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Goals: I am on track with 4 of my 9 goals. As you will see below, I’ve read 13 books over the first quarter. I entered the Style Invitational twice. I’ve done reasonably well at bringing lunch to work and at eating fruit daily, with a few weeks of slip=ups. Everything else, alas ….

Quarterly Movies: My quarterly movie list is easy this time, as I appear to have not seen a single movie over the past three months. I might have watched a couple on my flights to and from El Salvador, but the earbuds I had with me broke.

Quarterly Books: I did, however, read a bit. I wrote about the 8 books I read in January already, so here is my list for February and March.

  1. Tom Hodgkinson, How To Be Idle. This was a surprisingly humorless volume about the virtues of things like sleeping, slacking off at work, smoking, alcohol, etc. I suppose one could add reading this dull a book to the list of time wasters.

  2. Kathryn Lilley, Dying To Be Thin. This mystery, set at a weight-loss clinic, wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. I could have lived without the diet tips thrown in, though they did make sense in context (as the heroine is focused on losing weight). Even more so, I could have lived without the romantic subplot, which has her being pursued by two different men. And I could have really lived without her being enough of an idiot to end up in a confrontation with the murderer that results in her being poisoned.

  3. Danielle Steele, Silent Honor. At last, a book I really enjoyed. This traces the story of a young woman from Japan, whose progressive father sends her to live with relatives and go to school in California. She gets stuck in the U.S. when World War II breaks out – and ends up in an internment camp with the family. There’s a romance with a (white) American man and a lot of complications before they end up living happily ever after post-war. I felt like I knew a lot more about the indignities suffered by Japanese Americans – and the differing reactions to them – after reading this. Recommended.

  4. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, The Nest. This was a book club selection, though I ended up missing our meeting because I was sick. The story involves 4 siblings who are waiting to receive their nest egg from their father’s estate on the 40th birthday of the youngest. Then, one of them has a drunk driving incident and their mother uses the money to pay off the woman he’s injured. Unfortunately, all of them need money and try to find ways to manipulate him into paying them back. This was interesting enough, but the siblings were all unlikeable enough that I wanted them to just grow up already.

  5. Helen Van Slyke, No Love Lost. This is the story of a woman who grows up rich, marries the man of her dreams, and loses everything when her daughter dies in childbirth. There’s plenty of infidelity plus betrayal by a one-time best friend. Then there’s a most unsuitable second marriage… Despite all the trauma, most of the bad behavior of the various characters is understandable. So, while I wanted to tell them to grow up and/or go to therapy, I didn’t cringe at all of their behavior. Reasonably entertaining, but could have used some trimming.

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Thanks to another friend, I had joined a facebook group for National Just Read More Novels Month. For me, this translated partly into Just Read Shorter Novels for a month, ending up with 7. So, rather than waiting for my usual quarterly book rundown, here’s what I read in January. Note that there are 8 books here, but the first book didn’t count for NaJuReMoNoMo because I had started it in December and only had the last 30 or so pages to read on New Year’s Day.

  1. William Stuart Long, The Exiles: This was a long book and is, in fact, the first volume in a 12 book series about Australians. The author, whose real name was Vivian Stuart (nee Violet Vivian Finlay) was even more prolific than that, writing over 70 books under at least 7 names. This book traces a young woman, Jenny Taggart, from a family tragedy through poverty in London through being transported to Australia on the First Fleet. She makes a great success oi her life there, though there is plenty of tragedy and loss along the way. From what I can tell, the historical background was pretty accurate, too. Overall, I thought this was a good read and I look forward to reading more of this series.

  2. Alexander Kent, Midshipman Bolitho and The Avenger: I like the Bolitho series for the characters and the relationships between them, not the naval battles. This one has Bolitho on leave at home and getting pulled into service to help deal with smugglers along the Cornish coast. The Bolitho novels were not written in chronological order, so I already knew some of what will happen later on between Richard Bolitho and his brother, Hugh, who he is serving under on this mission. I figured out a critical plot point pretty quickly, but it didn’t matter. It was still a good, quick read.

  3. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing: This was for my book club, but I had suggested it to them, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends. It follows several generations of the descendants of two women who never knew they were sisters and tells the history of Ghana and of African-Americans along the way. I’ve traveled in Ghana, which probably helped in my enjoyment of this, but I think it should be accessible to anyone. This was fascinating and I recommend it highly.

  4. Jeff Lindsay, Dearly Devoted Dexter: This is part of a series (made into a TV show later on) about a blood spatter technician for the Miami Police who is also a sociopathic serial killer. This book involves a particularly horrifying series of crimes, but it also has to do with Dexter’s relationship with his family and his girlfriend and her children. The writing is breezy and entertaining, but it does feel strange to be cheering for Dexter, who is, after all, a serial killer.

  5. Stephanie Evanovich, Big Girl Panties: I needed a change of pace, so it was time for some chick lit. The genre tends to be predictable, so that isn’t a big criticism. The premise here is that a fat woman meets a personal trainer on an airplane, becomes his client, and transforms her life via weight loss, fitness, and, eventually, getting involved with him. To be fair, she doesn’t end up skinny per se and he realizes he loves her though she isn’t model thin, but there are still several annoying aspects to this book, starting with how much weight she loses how fast and going on to equating fatness with eating disorders and emotional issues. Then the whole thing is rather steamier than I really wanted to read on the train to work (including a subplot involving the trainer’s best friend who enjoys spanking his wife). Meh.

  6. Sara Woods, Tarry and Be Hanged: This is a British mystery from the late 1960’s, before mystery writers felt that they had to throw in a couple of hundred extra pages of subplots. Anthony Maitland gets his client acquitted of murder, but he still needs to find out whodunit to rescue the client’s reputation. This is a decent enough example of the genre, though I’d have appreciated an epilogue telling me what became of some of the characters after the crimes were solved.

  7. Alexander Kent, Band of Brothers: More of Richard Bolitho, who passes his commissioning exam to become a lieutenant and is charged with helping a new midshipman adjust, along with doing his actual job. There was a minor annoyance in the form of having one character with the first name Montagu and another with the surname Egmont, which are just similar enough to confuse me a little. I also wish Kent didn’t have the nasty habit of killing off characters I like.

  8. Stephen King, The Dead Zone: Nobody does suspense better than Stephen King. This book is about a guy who spends 4 and a half years in a coma after a car accident and awakens with psychic powers, which prove to be more of a curse than a blessing. There are ups and downs along the way, culminating in an interesting moral dilemma. You probably already know whether or not you like King’s writing. If you do, this is a good example of it.

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I am really tired because I was out late on Wednesday night. I went to The Grapevine, a storytelling show in Darkest Maryland. (Except it really isn't. It's technically on the D.C. line of the border in Takoma Park. But it involves going to an extreme end of the Red Line, so it is rather like falling off the edge of the earth.) The featured tellers were Noa Baum and Donald Davis. Normally, there is also an open mike, but they skipped it, possibly because it was very very crowded.

Anyway, Noa had a new story about dolls, mixed with a story about Vasilisa the Wise and Baba Yaga. Some of the transitions between the two didn't quite work for me, but it was an interesting piece. One thing, though - and I know this is not Noa's fault - but Baba Yaga's hut does not have doors or windows. That (along with the chicken feet) is one of its key features. She goes in and out via the chimney.

As for Donald, he told two stories - Mrs. Rosemary's Kindergarten and a story about haircuts. I've heard both of them multiple times before, but it doesn't matter because he is just such a great teller. Overall, the show was a real treat and worth the exhaustion.

I compounded the exhaustion last night because I was absorbed in reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and stayed up to finish it. It's an excellent novel and brought back memories of traveling in Ghana.

Friday Five: I don't usually do these, but since my grandfather was a jeweler, this one appealed to me.

  1. Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry? Describe. I have a necklace that my great-grandmother supposedly bought in China. It's black enamel over what I think is brass, with complex designs of the metal showing through the enamel.

  2. Is there a piece of jewelry that you wear daily? Describe. I wear at least one ring all the time, except for when I travel in somewhere dicey. It's usually a square-cut sapphire ring, but I have identical emerald and ruby rings (and some others I sometimes wear depending on what I have on).

    I used to wear an onyx ring on my index finger all the time, but I've been having some joint issues that made the finger swell, so I haven't been wearing it much.

  3. What is the most costly piece of jewelry you own? I have a star sapphire and diamond ring I inherited. I never wear it because it is fragile and doesn't really go with anything, but it was custom-made for my mother so I feel obliged to keep it.

    Of things I actually bought for myself, I have a Marty Magic gold ring in the shape of a bat. I also have a couple of pairs of Lunch at the Ritz earrings, that are big and dangly and fabulous for special occasions.

  4. What piece of jewelry would you secretly (or not so secretly) love to own, but do not? Why don't you? Maybe more from Lunch at the Ritz, possibly one of their necklaces. I don't wear necklaces much, however, because I tend to play with them and break them.

  5. Is there a piece of jewelry you once owned but no longer own? What happened to it? I had another sapphire ring which disappeared in the course of one or another move ages ago. I keep hoping it will turn up, but after 30+ years it seems unlikely.

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2018 was fairly stressful, largely due to a work situation that appears to be resolving itself. And, of course, the state of the world didn't help.

Books: I read 40 books, which is probably the fewest since I learned how to read. Also, surprisingly, only 6 were non-fiction. This is a little misleading in that I don’t count guidebooks, which end up being most of what I read when I’m traveling. My logic for not counting them is that I rarely read them cover to cover.

Favorites were Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, and Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

The book I hated the most was Murder By Sacrilege by D. R. Meredith.

I really need to do a used bookstore run. I’m not even sure how many books I have ready to go out.

Volksmarch: I did three events – in New Orleans, Atlantic City, and Charleston, West Virginia. The latter was a State Capital walk. I should get back into focusing on special programs, but first I need to resolve some issues with my right foot.

Travel: I started the year out in Singapore. My last trip of the year was to the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. John) which is only semi-international, involving a dependency of the U.S., not a separate country. My major trip of the year was my family roots trip to Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarus (plus a part of a day in Zurich), which was incredible.

Domestic trips included business trips to Colorado Springs and to Layton, Utah. Personal travel was to New Orleans, Stamford (Connecticut, for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), Atlantic City,New York (4 times, including a Brooklyn Cyclones game), Portland (Oregon), Rhode Island (mostly for a PawSox game), Memphis (Redbirds game), Milwaukee (Wisconsin for the National Puzzlers’ League con), Frederick (Maryland, for Loserfest. It counts because I did stay overnight), Richmond (Virginia – and, again, staying overnight makes it count), and Charleston (West Virginia). It seems unlikely, but it appears that I had an entire year without going to California.

Puzzles: This was pretty much a middle of the pack year. I ended up in the 62nd percentile at the ACPT, the 39th percentile at the Indie 500, and 55.7th percentile at Lollapuzzoola. Annoyingly, I didn’t solve cleanly at any of them.

I also had a good time (as always) at the NPL con. That included bringing along a hand-out puzzle, which I think went over reasonably well. I am planning for a walk-around puzzle for the 2019 con, since it’s in Boulder, Colorado, a city I have spent a lot of time in.

Ghoul Poul: I didn’t do particularly well in my second year. I finished 14th out of 20 participants, with 70 points. The people I scored with were Prince Henrik, Barbara Bush, John McCain, and George HW Bush.

Genealogy: I did the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project, which got me writing about a few family stories, but didn’t really drive much research. I did, however, get in touch with a few unknown cousins (two from the FAINSTEIN family, one from the KHAIKEL / MEDINTS family) and made some progress on the GOLDWASSER family (my maternal grandfather’s mother’s side).

Baseball: I only made it to one Major League game this year – Red Sox at Nats on the Fourth of July. But it was a good year since: 1)I got to three minor league games (Memphis, Pawtucket, and Coney Island) and 2)my BoSox won the World Series.

Culture: If I counted correctly, I went to 16 musicals, 2 operas and 14 plays. My favorite musicals were Dave at Arena Stage and Me and My Girl at Encores in New York. My favorite plays were Heisenberg and 4380 Nights at Signature Theatre and Becoming Di. Ruth and Treyf at Theatre J. I also went to one ballet, one Cirque du Soleil shows, and 6 concerts. The most significant of the latter was seeing Jonathan Richman at the 9:30 Club. I had wanted to see him live for ages, so I was really glad to have the opportunity.

I went to One Day University 5 times. And I saw 16 movies, of which my favorites included What We Do in the Shadows, The Shape of Water. and Bathtubs Over Broadway

There was also a bunch of storytelling in there, some with me on stage and more with me in the audience.

Goals: I had six goals for 2018. So how did I score? I got about halfway through 2 afghans, so that gives me 33% on the goal to finish three. I did nothing about organizing photos, though I did find out about scanning resources at the library. I read 40 books, including 1 poetry book, so I I get 77% and 33% for that goal. I think I entered the Style Invitational twice, so will give myself 33% there. I did 3 Volksmarch events, so get 50% there. And I think I got through roughly 65% of catching up on household paperwork. I figure that gives me somewhere around a 40% on the year, which is not terrible, but not wonderful, either.

So what about goals for 2019?

  • Finish shredding and filing household paperwork.

  • Organize my genealogy files, both physical and electronic.

  • Organize my yarn stash. Ideally this would include using up at least 25% of the yarn. While I am at it, I also need to organize knitting needles and crochet hooks and the like.

  • Organize photos. Yes, really.

  • Read at least 52 books.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 4 times.

  • Do a 20 minute or longer workout at least 3 times a week.

  • Bring lunch to work at least twice a week.

  • Eat fruit every day.

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Let’s finish off the quarterly list making, before I get to my annual grand wrap-up. Here are the books I read over the last three months of 2018. There would have been one more, but I fell asleep early on New Year’s Eve, with 30 or so pages left.

  1. Harry Golden, Enjoy, Enjoy! I’ve read several of the collections of Golden’s pieces for The Carolina Israelite and mostly liked them. However, this book felt rather repetitive. I smiled at pieces about Jewish food and similar nostalgia, but I cringed at his broader attempts to speak on behalf of the Jewish community on topics like race and women’s rights. Okay, this was published in 1960, so it isn’t surprising that he was behind the times. That doesn’t mean I have to suffer through reading it. Disappointing.

  2. Alice McDermott, Someone. This was a book club selection and tells the story of an Irish-American woman in Brooklyn. I prefer novels with stronger plotlines so I found this pretty dull. There are things that happen, like another woman in the neighborhood discovering her new husband is actually a disguised woman, but nothing extraordinary happens to Marie, the main character. Overall, I thought this was a tedious read/

  3. Daniel M. Pinkwater, Young Adults. If you’re familiar with Pinkwater’s writing, you know he does silliness very well. The adventures of the Wild Dada Ducks, as they create chaos in high school and into college, are absurd and entertaining. It is, however, a bit mean-spirited at times, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it to readers of the target age group.

  4. Alexander McCall Smith, A Time of Love and Tartan. Another volume in the always delightful 44 Scotland Street series is always something to look forward to reading. There is the usual mixture of warmth and mild absurdity. The main thing for me here is that I genuinely like most of the characters and look forward to spending time with them.

  5. Alexander Kent, Richard Bolitho – Midshipman. Kent actually wrote the earlier adventures of Richard Bolitho out of chronological sequence (i.e. this is the first book in Bolitho’s Royal Navy career, but wasn’t published until 1975, while the series started in 1968 with book 7). Even a 16-year-old Bolitho is immensely likeable, as he tries to get his superiors to do the right thing – and gets in trouble for doing so. I’m glad I have more of this series to read.

  6. Giovanni Guareschi, Comrade Don Camillo. And now I have read all of the Don Camillo books! Guareschi’s village priest continues to charm me as he battles the forces of Communism, largely in the form of his rival, Peppone, the mayor of their village. This volume has Don Camillo going to the USSR, disguised as a member of a Communist delegation. He finds opportunities to meddle in various affairs, solving problems and bringing comfort to almost everyone he meets. This isn’t laugh out loud humor, but Guareschi’s work always brings me a smile.

  7. Jeff Linday, Dexter in the Dark. I normally advocate reading a series in order, but I happened to pick up a couple of the Dexter novels for trade at a used book store, so I take what I can. This is pretty weird stuff, largely because it feels horrible to find myself rooting for an admitted serial killer. Still, he only kills people who really deserve it. And the writing is breezy and fast-paced, so I did enjoy reading it.

  8. Beth Harbison, Secrets of a Shoe Addict. This is pretty stereotypical chick lit as three women get into expensive trouble while chaperoning a school band trip to Las Vegas, and start a phone sex business to pay off the debts. There are amusing relationship issues – including what may be the worst first date ever (involving a ventriloquist and his dummy) – but everything turns out well in the end. Well, maybe not so much for the dummy. It was an amusing escapist read – which is sometimes just what I need.

  9. Dan Chaon, Await Your Reply. Wow! This was another book club pick, and it proved to be one of the best novels I’ve read all year. The book alternates among three stories, each involving people who are running away or towards something amid lots of questions about identity. It isn’t until very near the end that we learn how the three stories are related. There are some pretty gruesome aspects to parts of the book, but, if you can handle the opening (involving a severed hand), it doesn’t really get any worse. Highly recommended.

  10. Neil Gaiman, Coraline. I had seen the 3-D movie years ago, but hadn’t read the book before. Coraline’s adventures, exploring her house, lead her to a horrifying other world, in which the Other Mother tries to win her over, but to what end? I’ve read a lot of Gaiman’s work and find it consistently entertaining, but decidedly dark.

  11. Eric Kimmel, Bar Mitzvah. I’m not sure what the intended audience for this book is. It probably works best for non-Jews who have been invited to a bar mitzvah and want some background on what to expect. I found it dull – and not especially accurate – with the exception of the personal anecdotes that are mixed in with the explanatory material.

  12. Morris West, Harlequin. International finance, cybercrime (circa 1974), and Middle East terrorism – I certainly can’t complain there wasn’t enough happening! There’s nothing profound, at least from the perspective of our era, in which the computer manipulation of international finances isn’t such a novelty. But it was a good enough escapist read.

  13. Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey. Fforde is one of the most original novelists working nowadays. I’ve read a lot of his Thursday Next series, so was intrigued to find this first book in a new series in a Little Free Library near work. The concept is a society in which, after the Something Which Happened, people are categorized by their color perception. There are rigid rules, with complex loopholes, and all sorts of delightful details about this dystopian world of Chromatica. There are rumors that there will be sequels (or, possibly, a prequel next year) and I would even buy that brand new and in hardback.

By the way, for this year, I joined a facebook group for National Just Read More Novels Month, the object of which is to read lots of new novels (i.e. not re-reads, vice newly published) in January. I've started with the next Bolitho novel (chronologically, not by publication date).
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The only one of my goals for the year I made any real progress on this quarter is reading. And, even there, I am up to 27 books out of the 52 I want to get through. I need to read shorter books.

  1. Jacqueline Briskin, California Generation. This book follows several students at California High School as they move on to college and jobs during the 1960’s. Issues include drugs, interracial relationships, abortion, homosexuality, and the Vietnam War. This was less trashy than I expected it to be, but it’s definitely not great literature. If it were written now, it would have been a TV soap opera, not a novel.

  2. Lisa See, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. This was a book club selection. I was skeptical, but this story of a woman from the Akha hill tribe in China drew me in immediately. There are some shocking aspects of the Akha culture and this story of a young woman who has to find her way between her traditional upbringing and the modern world was fascinating. Mixed in with it, there’s the story of her abandoned daughter, who is facing a similar, but different, challenge as an adopted Chinese girl in Southern California. I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly.

  3. Maisie Mosco, Glittering Harvest. This is the third book in the series about the Sandberg family. It includes the deaths of some of the older members of the family, as well as various triumphs and tragedies for the younger members. It was pretty entertaining, but you don’t really need to read it to enjoy the earlier books in the series.

  4. Joe Bden, Promise Me, Dad. I got this for having attended one of Biden’s talks. It’s more or less about his son, Beau, whose death of brain cancer was behind Biden’s decision not to run for President in 2016. There is, however, also a lot of material about how much effort Biden put in on foreign policy issues and how wonderful his relationship with Obama was, and other things that suggest he could be considering a future run. I do (mostly) like Biden, but I’d much rather see someone younger be the Democratic nominee. This book didn’t do much to change my mind on that.

  5. Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project. Oh, how nice to be back on Scotland Street! There are such great characters and such bizarre circumstances (e.g. the extreme sports indulged in by Bruce’s new girlfriend). Another fun entry in a series I love.

  6. Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries. This was another book club selection. What monstrous people voted for an 800 page novel? My wrists hurt while reading it. I don’t mind long novels per se, but there were a lot of characters to keep track of. The story involves some mysterious doings in a gold rush town in New Zealand. While it was a quicker read than I expected, the payoff was disappointing. On the plus side, it led my book club to decide on a 400 page limit for the future.

  7. Stuart Rojstaczer, The Mathematician’s Shiva. Interestingly, the person who recommended this book to me is not Jewish. The story involves Rachaela Karnokovitch, a mathematics professor who may have solved the Navier-Stokes problem. The story of her son (and other relatives), who are set upon by other mathematicians looking for the solution of the problem, is interspersed with her memories of her harsh Polish childhood. The characters are interesting (and, sometimes, bizarre) and the relationships feel real. Recommended.

  8. Helen Van Slyke,Always is Not Forever. My mother had a lot of trashy novels. This one involves a young woman who marries a famous musician whose controlling mother can’t accept her. The great tragedy comes when their daughter is born deaf. I realized how much times have changed when I found myself thinking, "what’s the big deal?" There’s rather too much of the stand by your man, regardless of how badly he treats you, crap here.

  9. Andy Raskin, The Ramen King and I. What do you do if you can’t stop cheating on the women you claim to love and your mentor from your support group says you need to find a higher power, but you’re an atheist? If you’re Andy Raskin, you write letters to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles. Those letters – along with Raskin’s attempts to meet the great man – make for a surprisingly amusing book, with a serious point.

  10. Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. When a teenager recommends a young adult novel to you, you listen. And when [personal profile] piefessor also recommends it, you really listen. This story of two teenage boys and their complicated relationships with each other and with their parents was charming and moving. I can now add my recommendation.

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  1. Joshua Foer, Moonwalking with Einstein. I suggested this to my book club and it got enough votes to end up as one of our selections. This is a mixture of information about memory techniques and Foer’s personal story of his attempt to win the U.S. Memory Championship. I found this thoroughly fascinating. Given that the women of the book club are all in an age group where we do worry about losing our memories, we had a good discussion about it, too.

  2. Susan Feldman (editor), African Myths & Tales. On the plus side, this book identifies the tribal origins of the stories included. It very usefully includes several variants of the same story (from different tribes), allowing one to compare them. But I could have used more background on the tribal groups and their histories. At the very least, a map would have been helpful. As for the stories themselves, there are only a few I have any interest in telling, but that is typical of folktale collections.

  3. Maisie Mosco, From the Bitter Lands. I believe this has also been published under the title Almonds and Raisins. It has to do with a Jewish family who have emigrated from Russia (really, modern day Latvia – they are from Dvinsk) to England and their struggles to settle into life in early 20th century Manchester. Sarah, the matriarch of the Sandberg family is a strong character, holding the family together through World War I and the Depression. Her eldest son, David, has to sacrifice his own ambitions for the good of the family, which leads to other types of tension. I found this an interesting book, though some of the transliterations of Yiddish words were bizarre.

  4. Ann Hood, The Obituary Writer. This was another book club book. It’s a novel involving two women – one in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake; the other in the northeast in 1960. The former story was more interesting because, even though the woman involved has put her life on hold until she finds out the fate of her lover, at least she is less whiny than the 1960 woman who I thought had gotten what she deserved by manipulating a powerful man into marrying her. I figured out fairly easily how the two stories were going to connect. That did not, alas, make me like the characters any better.

  5. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I read this at the recommendation of a friend who compared it to A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project, both of which I had enjoyed. I’m pleased to say it was a good recommendation. Eleanor Oliphant is a socially awkward woman who tries to change her life when she falls for a rock star. In the meantime, she’s become friendly with a nerdy guy she works with. There are a lot of amusing incidents, but there are also serious undertones. I was also surprised at part of the ending. Overall, I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly.

  6. Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie. Atwood based a poetry collection on the journals of a woman who came to rural Canada in the 19th century. She ties the poems about isolation and struggling to belong to modern life, imagining Moodie at the end as an elderly woman on a Toronto bus. Interesting, but I prefer Atwood's prose to her poetry.

  7. Maisie Mosco, Scattered Seed. This is the second book in the trilogy that started with From the Bitter Lands. I’m not sure if I have the third book. (These were out of the Mom collection.) This one focused on the next generation of the Sandberg family and is somewhat focused on how involved with Judaism they want to be. That includes a couple of people marrying out. There are particularly interesting female characters. I enjoyed reading this, though I am not sure how interesting it would be to non-Jews.

  8. Meryl Gordon, The Phantom of Fifth Avenue. This was another book club book, and, actually, another one I had suggested. It has to do with Huguette Clark, the heiress to a copper fortune, and the complicated dispute over her estate. She spent the last 20 or so years of her life living in a hospital, despite not having any physical health problems. During that period she gave away a lot of money, including $31 million in cash and property to her primary nurse. There are a lot of characters to try to keep track of, which made this book a bit of a slog at times, but it was still worth reading. We had a good discussion about how other people should live their lives. There is, by the way, at least one other book out about Huguette Clark and I may decide to pick it up someday.

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I decided to try doing book run-downs, akin to the ones I've been doing for movies.

  1. Stephen King, Different Seasons. While King is most associated with horror, three of the four novellas in this book are not really in that genre. The Winter piece is conventional horror, with both a ghost story and the spooky circumstances under which that story is told. The Spring piece has to do with a wrongfully convicted prisoner. Both of those were readable enough, but not as gripping as the Autumn story, which involved adolescent boys who set off on an adventure to find a dead body, the result of an accident. What is interesting is not so much the dead body but the circumstances of the boys’ lives and how those affect their interactions with one another. The strongest piece is the Summer one, which is a story of psychological terror about a teenage boy who is obsessed with a Nazi war criminal he has discovered in his neighborhood. I found this piece completely chilling, largely because it seemed perfectly plausible. Overall, this book was absorbing.

  2. Alexander Kent, Signal – Close Action! I have been reading the Richard Bolitho series off and on for a while now. I’m not particularly interested in British naval battles of the late 18th century per se, but Bolitho is an appealing character. The real point is his interactions with his crew – which is sometimes contentious – and with his superiors. I will continue reading this series, as the books are enjoyable.

  3. Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. I’ve already written a little about this book, which has to do with an informal slum in Mumbai. It’s interesting, but depressing. The level of corruption and the general lack of caring about poor people (which extends to ignoring a dead body) left me feeling hopeless.

  4. Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues. This is the first Phryne Fisher mystery and, frankly, it didn’t really leave me wanting to read more. There’s too much talk about clothes and Miss Fisher is too skillful to be believed. (For example, she’s an expert fast driver and can fly an airplane and can dance well enough to capture the attention of a Russian ballet star.) The plot is somewhat predictable. And the whole thing is horribly overwritten.

  5. Arvin Ahmadi, Down and Across. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but this got a lot of buzz in the crossword community. The characters are interesting and I liked the Washington, D.C. setting. There’s a bit too much coincidence in some of the encounters, however. I had to suspend a fair amount of disbelief, but the psychology felt real even when the events didn’t. Overall, worth a read.

  6. Crabbe Evers, Murderer’s Row. Evers has a series of mysteries set at various baseball stadiums. This one involves a murder at Yankee’s Stadium (or, as I think of it, the Heart of Darkness). The plot is mediocre and the writing is so-so, but the baseball lore is interesting. Skippable.

  7. D. R. Meredith, Murder By Sacrilege. This is the sort of mystery that is based entirely on quirkiness. The premise of a preacher putting his wife’s naked body in a Nativity scene outside the church and then refusing to talk about it at all was an interesting one. But most of the characters behave in such unlikely ways that I was ready to throw this book into a river by the time I was a third of the way through.

  8. Gerald Nachman, Showstoppers!: The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs. This is focused primarily on individual songs, regardless of the actual quality of the shows they’re from. So it discusses some cases where there’s a single well-known song from an otherwise forgettable musical. There is, however, a lot of backstage chatter about some of the bigger shows, which is interesting – at least if you’re a musicals geek like I am. I think Nachman gives Jerry Herman more credit than he deserves. I think Herman was aiming for commercial success a lot of times, rather than merely being a happy person, which is why he wrote so many catchy songs with repetitive insipid lyrics. I also think he underestimates Frank Loesser. Yes, "Adelaide’s Lament" is a great song, but how could you ignore "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" or "Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat" when it comes to showstoppers? And to step away from Guys and Dolls, what about "I Believe in You," from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? And, really, could he not find a single worthy song from 1977 ("Tomorrow" from Annie) to 2001 ("Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers)? Hint: City of Angels (1989) had "You Can Always Count on Me," among other worthy candidates. And 1991’s The Secret Garden has songs like "Race You to the Top of the Morning," "Wick," and "Come to My Garden" – all three in a row. I also think his failure to include off-Broadway shows is a mistake, but at least he’s up front about his criteria. I enjoyed this book, but it could have been even better.

  9. Herman Raucher, Summer of ‘42. This was out of what I refer to as the Mom collection, i.e. the huge number of books from my mother’s house that I feel compelled to read before disposing of. The only thing I knew about this book before reading it is that it had been turned into a movie. Actually, it turns out that the screenplay came first and, while the book was released before the movie was, it was actually a novelization. The story involves adolescent boys, who spend their time fighting with each other and trying to get laid. There’s some humor, mostly as the boys try to figure out what sex really entails – but this is mostly standard coming of age fare. I suspect it worked better on film than on paper. I also suspect it works better for a different generation. It was okay, but too melodramatic for my tastes.

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Celebrity Death Watch: Barry Crimmins was a comedian and an anti-pedophilia activist. Orin C. Smith was president and CEO of Starbucks for a few years. David Ogden Stiers was an actor, best known for playing Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H. Sir Roger Bannister was the first person to run a mile in under four minutes.

Harvey Schmidt was a musical theatre composer, whose best known work is the score for The Fantasticks, though I might argue for 110 in the Shade as a better score. I was particularly peeved about his death, since I have his lyricist partner, Tom Jones, on my ghoul pool list.

Ahhhscars Night: This is an annual Oscars-themed party put on by the California State Society. My friend, Paul, has figured out that his wearing a tux will entice me to go out on a weeknight. It was a pretty nice evening – good food, good dance floor (though my ankles are not up to as much dancing as they used to be, sigh), and an excuse to get dressed up. I went with a cocktail dress this year, instead of the long gown which is too much hassle to put on by myself. I wore my great-grandmother’s necklace and a pair of outrageous earrings. The music was a bit too loud some of the time, but one expects that as this sort of thing. Overall, it was a fun evening.


Book Club: This meeting’s book was Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. This is a non-fiction work about an informal slum near the Mumbai airport and several of its residents. I thought the book was interesting, but depressing. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been to India (and I haven’t been to Mumbai at all), so I had hoped things had changed. But, no, there is even more disparity in wealth, along with all the effects of urban migration and on-going political corruption. I can’t really blame people for trying to take advantage of the system, given what few opportunities they see for themselves. The author is going to be giving a talk in Arlington in April and I am going to try to go.

Hellish Commute Day: Wednesday was a total nightmare for commuting. There was a disabled train at Ballston and it was in a position that meant they couldn’t single track around it. So all rail service on the Orange and Silver Lines was suspended. I gave up, walked home, and drove in, so I was only about 15 minutes late to a meeting. Given where I was going, it made sense to take 50 – but even had that not been more direct, the toll on I-66 apparently got up to the $48 range. (I am not sure exactly how much it was, since the newspapers only talk about tolls between the Beltway and the District and it would, presumably, be less to get off in Arlington.)

Wind Storm: We had a pretty horrendous wind storm this weekend, with the worst being during commute hours on Friday. I was fortunate, in that we only lost power for a few minutes. The guy who has the office next to mine had a tree fall on his house, which is, apparently, totaled. The Federal Government shut down. My company did not, nor did they bother to send out any info until nearly 10 a.m. I have had previous indications that our corporate leadership in Los Angeles has never grasped the concept of time zones, but that is particularly egregious. I made the executive decision to work from home, which is something I dislike doing. It gave me a chance to catch up on some reading, and kept me out of the way of flying branches and parts of signs and such.

Becoming Dr. Ruth: Things let up enough by early evening to brave the outdoors and I went into the city to see Becoming Dr. Ruth at Theatre J. The metro was running more smoothly than I expected and it wasn’t bad getting to Dupont Circle. The play was written by Mark St. Germain and starred Naomi Jacobson, whose performance was a tour de force. I pretty much forgot that it wasn’t Dr. Ruth Westheimer standing there, crawling over packed cardboard boxes and telling the story of her life. This was a life with lots of challenge and trauma, but the overwhelming takeaway is one of determination and positivity. This was an intelligent, charming, and witty evening of theatre.

Light Years: This was the new musical I was most looking forward to this season, entirely on the grounds that it was written by Robbie Schaefer of Eddie From Ohio. The actual show was rather different from my expectations. It’s more of a song cycle than a musical per se. It’s autobiographical, with an emphasis on Robbie’s relationship with his father (played by Bobby Smith, a long-time Signature favorite), a Holocaust survivor who tells him stories, but not the stories he most needs to and longs to hear. Near the end, there is that one important story, which hearkens back to an earlier song in the show and had me sobbing. I do have some quibbles, however. Did Robbie have a mother? Well, she gets mentioned once in passing, but she seems to have played no role in his emotional life. And there are hints of Robbie’s own sacrifices for his family, but not enough details there. Still, I found this an absorbing and moving (and tear-jerking) show. I am fully aware that some of my reactions have to do with my own relationship with my father, who was also a Holocaust survivor, so I can’t generalize to how others might react.
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Celebrity Death Watch: John Mahoney was an actor, best known for his role on Frasier. Alan Baker was a mathematician, who focused on number theory and won the Fields Medal. Craig MacGregor played bass for Foghat. John Gavin was an actor who was in several classic films and later became ambassador to Mexico. Reg E. Cathey was primarily a television actor, who won 3 Emmys for performing in House of Cards.. Jan Maxwell was a musical actress, who I saw perform as Phyllis in the Kennedy Center production of Follies. Vic Damone was a pop singer, who had a number of hits in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s. Marty Allen was a comedian.

John Perry Barlow was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and an internet activist, particularly notable for co-founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I also recommend his List of 25 Principles of Adult Behavior though I will admit to not being entirely convinced of all of them. I don’t think love forgives everything. Nor do I think that mission is necessarily more important than happiness I do think that, however, that "Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right" is good advice.

Happy Birthday, Neptune: My beloved blue-green Saturn, named Neptune because I am a space geek, officially turned 24 this week. That merited a present, in the form of a radiator flush (along with a slightly overdue oil change).

Joe Biden: Tuesday night, I went to hear Joe Biden talk at The Anthem. This is a newish venue at the District Wharf. (Actually, the whole wharf is newish.) Their directions were somewhat confusing, as the signs they said to follow were invisible so far as I could tell. Anyway, I got there in plenty of time. There was also some confusion over seating as the usher managed not to realize that the seat numbers were repeated in different sections.

Anyway, the format was Biden being interviewed by William S. Cohen, former Senator from Maine (and former Secretary of Defense). The whole thing is somewhat of a book tour, and everybody was given a copy of Biden’s recent book, Promise Me, Dad. But I gathered that there is an ulterior motive of stirring up interest in him making another bid for the presidency. I’d rather he didn’t, largely because of his age, but also because of his long-running tendency towards hoof-in-mouth disease, i.e. frequent gaffes. He didn’t make any particular gaffes that evening, though I was irritated at one of his vocal tics, man. What I did like was his emphasis on collegiality and his examples of being able to have friendships across political lines. Overall, I was glad I went, though the ticket was more expensive than it should have been.

Book Launch:Thursday night involved another book-related event. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi is a young adult novel that has been getting a lot of buzz in the puzzle community. It was easy enough for me to go to the launch party at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle. The place was packed and I believe that they even ran out of copies of the book. Ahmadi was interviewed by political journalist Ema O’Connor and joined by Azaf Nafisi, who wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran. Crosswords, alas, only got discussed at the very end in response to a question. (Cruciverbalist Finn Vigeland was Ahmadi’s college roommate, by the way.) There was a lot more about being a child of immigrants and, specifically, the Iranian community. It was an interesting discussion, and I expect I will have more to say after I’ve finished reading the book.

See Rock City: I saw the Washington Stage Guild production of See Rock City on Friday night. I was a little hesitant about it being the second play in a trilogy since I hadn’t seen Last Train to Nibroc, but it was fairly easy to figure out enough of the background for this one to make sense. The play involves a young couple, back from a belated honeymoon during the latter days of World War II. The play involves the twists in life (starting with their failure to make it to Rock City) amid the pressures first from the war and later from its ending, both of which disrupt their lives in unexpected ways. The most immediate pressure has to do with their mothers. May’s mother, who they live with, is cheerful and supportive, while Raleigh’s mother refuses to accept both his ambitions and his physical limitations. I’m hoping they do the third play next year, as I’d really love to know how everything works out.

4,380 Days: I continued my theatre-going by seeing 4,380 Days at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is a complex political play by Annalisa Dias, part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. The story is about an Algerian man being held without charges at Guantanamo. It’s mixed in with stories of the fall of the Numidians during the Punic Wars and of an atrocity committed by a French colonel during the conquest of Algeria. The prisoner, Malik, tells his story to his lawyer and the two men strive to understand each other and the horror and tragedy of his imprisonment. The ancient history is told by a character named The Woman and her situation, including her relationship to The Man (who she tells this to) is confusing and somewhat distracting. I thought that part might actually be the hallucinations that Malik has a result of the sleep deprivation he suffers, but none of the reviews I read drew that conclusion.

Anyway, this is a powerful and disturbing piece. There is a particularly brutal scene right before the intermission and I think that scene may have been why about a quarter of the audience didn’t come back from the intermission. For those who did stay, there was a lot of discussion after it was over. I’ll recommend it to people who can handle a provocative piece.

Other Stuff: I am swamped with housework. And work work. I did get various chores done during part of the weekend, as well as going to rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show. (Bottom line, which I knew already, is that my story needs more story work.) Too bad I need to do things like sleeping, too.


Jan. 17th, 2018 04:16 pm
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Celebrity Death Watch: Anna Mae Hays was the 13th chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to become a general officer. France Gall wa a French singer. Doreen Tracey was one of the original Mouseketeers. Keith Jackson was a sportscaster, particularly known for college football. Dan Gurney was a race car driver and is credited with creating the tradition of spraying champagne on the podium after the race. Dolores O’Riordan was the lead singer of The Cranberries. Edwin Hawkins was a gospel musician, best known for "Oh Happy Day." Jo Jo White played basketball, largely for the Celtics. Jessica Falkholt was an Australian soap opera actress. Her greatest significance is that she’s the first person anybody scored on in this year’s ghoul pool.

Joe Frank was a radio personality. I used to listen to his show, Work in Progress, on KCRW when I lived in Los Angeles. He was always interesting and, often, quite funny. There is apparently a documentary about him scheduled to be released this year.

Ghoul Pool – 2018: Speaking of ghoul pool (a contest to predict what famous people will die in the next year), the entry lists are now out of the beginning of the game embargo, so I can reveal mine. Note that the number indicates how many points a person is worth and you get an extra 12 points for uniqueness, i.e. being the only participant to have someone on your list.

20. I.M. Pei
19. Robert Mugabe
18. Ed Kranepool
17. Honor Blackman
16. Beverly Cleary
15. Dervla Murphy
14. John McCain
13. Johnny Clegg
12. Al Jaffe
11. Herman Wouk
10. Jimmy Carter
9. Javier Perez de Cuellar
8. John Paul Stevens
7. Tom Jones (the lyricist, not the Welsh singer)
6. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
5. Norman Lloyd
4. Jerry Herman
3. Olivia de Haviland
2. Sheldon Harnick
1. Sara Paretsky

The Pajama Game: Looking back, I realized I never wrote about the production of The Pajama Game at Arena Stage, which I saw just before leaving for my vacation. It’s a problematic show to modern sensibilities. I’m tempted to retitle it to something like "Sexual Harassment at the Sleep-Tite Factory." I also find a lot of the lyrics to be full of cheap, amateurish rhymes ("A new town is a blue town…")

But – and this is a huge redeeming factor – there is fabulous choreography. I was particularly pleased to see that Donna McKechnie, who played Mabel, still has it at age 74. (I saw her as Cassie in A Chorus Line back in the 1970’s!) The most striking dance moves, though, came from Blakely Slaybaugh as Prez (the union president).

I do prefer the modern sensibilities and deplore the sexism. But I also miss the days when people broke out into spectacular dance moves with little provocation. In fact, I often wish that people in real life would spontaneously broke into song and dance. It would certainly liven up many a design review.

Losers’ Post-Holiday Party: Getting back to the present time, Saturday night was the annual post-holiday party for the Style Invitational Losers. As usual with potlucks, I have a long debate with myself over what to bring. Someday I will use up the spring roll wrappers that I bought way too many of because I misunderstood the package labeling. But this time, I went for quick and easy in the form of stuffed mushrooms. You just take baby bella mushroom caps, arrange them on a baking pan. Fill each cap with some alouette (or similar) cheese. Dip the cheese-stuffed end in panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or so.

As for the party itself, it was conveniently metro-accessible. Or, conveniently if the Red Line weren’t running only half-hourly over the weekend, so I got there later than I intended. Still, I was in time to get food and, more importantly, in time for the sing-along, which is always a highlight of these things. Throw in lots of intelligent conversation, both with people I already knew and those I hadn’t met before, and it was a good time.

One Day University: On Sunday, I went to One Day University. This time out, it was at the Lansburgh Theatre and consisted of two lectures. The first was The Presidential Library given by Joseph Luzzi of Bard College. I had actually heard Luzzi lecture (on a different literature topic) previously and he’s quite a dynamic speaker. He posed a few general questions about the relationship between reading and ability to be an effective leader. He discussed several presidents in depth, focusing on what they read. George Washington, for example, used Cato as a model of manhood. He also collected etiquette books. Thomas Jefferson read pretty much everything. Lincoln was, of course, an autodidact. As a counterexample, Warren Harding’s reading was limited to things like Rules of Poker. Buchanan and Fillmore supposedly both read a lot, but neither was much of a leader. Grant didn’t get mentioned, but I find it hard to imagine him reading much of anything beyond the labels on liquor bottles. (Apparently, he got in trouble at West Point for spending his time reading James Fenimore Cooper, instead of his textbooks.)

Luzzi compiled an American Library List that included some obvious authors (Locke, Rousseau) and works (Plutarch’s Lives, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Bible). He also recommended things like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Ben Franklin’s autobiography. Fictional works which got mentioned included Great Expectations and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Didn’t any presidents appreciate the real Great American Novel – namely Moby Dick?

Anyway, Luzzi’s conclusion was, essentially, that good readers make good leaders. He made four points to support this: 1) reading fundamentally suggests a person knows he doesn’t know everything, 2) readers are curious, 3) reading supports collaboration, and 4) reading puts one in another’s shoes. As a self-confessed biblioholic, I tend to agree.

The second speaker was Mark Lapadusa of Yale University, speaking on How to Watch Movies Like a Film Professor. He started out by pointing out that this applies to seeing a movie repeatedly and, for first viewing, one should just enjoy it for what it is. Then he showed various film clips and talked about aspects of them. The films he discussed were Casablance, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Dr. Strangelove, and The Godfather (Both I and II). That’s a pretty wide assortment of styles and subject matter. He touched on one subject that I have a long-standing interest in, namely film music, specifically in the case of the shower scene from Psycho. If he’d had time for questions, I might have asked him more about that.

I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t talk about source material. For example, The Godfather is one of a handful of movies that is generally considered far more successful than the novel it is based on. Casablanca was based on an unsuccessful play. What makes a film adaptation successful and why do so many movies based on bestsellers fail either by being too true to the novel or not true enough?

I had a chance to discuss the lectures a bit more after. I had gotten into a conversation with a woman named Ann before the program. We ended up sitting together in the auditorium and decided to go out to lunch (at China Chilcano – tasty Peruvian / Asian fusion food) afterwards. It was nice to have the opportunity to digest some of what I’ve heard. All in all, an excellent way to spend part of a day.

Murder Was Her Hobby: I took advantage of being in the city to go to the Renwick Gallery and see their exhibit of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee. This is a series of miniature rooms depicting what may or may not be murder scenes. They were built to be a teaching tool for forensic science and are incredibly detailed. Apparently, Lee even made underwear for the dead bodies. Because they are still used for teaching, the exhibit does not include solutions to the cases. There were a few where I thought I had a good idea of what had happened, but I was completely puzzled by the majority of them. So much for all the hours I’ve spent reading murder mysteries!

The craftsmanship is amazing and the exhibit included flashlights to allow for closer examination of the crime scenes. However, there wasn’t very much thought given to the flow through the room, so one was stuck standing and waiting for people to move for long stretches of time. It would have been better to set things up so people moved only in one direction through the exhibit. And it would have been much better to limit the number of people allowed in at a time. Even with these annoyances, it was worth seeing the exhibit and I’m glad I took the time to.
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2017 was a year of frustration and mild depression and not feeling very accomplished, even though I was actually reasonably successful in any normal sense. I think that much of the problem was spending time feeling stressed out about the state of the world. I am a news junkie at the best of times and that makes it hard to focus on anything when there is so much turmoil around.

Books: I read only 43 books in 2017, which is absurdly few for me. Admittedly, there were several long books (500+ pages) in there. I was also trying to clear out magazines, which didn’t help. The best books I read were Facing the Lions by Tom Wickes, Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich (whose true crime books I have enjoyed in the past), A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman, and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I particularly recommend the latter two, both of which were selections for my book club, for charm and sheer likeability. They’re similar in that both deal with curmudgeonly, suicidal men having their lives turned around by unexpected encounters with other people. I also enjoyed several books in the Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent. That surprised me, as I didn’t think that the British Navy of the late 18th century would interest me at all. But they’re well-written and Bolitho is an absorbing character. As for the books I disliked, Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams sounded promising, but the novelization of the story of the Jewish woman who married Wyatt Earp bordered on pornographic. And The Guilty Ones by Dariel Telfer was badly written and intended to be deliberately shocking. I don’t object to sex and violence, but I don’t want them to be their own end.

I didn’t manage any used bookstore runs over the year, but I have about 100 books ready to go out. That should happen in the next couple of months.

Volksmarch: I did exactly one event in 2017. That was the state capital walk in Wyoming. I really need to get myself walking regularly again.

Travel: I had three foreign trips – Nicaragua in January, a long weekend in Budapest in May, and my recent trip to Singapore and Laos. The latter included completing a life list item by seeing the Plain of Jars. My other significant vacation was a trip to Carhenge in Nebraska for my 4th total solar eclipse. And, before anyone asks, yes, I have plans for a 5th. That trip also included going to Wind Cave National Park and doing the Cheyenne, Wyoming Volksmarch.

I had business trips to Los Angeles / San Diego, Colorado Springs, and Palo Alto.

Personal travel included trips to Albuquerque and Portland (Oregon) to go to memorial services for friends. Happier travels were to New York (three times – once for theatre-going, once for a flyertalk event plus theatre-going, and once for Lollapuzzoola), Stamford (Connecticut – the ACPT), Atlanta (to check off the new ballpark), Denver (twice – once for an annual party, once for a flyertalk event), Boston (NPL con), and Reno.

Puzzles: This was a big year for me in that I solved cleanly at both the ACPT and Lollapuzzoola. That moment of turning in a complete puzzle 5 at the ACPT was definitely one of the peak experiences of the year.

Ghoul Pool This was my first year playing and I think I did respectably. I ended up finishing 6th (out of 22 participants) with 99 points. The people I scored with were Irwin Corey, Liu Xiaobo, June Foray, Gord Downie, and Rose Marie.

Genealogy: The most significant things from my year in genealogy were making contact with a couple of branches of my family in Israel. That includes some Bruskin descendants and one of the children of cousin Shlomo. I also had both my uncle and brother submit DNA tests, though I have not done nearly enough with sorting through all of our matches.

Culture: If I counted right, I went to 22 musicals and 6 plays. Highlights included Milk and Honey at York Theatre, Fun Home and Mean Girls at the National Theatre, Kaleidoscope at Creative Cauldron, Laura Bush Killed a Guy produced by The Klunch at Caos on F, The Originalist at Arena Stage. My favorite show of the year was Ernest Shackleton Loves Me.

I also went to the circus. And to 5 concerts, of which the most notable was the farewell concert by The Bobs. And, of course, I went to lots of storytelling events.

Goals: The short version of 2017 is that I am a lot better at planning things and starting things than I am at actually finishing them. Three of my goals involved completing various activities and, no, I didn’t finish anything, though I did make progress. I did manage a few indulgences and did contact some lost relatives with reasonably good success. So the year wasn’t a loss, but I’m not going to take undue credit. I’d say it was another 25-30% type of year.

So what about 2018 goals?

  • Finish three afghans. Yes, I know that sounds unlikely, but it is actually feasible if I work at it.

  • Organize photos. This includes uploading stuff that has been on camera cards for way too long, as well as scanning older photos. I should probably buy a scanner.

  • Read at least 52 books, including at least 3 poetry books.

  • Enter the Style Invitational at least 4 times.

  • Do at least 6 Volksmarch events.

  • Get caught up on household paperwork, i.e. shredding, filing, etc.

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Celebrity Death Watch: Roy Dotrice was an actor whose career included a Tony for A Moon for the Misbegotten. Arthur Cinader founded J. Crew. Mychael Knight was a fashion designer. Cornelia Bailey was instrumental in preserving Gullah-Geechee culture in coastal Georgia. Paul Weitz was an astronaut. Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist who exposed political corruption. Dick Morley invented the programmable logic controller. Julian May was a science fiction writer and also wrote under the name Ian Thorne. Scott Putesky was the cofounder of the band Marilyn Manson. Al Hurricane was a singer, primarily of ranchera music.

Gord Downie was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band. He was also on my ghoul pool list, with his death keeping me in 8th place. I’ve backfilled him with Rose Marie, entirely on the grounds of her being over 90 years old.

Richard Wilbur was a poet. In addition to being Poet Laureate of the U.S. and winning the Pulitzer prize twice, he was the primary lyricist for Bernstein’s Candide. In particular, he is credited with the lyrics to "Glitter and Be Gay."

Robert Guillaume was an actor. While he is best known for his television work (including Benson and Soap), he also had a significant Broadway career, including starring in Purlie (replacing Cleavon Little in the title role) and playing Nathan Detroit in an African-American production of Guys and Dolls.

Fats Domino was a singer-songwriter who played a major role in the development of rock and roll. His biggest hit was "Blueberry Hill," but there are a lot of other notable songs through the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Iona Opie was a folklorist. Along with her husband Peter, she studied nursery rhymes and children’s games and edited a classic collection of fairy tales. It is impossible to overstate the importance of their work on the study of childhood lore.

Roar Reading: Friday night I went to a reading of Roar: True Tales of Women Warrior. I know several of the authors, who shared their stories of the battles women fight in our society. And the profits are going to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. In addition, the reading was at Bard’s Alley, a newish bookstore pretty near my house. It was a good evening out and I definitely need to explore the store further. (Except, of course, that I am not really allowed to buy more books…)

The Bobs: Saturday night was the final concert of The Bobs, a new wave a capella group I first heard at a crafts fair in Berkeley in the 1980’s and have enjoyed the performances of for several years. Their arrangements were different from anything else I’d heard and I enjoyed the humor of many of their songs. The end of an era could be sad, but the evening had a positive energy. At least there are lots of recordings to keep their music alive.

The Wild Party: Sunday afternoon saw me in the city for the Constellation Theatre production of The Wild Party. This was the Andrew Lippa musical, which I had seen another production of before. I like much of the score and it was well-choreographed. But the second half has a lot less energy than the first half does. The cast was able, though there were a few issues with the balance between singers and orchestra. That particularly swallowed up some of the pieces Farrell Parker had as Queenie. If I didn’t already know the show, I might have gotten lost at times. It was worth seeing, but I wish somebody would do LaChiusa’s version so I can compare the two.

Conference Time: I spent Monday through Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center for MILCOM. I prefer smaller conferences where I don’t get frustrated over my inability to be in multiple places at once. It did help to have a few specific questions to focus on, e.g. identifying future technologies for my customer to focus on. I did learn enough for it to be worthwhile, overall. But commuting to Baltimore was a dubious decision. I do sleep better at home, but it was tiring, even though I did it by train, rather than car. I should also have studied the schedule a bit more deeply, as I didn’t make as much time as I should have to check out the exhibit floor.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Maurice Bluestein modernized the wind-chill index. Edie Windsor was an activist who played a major role in overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. J. P. Donleavy was a novelist, whose works included Fairy Tale of New York. Frank Vincent was an actor who sort of specialized in playing gangsters. Grant Hart was one of the founders of Husker Du. Harry Dean Stanton was a character actor who was in too many movies to attempt to single out a few to mention. Paul E. Gray was the president of MIT from 1980 to 1990.

Pete Domenici was a senator who represented New Mexico for many years. In general, I disagreed with his positions on environmental issues. He also got into trouble for reports about having fathered an illegitimate child and supposedly had pretty awful phone manners. However, he was a strong supporter of treating mental illness the same as physical illness.

Book Club: Book Club was on Wednesday. We had a pretty good discussion about Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I like the central question at the heart of the novel, which is who should tell another’s story. But the reason I am mentioning this is that part of the novel involves one of the characters having an affair with a writer she admires. I made a comment to the effect of, "if Neil Gaiman showed up on my doorstep…" and was shocked that two of the people present were entirely unfamiliar with him. (I explained him as a writer of humorous fantasy with floppy hair and a British accent.) It also turned out that there were several people who had never read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Philistines!

Christine Lavin: Friday night I went to see Christine Lavin at Jammin’ Java, one of my favorite local venues, not least for its proximity to home. Doug Mishkin opened for her and was thoroughly delightful, getting everybody singing his song "Woody’s Children." As for Christine, she was as funny as ever, with a mixture of old and new material. Many of her songs tell stories, e.g. one that described a dinner with a famous person with atrocious table manners. (I won’t reveal who it was, so you can have the joy of the surprise at the end.) During intermission, she taught members of the audience how to do some elaborate napkin folds. (I, alas, was in line for the facilities, so missed out on the lesson, though I saw the results.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful evening of folk song and laughter.

Loser Brunch: There were several things I could have done this weekend, but it had been a while since I’d been to brunch with the Style Invitational Losers and Devotees, i.e. fans of the Washington Post’s humor contest. This brunch was at Brion’s Grill in Fairfax, so reasonably convenient. The buffet was just okay, losing points from me for not having any fruit beyond a bowl of mixed melon. On the plus side, they did have cooked to order omelets. And they had French toast donuts, something I had never experienced before. This sort of thing is all about people, in my opinion, so I don’t really care much about the food. The conversation was lively and it was a good way to get out of the house for a couple of hours.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.
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.

Le Catch-up

Dec. 1st, 2016 05:05 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Oy, am I behind. But I won’t get caught up by kvetching alone, so here is an attempt at catching up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Yaffa Eliach was a Holocaust historian. Robert Vaughan was an actor, best known for playing Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Little known fact is that I had a Napoleon Solo doll when I was a kid and he had a wonderful relationship with Barbie, often helping her escape from Russian spies and wild animals and so on. Leon Russell was a musician and songwriter. Gwen Ifill was a journalist, primarily on PBS. Mose Allison was a jazz pianist. Whitney Smith designed the flag of Guyana, which I mention only because he is claimed to have coined the word "vexillology," thus enabling Sheldon Cooper’s "Fun With Flags" shtick on The Big Bang Theory. Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian. Sharon Jones was a soul singer. Ben Zion Shenker was a rabbi and composer of over 500 Hasidic niggunim. Florence Henderson was an actress, best known for portraying Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. Ron Glass was also an actor and associated in my mind with his role on Barney Miller. Grant Tinker was a television executive, including heading NBC in the 1980’s. And, of course, he was the husband of Mary Tyler Moore before that. Michael "Jim" Deiligatti invented the Big Mac. Brigid O’Brien followed in the tradition of her father, Pat, and acted.

Leonard Cohen was a singer-songwriter, who I’ve always thought of as the Poet Laureate of Depression. That isn’t intended as a negative statement. It just means that there are times when you need to wallow in despair and his music suited that mood perfectly.

Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 (under Richard Nixon). While serving in Congress, he supposedly convinced Spiro Agnew to resign the Vice Presidency. He had a lot of influence on how Pentagon budgeting is done. Most importantly, he ended the Vietnam era conscription and initiated the All Volunteer Force.

Jay Forrester was, essentially, the founder of system dynamics. I will admit to qualms about the application of systems models for economic analysis, but his work did enable the growth of systems thinking in the world at large. Hence, he made a difference in the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

And then there was Fidel Castro. He was a dictator and it’s clear that he oppressed the Cuban people. On the other hand, his commitment to education and health care was real. That doesn’t balance out the evils of his government, of course. I will note, however, that the U.S. has had a lot less animosity against lots of dictators who are at least equally bad. How much do you hear about Teodoro Obiang Nguerna Mbasogo, for example? Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea )see, I saved you from having to look him up) isn’t 90 miles from Florida, but the point remains that the treatment of Cuba has not been entirely rational. I am hoping that Fidel’s death may work towards normalizing things. I do still hope to go to Cuba at some point, since my grandfather lived there in the 1920’s and my grandparents met and married there.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Milt Eisner was a member of my chavurah. He was a retired statistician and a puzzle person, who competed at least a few times in the ACPT.

Condo Association Meeting: Our annual meeting was right after election day. It wasn’t too painful. And they had good brownies.

WBRS Reception: Then came the William Barton Rogers Society reception. This is an MIT related thing and a reward for a certain level of donation. It was at the Mayflower, which is less impressive than one might think. They served heavy hors d’oeuvres. The speaker was John Lienhard, who is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. He was reasonably entertaining. But, really, the value of these events is the opportunity to have intelligent conversations before the main speaker.

Housecleaning and Swap Hosting: Hosting a story swap forced me to do a certain amount of house cleaning. It is fairly appalling to turn up coupons that expired two years ago and such.

Anyway, there was a small group at the swap but it was still enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Margaret told a First Nations story that is, apparently, in the novel Mrs. Mike, a book I remember entirely for some gruesome medical details involving: 1) diphtheria and 2) amputation.

JGS 36th Anniversary Luncheon: The meal was just okay, but the talk, by Arthur Kurzweil, was excellent. He was entertaining and inspiring. I have commented in the past about genealogy in terms of connectedness to my family’s history and I’ve also thought about that connectivity when I go to shul, admittedly all too rarely. (That is, by the way, why I prefer a more traditional service.) Anyway, as always, it is all about stories and he told good ones.

Book Club: We had a good discussion of How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which involves a Japanese war bride. But I am getting increasingly annoyed at the racism (and other general narrowmindedness) of one person in the group. Sigh.

Work: Work has been particularly hectic lately. I was at a full day class one day and have been in endless meetings other days. The telephone is also both my chief tool and the bane of my existence. I’ve also been suffering a lot of IT hell, with issues on three of the four systems I use. However, I suppose it is worth it as I did get a very positive performance review.

The Secret Garden: I went with a friend to see The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This is one of my favorite Broadway scores of all time. Really, almost the whole score is earworm worthy. I do still think that the book, even as somewhat rewritten here, is probably incomprehensible to anyone who have never read the original novel. But who cares when there is such luscious music with songs like "Lily’s Eyes" and "Where in the World" and
"How Could I Ever Know?" (They did, alas, cut out "Race You to the Top of the Morning.") I should also mention the excellent performances, including Anya Rothman’s as Mary Lennox,, Josh Young as Neville, and, especially, Michael Xavier as Archibald and Lizzie Klepmperar as Lily. (Note, too, that Daisy Egan, who played Mary Lennox on Broadway in 1991 and won a Tony at it, plays Martha, but that’s not an especially showy role.) Anyway, if you live here, go to see this show. If you don’t, you could do worse than to listen to the original cast recording a few thousand times.

Martinique: Finally, I went to Martinique this past weekend. It sounds unlikely, but Norwegian flies from BWI to Martinique and Guadeloupe at very low fares, so why not? I stayed at the Hotel Bambou in the Trois Islet area, which was decent enough for the price. They were very friendly, but the wifi in the room didn’t work well and, while the price included both breakfast and dinner, the dinner buffet was not very good. One expects better of a French colony.

Anyway, it was an easy ferry ride to Fort de France, the capital, where I was eager to see the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, which is very impressive indeed. It was built in France in 1889, then disassembled and shipped piece by piece to Martinique. Schoelcher, by the way, was the major abolitionist writer of the French West Indies. I spent a couple of more hours meandering around the city, which has some interesting architecture (somewhat akin in New Orleans). The Grand Marche was another highlight, especially as there was a lively band playing in front. Overall, it was worth a few hours meandering around.

My rule of thumb for travel is that I need to do something every day, so my Sunday venture was to Musee de la Pagerie, which was the birthplace of Empress Josephine. There was a special exhibit about the history of jazz, but it was dense words, entirely in French, so I didn’t read much of it. The actual museum has pictures of Josephine, along with a few of Napoleon, as well as a few artifacts, many of which I gathered are reproductions. There is also a sugar house (the family was in the sugar cane business) and attractive grounds.

Other than that, I spent time swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. And lazing on the beach. I walked up to the casino, which is remarkably unimpressive, and to the Creole Village shops, which are likewise.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough but not especially exciting trip.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kevin Meaney was a comic actor. Sheri S. Tepper wrote science fiction under her own name and mysteries as B, J. Oliphant and as A. J. Orde. I am intrigued by the titles of a few of the pamphlets she wrote for Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, which include "The Great Orgasm Robbery" and "So Your Happily Ever After Isn’t." Colin Snedeker invented the washable crayon. Jack Chick published fundamentalist Christian tracts, which you have almost certainly seen as his followers seemed fond of leaving them on parked cars. Tom Hayden was a member of the SDS who grew up to marry Jane (and divorce) Jane Fonda and to serve in the California Assembly and, later, state Senate. I lived in his district for a while and was always happy to vote against him. Bobby Vee was a pop singer, best known for "Take Good Care of My Baby." Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Everest.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was at a story swap at the home of someone I worked with about 8 years ago. Only one other storyteller showed up, but then left, leaving me alone in the living room with a television on. Three dogs came into the room and one settled in next to me and began telling me how it wanted me to pet it. Sooner or later, I fell asleep on the floor, with this dog next to me. When I woke up, it had turned into a rather attractive man. It was morning and more people began arriving. The man began explaining how he had become a werewolf.

Party weekend: Last weekend was just filled with socializing. Well, okay, two events. One was a friend’s book launch party on Saturday afternoon. Then, on Sunday afternoon, there was a get-together with some flyertalk friends. Both were lots of fun, with good conversation and good food. Which is pretty much what parties should be about.

Speaking of That Book Launch: Jessica Piscitelli Robinson has written a novel titled Caged. I admit that urban fantasy isn't a genre I normally read, but since I know her and all, I bought it and pretty much devoured it. There are lots of things I could quibble about, largely because I am somewhat of a purist on the subject of vampires, but she has a knack for chapter endings that leave just enough hanging to make one want to keep reading. And I do like novels with strong female characters. If you like a real pageturner and can handle a certain amount of gore, I recommend it.

Ruthless: I saw Ruthless at Creative Cauldron on Saturday night. This small theatre in Falls Church has become one of my favorites over the past year or so and this production hit the mark again. It’s a rather silly show, with lots of insider references to musicals (and movies). The story involves a talented young girl, Tina Denmark (ably played by Sophia Manicone), her mother, Judy (played by Katie McManus, a local favorite), and Sylvia St. Croix (played by Alan Naylor), who shows up to mentor Tina. There are other characters, too, notably Lita Encore, Judy’s adoptive mother (played by Kathy Halenda), who sings the showy and hysterical "I Hate Musicals." But the focus is on Tina, who will do anything for the lead in the school play. And then there are the secrets lurking in Judy’s past and Sylvia’s… The book is a bit predictable, but this was an excellent cast and the company made great use of the small space.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have other things to write about, too, but I've been meaning to post this for a while. I've read a few books over the past months that have some sort of Jewish content to them. Two had to do with Chabad Hassidim, one involved a Conservative synagogue, and one retold a Biblical story (so was sort of a Midrash). All of these are worth reading for different reasons:

Stephen Fried, The New Rabbi: Fried followed a large Conservative congregation in Philadelphia through their search for a new rabbi to replace their long-time leader who was retiring. There’s lots of local shul politics, as well as issues with the broader Conservative movement. I have to admit that a lot of why I found this interesting was because my father had been on the rabbi search committee at our synagogue back in my childhood. So it all sounded very familiar. It was also a good reminder of why I prefer more intimate congregations to the sort of large suburban synagogue written about here.

Stephanie Wellen Levine, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: The author spent a lot of time getting to know teenage girls in the Lubavitch community and profiles several of them in this book. One of the key points is that the separation of the sexes in the community allows these girls to be loud and outspoken. Some are truly pious, but there are also girls who leave the community and, for example, go to strip clubs and experiment with marijuana. (There’s nothing said about them having sex, so one can only wonder.) I'll admit to being most impressed by the girl who ended up going to college and pursuing a pre-med program. Overall, this is a very interesting read.

Anita Diamont, The Red Tent This is a novel, in which Diamont reimagines the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dina. In the Bible, Dina is raped and her brothers avenge her. In this version, she enters into a voluntary relationship and is betrayed by her brothers, who are scheming for their own advantage. This leads her to go to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son and, eventually, reencounters her family. There are some decidedly heretical ideas in the book (mostly involving idol worship by the matriarchs), but it is an absorbing read. And it is worth thinking about different points of view on familiar stories.

Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubovitch The two things one finds all over the world are, of course, McDonald’s and Chabad. If you’re Jewish, the latter is a more significant institution, providing, say, a place to go to a Passover seder in Kathmandu. But they are also controversial, for a number of reasons. I will admit that I don’t like that they’re perceived as the face of Orthodox Judaism, versus, say, Young Israel. Fishkoff is generally positive about Chabad, but doesn’t shy away from noting the criticisms of the organization - especially the Messianist tendencies of a large number of their adherents (but not their senior leadership). She also points out that their emphasis on outreach can lead to fairly shallow services, geared towards beginners. Overall, I thought this was a fairly balanced and interesting book. I’m still too much of a Litvak rationalist to be drawn into any Hassidic group, but I thought this was a worthwhile read.


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