one more step." And, then, there it was - the finish point at the Bolivar Community Center! The first thing they do is take your picture.

meatendof1dayhike by fauxklore
meatendof1dayhike, a photo by fauxklore on Flickr.

I'm not crazy about the photo since my hair is a mess (thanks to the hat during the day and my headlamp after dark). And I am slouching. I should have at least taken my hands out of my pockets! But, still, I am smiling because I succeeded.

I ate some pizza while waiting for the bus back to Shady Grove. I tried to call Suzanne (who had, of course, finished hours earlier), but had no cell phone signal, so had to wait until I was back closer to civilization. During the ride back, I dozed off a bit, but I was happy and satisfied.

So, what worked well and what didn't? My water strategy was very effective. I am also very happy with the new headlamp I'd bought at REI. And bringing a few changes of socks worked well for me.

My biggest failure was not realizing I would need insect repellant. I also brought way too much food with me. I had cheese crackers, salmon jerky, and my favorite trail mix (Trader Joe's makes one with just cashews, almonds, and chocolate). There was enough stuff and of enough variety at the support stations that bringing all that along was really unnecessary. The other thing I noticed was that the things that hurt during training didn't, but new things did. For example, I'd put a heat patch on a spot on my back that had hurt on some of the longer training walks, but it was my left hip that annoyed me during the hike. Similarly, the blister pads I'd put on my little toes worked well, but I got blisters on the part of the balls of my feet towards the instep. And, on my right foot, which normally never gets blisters, no less! I guess the message is that you can protect only against some problems, but there will be unanticipated ones.

Overall, I am very very happy that I did the hike. It was a good, but achievable, challenge. The Sierra Club volunteers did an excellent job with running the support stations and having the bike patrols and just, generally, anticipating needs I didn't always realize I had. I would definitely consider attempting the 100K at some point, though not for a few years.

I should add that I recovered surprisingly quickly. I was able to socialize more or less normally at a party at a friend's house the next day, for example. And I was back to my usual whirl of activity the next weekend. But that's another (yes, overdue) entry.


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